There are plenty of details left to hammer out, but the NHL is aiming for a return this summer and the Vancouver Canucks are going to be part of it.
Earlier in the week, Gary Bettman announced that the league and the NHLPA had agreed on a 24-team playoff format with the top four teams in each conference getting a bye while 16 teams taking part in play-in series.
Before the league was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canucks were a bubble team, sitting in a tie with the Nashville Predators for the final wild card seed in the Western Conference. There was a tight six-point gap separating the Canucks and five other teams for the final few playoff positions.
Had the season gone on as normal, the struggling, injury-riddled Canucks had a difficult fight to reach the playoffs and it’s anybody’s guess as to what would have happened. Now, rather than duking it out in that situation for a spot in the final few weeks of the season, the Canucks will face the Minnesota Wild in a five-game playoff series to determine if they move on to the actual playoffs.
If the Canucks beat the Wild, they’ll face the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. That could be any of St. Louis. Vegas, Colorado, or Dallas. Those four teams will be taking part in a round-robin during the play-in series to determine seeding.
If the Canucks lose to the Wild, they’ll be put into the draft lottery. This would also mean that they would keep their first-round pick in 2020. The pick, of course, was dealt to Tampa Bay as part of the J.T. Miller deal last June and has since been traded to New Jersey. The pick has a condition on it that stipulates that the Canucks will only give it away if they make the playoffs. If they miss, they keep it, and Tampa Bay (now New Jersey) will get their 2021 first-round pick no matter what.
Benning says his understanding is that the first round pick in the JT Miller deal will be determined by what happens in the play-in series. #Canucks
— Farhan Lalji (@FarhanLaljiTSN) May 27, 2020
Vancouver could still win the draft lottery and end up with a top pick at the draft come fall. The two-stage lottery process is a bit confusing this year. The seven teams that won’t be returning to action will be in the first stage along with eight placeholders that represent the eight teams who will be knocked out of the play-in round. If any of the top three draft slots are awarded to the eight placeholder team, there will be a second stage to the draft lottery that includes the teams who lost their play-in series.
So, whether you’re on Team Tank or Team Win, you have something to cheer for. If you want Vancouver to get a top pick this year, you can hope the Wild win the series because the Canucks could then be in a position to get a Top-3 pick. If you want a playoff run, well, then you can simply cheer for the Canucks to beat the Wild.
Jim Benning says Josh Leivo and Micheal Ferland are both still working through physical therapy. Says he's had good reports, but they won't know if either player will be available for the play-in round until closer to the time. #Canucks
— Brendan Batchelor (@BatchHockey) May 27, 2020
A major boon for the Canucks in this format is that it’s given them time to recover from the injuries that they were dealing with. As I said earlier, Vancouver was limping into a challenging, pivotal stretch in their schedule at the time of the pause, but now, they’ll be able to face the Wild healthy and rested.
Most importantly, Jacob Markstrom has been given plenty of time to rest after undergoing a procedure on his knee. Markstrom, who had clearly been the Canucks’ MVP this season, played his last game on Feb. 22.
The Canucks could also get Micheal Ferland and Josh Leivo back in the lineup for their play-in series, though neither player’s status is guaranteed. Both players were expected to miss the remainder of the season, so getting them back would be a nice boost to the team’s depth.
Whatever happens, this should be a positive learning experience for the Canucks, who haven’t been in the playoffs since 2015. Key members of Vancouver’s young core like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Brock Boeser have never seen competitive late-season hockey, so, while this very different than normal, it’ll offer them some experience.
“Like we’ve been saying the last couple of years, we want them to play meaningful games down the stretch when the hockey matters,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning told reporters after the NHL announced Tuesday its ambitious 24-team playoff tournament. “The intensity and the focus, they’re going to see what it’s like now to play with that intensity. I think it’s great for our whole organization.”
“For sure, it’s huge,” veteran Canuck Brandon Sutter told Sportsnet. “You don’t really quite realize what the intensity is like and… just how much fun the playoffs are. You’ve got to learn pretty quick how to raise your expectations for how you play out there. It’s just a fun time. For our young guys to get a little taste of that would be awesome.”
But there are other complications for the Canucks. For example, Bo Horvat and his wife Holly are expecting the birth of their first child in July.
“I’ve been thinking about that pretty much every day since there could be a possibility of return to play,” Horvat told Sportsnet. “It’s definitely not easy… but I’m not the only one in this kind of situation. There’s lots of guys around the league that are in different situations, whether it’s having babies or being away from families (or having) people in their families have different problems. Everybody’s got things to worry about.”
While Horvat, who was the youngest member of the Canucks back in 2015 when they played the Flames in a wild first-round tilt, surely wants to be a part of the team’s playoff run, the idea of being locked away in quarantine during the birth of his first child would be terrifying.
One final note, according to Jim Benning, the Canucks are considering having their training camp in the United States rather than in Canada. The team has 12 players across the United States and Europe who would have to do a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Canada. Having training camp in the United States, where restrictions are looser, would allow the Canucks to get around this.
“It’s a big concern,” Benning told TSN. “We worry about it because that’s 14 days before we’re going to start a gruelling training camp and get into playing playoff-style games. Basically we’re telling our players that they’ve gotta sit around their homes or apartments and they can’t do the type of training that they need.
“I know that government officials are looking at it and we don’t like it, but we understand that we need to do what’s right for everybody involved and for the safety of people … that’s going to trump everything else.”
I know this will come off as homer-ism in the extreme to some, but when I look at the 10 cities on the NHL’s shortlist to be hubs when play-ins and playoffs finally get underway, I don’t see a better hub candidate than Edmonton. Tell me I’m wrong.
That’s assuming, of course, there’s a way to deal with the 14-day quarantine period that’s in place. If that doesn’t change, you can strike Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto off the list right now, leaving Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Pittsburgh in the running. That’s the challenge for all three Canadian cities.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who has been a voice of reason throughout this whole COVID-19 pandemic as Alberta’s chief medical officer, addressed that Thursday in the wake of pitches made by Alberta premier Jason Kenney and the Oilers to make Edmonton a hub city for play-ins and what will be a 16-team playoff. She talked about “cohort groups” – having teams and personnel quarantine together — that might address safety issues.
“Safety must be the top priority,” Hinshaw said. “In order to make this happen, all levels of government and the NHL will have to collaborate to find creative solutions. The guidelines we have put in place we feel would adequately address the safety of Albertans as well as being considerate of the opportunity for sporting events, which we know Albertans enjoy, to take place. I want to be clear that we’re not talking about waiving the quarantine requirements.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has used the term “exemptions” to make hubs work in Canada. So has Kenney, talking specifically about Edmonton. Out in B.C., health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the NHL won’t be getting special treatment. “I would love to have hockey,” Henry said. “(But) we’re not bending the rules in any way that would put what we’ve achieved here in B.C. at risk.”
If there isn’t a way to sort the 14-day quarantine out, my guess is Pittsburgh and Las Vegas could end up as the hubs. If there’s a way to satisfy safety concerns without “bending the rules,” as Henry puts it, I think Edmonton sits right at the top for several reasons – all of which have been pitched by the Oilers, city hall and Kenney.
First and foremost, no city on the shortlist has done as good a job as the Edmonton area has in addressing the pandemic. Edmonton’s numbers, whether you’re talking about overall COVID-19 cases, new cases, recoveries or deaths, are unmatched anywhere in the league, not just by the nine other hub city candidates.
Rogers Place and the adjoining community rink have 15 combined dressing rooms. There is space for five TV trucks and broadcast facilities are second to none. Ice District, anchored by the J.W. Marriott near the rink, provides plenty of hotel rooms and amenities. There are dozens of restaurants within blocks. Simply put, Edmonton checks every box. The wrench in the works is the quarantine.
THE WAY I SEE IT
Even without fans in Rogers Place to watch games, being a hub would provide an economic bump to businesses that could dearly use it. The same, of course, could be said of every city. It won’t be a windfall, but it’ll help. That’s secondary, of course, to making sure that the whole process is staged safely. Edmonton, more than any other city, is well-positioned to do that.
We still have several weeks to wait before the puck drops again – camps won’t even open until July 10. COVID-19 numbers in shortlisted cities could change substantially. The situation is fluid. There is a window to try to find a solution to the quarantine issue that could keep games out of Canada completely. The way I see it, if we can navigate that bit of business, Edmonton is a clear-cut choice as one of the two hubs.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
It was today in 1992 that the Toronto Maple Leafs hired their 31st coach in franchise history: Pat Burns.
He stepped in replaced Tom Watt, who spent two years prior behind the bench.
Burns, however, had much more success behind the bench. In fact, he ended up winning the third-most games in franchise history at the time he finished his tenure. Only Punch Imlach, Hap Day and Dick Irvin had won more.
Over 281 games behind the bench, Burns went 133-107-41 making the playoffs in three of four seasons. In each of his first two years, the Leafs made deep runs in the playoffs. In 1992-93, the Leafs fell in the conference finals to the LA Kings and the next year they fell to the Vancouver Canucks.
In 1995-96, however, the Leafs faltered under Burns and 65 games into the year, he was let go. The firing came amid and eight-game losing streak dropping the Leafs to a 25-30-10 record.
While Toronto ended up making the playoffs but losing in the first round, Burns continued his coaching career two years later.
On Twitter: @zjlaing
Way, way back in the late 1970s, Calgary had hopes and dreams of getting itself onto the national and international stage. While a group of local business and political leaders talked openly about getting an Olympics, another group had National Hockey League aspirations.
All of these hopes and dreams came together in the early 1980s in the form of the Olympic Saddledome.
The Stampede Corral was a fine building for its time. It ably hosted several major hockey clubs for the Calgary area, including the WHL’s Calgary Wranglers and the WHA’s Calgary Cowboys – the team with the best logo in sports history, a silhouetted white cowboy hat. But by the late ’70s, the building was over 20 years old and showing its age. If Calgary was going to grab hold of rumoured further NHL expansion, they’d need an upgrade.
At the same time, Calgary was courting another interesting prospect: the International Olympic Committee. Calgary had bid on the 1964, 1968 and 1972 Winter Olympics and managed not to win, but the organizing committee had learned a lot from the process. Meanwhile, the municipal government was looking hard at potential places for a new building. Eventually, they settled on a spot across the street from the Corral – on the site of the old Victoria Arena.
Everything came together in 1980 and 1981. First, the struggling Atlanta Flames were purchased by a local group of investors and moved to Calgary, where they began the 1980-81 NHL season as the Calgary Flames. Initially playing in the Corral, the Flames’ move north really put an emphasis on the need for a new barn. Meanwhile, the Olympic bidding process was progressing. By the summer of 1981, the three orders of government started work on the new Calgary Coliseum – it ended up being funded entirely by a mixture of public funds from the municipal, provincial and federal governments – and impressed by the initiative taken, the IOC awarded Calgary the 1988 Olympics that fall.
The Coliseum – renamed the Olympic Saddledome prior to its 1983 opening – was huge compared to prior buildings, with a listed capacity of over 20,000 seats. It towered over the Corral and its hyperbolic parabola roof design created a unique fixture on the Calgary skyline. It also made more complex sound and lighting rigging difficult to hang from the roof, as the sloped design caused snow to collect in the middle. (Several events, such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, were given a short window each year to potentially book events due to snow load concerns.)
30 years and a major renovation later, the Saddledome sits as the oldest arena in the NHL. Much like the Corral and the Victoria Arena before it, it’s aged gracefully but is a bit antiquated compared to other NHL buildings. The combination of the roof’s wacky design, complications from a major 2013 flood, and general wear and tear make it a challenging building to run for the long-term. Upkeep is expensive, while it’s become more challenging to draw big-ticket attractions with more elaborate staging and theatrics.
With the approval of the new Calgary event centre in 2019, the Saddledome is slated to be demolished shortly following the new building’s scheduled opening in 2024. By the time it finally closes its doors for good, the ‘Dome will have stood for over 40 years and hosted an Olympics, three Western Hockey League championship series and three Stanley Cup Finals.
It’s showing its age now, but the Saddledome has been a fantastic place to watch hockey and other events for decades.
Utica Comets Mailbag
It’s been a while, but we are finally back with another edition of the CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag. Let’s get after it!
AHL tv question (if you don’t mind). I was looking into getting it next season to be able to watch our prospects more in action. Do you have to watch the games in live time or can you watch the game later? (following day) My work schedule might interfere
— LisaMissesHockey (@LisaMartinImage) May 24, 2020
You can absolutely watch games after they have aired live. I watch the games live, but I have gone back to view specific plays from games long after they have been played. Generally, your subscription ends when the season does, but this year they have allowed people a little bit more time with it due to COVID 19. AHLTV has its issues from time to time, but it is a far superior product to the old AHL LIVE system that we used to have. There are still some glitches, but it’s well worth the cost for those who want to watch the games and form their own opinions on what is happening down on the farm.
Do you think Hoglander will spend some time in Utica when he comes to North American?
— x- Laura (@canucks181) May 24, 2020
It is my understanding that Hoglander has a clause in his contract that would allow him to play games in Utica, but that he will likely be spending his season in Sweden if he doesn’t make the Canucks roster out of camp. It sounds as though the player is willing to play a handful of games in the AHL if he and the team agree that it would be best for him to get a taste, but I would not expect to see him there for the entirety of the 2020/21 season… if and when that arrives. Things are fluid and could always change, but as things stand, I expect him to head back overseas.
Which Canuck vet do you think could end up with the comets next year
— Jaskaran (@Jaskarancanucks) May 24, 2020
This is an interesting question and one that I am assuming many will expect to see Loui Eriksson as the answer. If we are strictly speaking about players who didn’t spend the bulk of this past season in Utica — such as Sven Baertschi, Justin Bailey, and Reid Boucher — and focus only on players who were up with the big club this season, I think we would be looking at one of Eriksson or possibly Jordie Benn.
Eriksson has two seasons left on his deal after what remains of this one, while Benn has one. Both will become unrestricted free agents when those deals expire. Eriksson still carries a cap hit of $6M each season, but will “only” cost a total of $8M in actual money over that time. Couple that with his $3M bonus that gets paid out this year by the Canucks, bringing him down to a somewhat more palatable $5M in actual cost and his No-Trade-Clause kicking over to a Modified-No-Trade-Clause after this season and it could make him easier to move.
If the team is able to move Eriksson, that would leave whichever anchor they might have to bring back in order to move him, or maybe Jordie Benn heading to Utica. Benn carries a cap hit of $2M/salary of $1.6M and roughly half of that cap hit can be buried in the AHL. That wouldn’t be a huge cap saving, but if the team wanted to give a younger player a chance, this could facilitate it. Brogan Rafferty, for instance, will have a cap hit of $700K at the NHL level and would offer a couple hundred thousand in savings for what could be a cap-strapped team.
We still need to see what the Canucks do with their defence, so it’s hard to say if Benn is a candidate, but it feels like there could be a new face or two on the backend when the 2020/21 season gets underway and he might need to be moved out in order to make the changes that the team is eying.
Will the Comets see a new coaching staff?
— L C Fowlkes (@LCRL) May 25, 2020
I have asked but was told that the team does not discuss contracts publicly, but I do believe that Trent Cull’s contract is up at the end of the 2019/20 season. In his three seasons, (most recent being shortened by 15 games) behind the bench, Cull’s Comets have gone 106-82-17-8. They have made the playoffs once, where they were dispatched in five games by the eventual Calder Cup Champion Toronto Marlies. The team was in a playoff position this year but had a tough 15 games remaining on their schedule and were not a shoo-in to make the post-season.
We have seen some good… and not so good things happen during Cull’s time behind the bench in Utica. Highly regarded players such as Anton Rodin, Jonathan Dahlen, and Petrus Palmu did not fair well under Cull’s watch and none are still in the system. Communication issues were cited by some as the main obstacle between those players and their coaching staff.
We have also seen some good come out of Utica during that span as undrafted players like Ashton Sautner and Zack MacEwen have developed well enough to see NHL games, while defender Guillaume Brisebois has had a cup of coffee as well. Kole Lind took substantial strides in his development this year, in my opinion, and that should count for something in this discussion as well.
At the end of the day, I do think that there is a chance that we could see the organization move on from Trent Cull, but I feel there is just as good of a chance that he is back. If the team does go in another direction… who could we see take Cull’s place? We can look all the way back to this 2016 to see who I think it could be:
So when does the Troy Ward announcement happen?..word a little while ago was that he was set to join Utica in some capacity
— Comets Cory (@CoryHergott) June 14, 2016
Does Kole Lind need another season in the AHL?
— Trevor Whitehead (@TrevorWhitehead) May 24, 2020
Whether Kole “needs” another season in Utica might not matter as I’m just not sure that I see a clear path for him to take a job from another player out of training camp. That said, I do think that Kole needs more time in Utica, whether that is another full season will depend on him.
Kole took nice steps with his game this past season. He was the only player on the team to suit up for every game after missing substantial time to injuries in his first season. He finished sixth on the team in scoring with 44 points in 61 games while also slotting in at number two on the team’s penalty minutes list this year. Kole brought a new level of confidence to his game and I expect that to grow in his third season.
I feel like the team will want to challenge him with more time on the penalty kill this year to help round out his overall game and defensive awareness and when he gets comfortable there… the call-ups should come.
I wonder whether Juolevi will be with the #canucks this summer or training hard for the next season. Thoughts on which may be the better path for him?
— Michael Paweska (@mrpaweska) May 24, 2020
I think it would be fantastic if the Canucks can get Olli to Vancouver to be around the team during their play-in/playoff run as an injured player who can rehab with their trainers. I’m not sure that I like the idea of him being one of their Black Aces who would be pressed into action if others ahead of him get injured, however. I think Olli needs to spend as much time building strength in his back, knee, and hip as possible this offseason if we want him to be the player that he can be. I think that pushing him into action before his body is ready would be a recipe for disaster and could do more harm than good.
More on Juolevi. Where would you put him on the Nux LD depth chart given: Hughes, Edler, Benn, Fantenberg, Juolevi, Brisebois, Sautner. I’m thinking Benn & Fantenberg can be replaced by the farm’s LD & maybe the Russian Groot.
— DSto (@DSto2) May 25, 2020
The answer to this question depends on when we are talking about, but seeing Nikita Tryamkin’s name mentioned, I will assume that you mean for next season.
Oscar Fantenberg is a pending UFA, as is Ashton Sautner. Guillaume Brisebois needs a new deal as a pending restricted free agent, as does Tryamkin. That alone leaves a left side of Alex Edler, Quinn Hughes, Benn, and Olli Juolevi. I believe that the team will bring back both of Sautner and Brisebois, but I’m not yet convinced that the rather large Russian will get a new deal.
Troy Stecher is a pending restricted free agent on the right side, while Chris Tanev is a pending UFA. It is possible that neither player is back and one or more of the lefties moves to the right. This is all to say that there are plenty of moving parts here and it might be a little early to lay out the left side of next year’s defence group.
I think that Ashton Sautner is the lefty who is most NHL ready in the system right now, while Brogan Rafferty is the one on the right.
Is Jonah Gadjovich close to playing the game that made him a second round prospect? By this I mean a consistent pro where he is counted on for physicality and scoring?
— GeeNVee (@GeeNVee) May 25, 2020
I think that Jonah Gadjovich will need to have a healthy season… or something that at least resembles one before we can talk about him being consistent in any way. Gadjovich has played in just 81 of a possible 152 regular-season AHL games since his rookie campaign. We can chalk a pile of those games missed in his first season as healthy scratches, but that wasn’t the case this year as he was in the lineup when healthy. Jonah played fewer games in his second season than he did in his first, but he finished with more points and brought a tidy 13 goals in 38 games.
When he is in the lineup, Jonah brings an energetic, feisty, physical game, but he will need to continue to improve his skating if he is going to take the next step. We have seen players like Bo Horvat and Zack MacEwen improve their skating to the point where people no longer talk about that holding them back, so maybe Jonah gets there as well, eventually. I think that something close to a healthy season from Jonah will go a long way to telling us if he can be a player at the NHL level in the future.
Gadjovich did some very nice work in tight around the opposition’s goal this year and if he can keep that up, he will make a case for more minutes in more important situations.
There you have it, your first Comets Mailbag in a couple of months. Don’t worry, I’ll shake off the rust before long.