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!

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.

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.

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.

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:

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 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.

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.

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.