The Canucks had to place several players on waivers on Monday in anticipation of naming their 23-man roster on Tuesday. It was inevitable given the makeup of the Canucks current roster: they have a surprisingly veteran-laden team, with just three waiver-exempt forwards — Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Adam Gaudette — remaining on the roster heading into Monday.
What’s surprising is who is getting waived. According to these reports, the Canucks will be waiving Nikolay Goldobin, Alex Biega, and Sven Baertschi.
There are reasons to quibble with the waiving of both Goldobin and Biega, but the real shocker is seeing Baertschi hit the waiver wire.
Over the last three seasons, Sven Baertschi has produced points like a high-end second-line winger, borderline first-line winger. He’s been one of the Canucks most efficient and effective forwards on the power play. He battled his way back from injury to rejoin the team last season, confirming he was fully healthy with four games to end the season, where he didn’t hesitate from battling along the boards and getting to the net.
In the preseason, Baertschi was one of the Canucks’ best players, particularly when he was on a line with Adam Gaudette. For all the hype over Gaudette’s preseason, it was Baertschi that helped enable his performance. His two-point night against the Ottawa Senators came off turnovers created by Baertschi: he knocked down an outlet pass to set up Gaudette for a goal, then intercepted a pass in the neutral zone that led to Gaudette’s assist on his goal.
In other words, if Gaudette earned his way onto the team in the preseason, so did Baertschi. If this is a meritocracy, Baertschi should be on the Canucks to start the season. He didn’t treat his position on the team as a given, the way some veterans do in the preseason, and put up four points in five games.
What’s particularly infuriating about Baertschi being waived is the players that remain on the roster in his stead: Tyler Motte, Tim Schaller, and Loui Eriksson, among others.
The counter argument is that Motte, Schaller, and Eriksson don’t play the same game as Baertschi. They’re bottom-six forwards that player on the penalty kill, while Baertschi has to be in the top-six to be in the lineup.
Ignoring for the moment that Baertschi absolutely should be in the top-six — he’s out-performed Tanner Pearson, at the very least — this betrays an outdated mentality of how to construct an NHL roster. The best teams around the NHL don’t have a clearly-defined top-six/bottom-six, but instead focus on getting offence throughout their lineup. At the very least, they have a top-nine that is expected to score, perhaps with a more defence-oriented fourth line.
Jim Benning has talked a lot about top-nine forwards and having three scoring lines, but waiving Baertschi (and Goldobin, for that matter) is a sign that they can’t escape the top-six/bottom-six dichotomy. Part of that is personnel: when your third and fourth-line centres are Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle, it’s awfully hard to create a third line that can score, let alone a fourth line.
Of course, with the Canucks seemingly keeping up Gaudette, perhaps they do want to make a more offence-oriented third line, perhaps with Sutter moving to the wing with Beagle. If that’s the plan, why waive Baertschi, who showed so much chemistry with Gaudette in the preseason?
Some might ask, who will play the penalty kill if you waive the bottom-six forwards? But the Canucks have plenty of players that can become penalty killers. A lot of teams around the NHL have their best players on the penalty kill, like Mitch Marner in Toronto or Patrice Bergeron in Boston. Why can’t Bo Horvat play on the penalty kill or J.T. Miller? Jake Virtanen, Micheal Ferland, and Tanner Pearson could be on the penalty kill, or even Elias Pettersson. If people are going to compare Pettersson to Pavel Datsyuk, then why not take advantage of his complete, all-around game?
Even if Baertschi slips through waivers, which is always a possibility at this time of year when teams are looking to subtract rather than add players, the team will be worse on opening night without him on the roster. Of course, the Canucks may be hoping that someone claims him in order to clear some more cap space. That’s been the theory of many Canucks fans on social media.
The issue is that the Canucks aren’t in a cap crunch that would necessitate clearing Baertschi’s $3.37 million cap hit. Since Brock Boeser took a cheaper bridge deal, the Canucks could easily get under the salary cap by sending down lesser players and papering down a player like Gaudette or Quinn Hughes to get Antoine Roussel on the roster before putting him on the Long-Term Injured Reserve. If the salary cap was the reason for waiving Baertschi, then the move makes even less sense.
Perhaps the Canucks were worried about Baertschi’s injury history — he’s now had a couple serious concussions — but that would be all the more reason to employ proper asset management to keep Baertschi in the lineup and send down Gaudette, thereby insuring yourselves for when someone inevitably gets hurt. Instead, the Canucks are risking losing a legitimate top-six NHL forward for no reason.
Simply put, it’s nonsensical for a team that has so much trouble scoring goals to waive a player like Baertschi.
It’s hard to spare any outrage for the waiving of Nikolay Goldobin after spending it all on Baertschi, but it’s still frustrating to see a team in need of scoring and creative playmaking be so dismissive of Goldobin. That said, while Goldobin worked hard in the preseason and you could see his attention to detail away from the puck, he just didn’t do enough offensively in the Canucks’ eyes to justify keeping him in the lineup.
Sure, the Canucks certainly could have kept him on the roster by sending down some combination of Schaller, Motte, and Eriksson, but if they weren’t going to do that to keep Baertschi on the roster, they certainly weren’t going to do it for Goldobin.
Given the talented players currently on the waiver wire, the chance that Goldobin gets claimed is a lot slimmer than it is for Baertschi. Goldobin has dominated at the AHL level — he had 31 points in 30 games the last time he was with the Utica Comets — and he’ll likely dominate again. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him back with the Canucks before the season is done.
Finally, there’s Alex Biega, who is a surprise to see on waivers. Biega has been a solid seventh defenceman for the Canucks over the last few seasons, stepping onto the ice and making an impact even after long stints in the press box.
Waiving Biega means the Canucks are going with 14 forwards and 7 defencemen for the time being, which is unusual for a Travis Green-coached club. They tend to like having 8 defencemen, with a balance of left and right-handed shots, in case of injury, but they do have a couple versatile defencemen that can play either side in Jordie Benn and Quinn Hughes.
This also suggests that Oscar Fantenberg is back to full health after taking a tough hit and going into the concussion protocol last week. Whether Fantenberg is better than Biega is another question. Fantenberg is arguably more reliable defensively, but doesn’t move the puck up ice anywhere near as well as Biega.
It’s a tough blow to take for Biega, who has worked hard to earn more minutes with the Canucks and never once complained about his position in the pressbox. The Canucks might miss his veteran presence off the ice as well.
At the same time, it’s understandable to see Biega cut. He’s been on the bubble for most of his career. You can bet he’ll work twice as hard to earn his way back up to the NHL.