The only path to a playoff spot for the Vancouver Canucks this season would be via the Wild Card route in the Western Conference, and they enter the weekend five and six points back of the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators respectively for one of those two spots.
The Canucks are 3-7-0 in their past 10 outings, and now enter a critical four-game home stand against the Flames, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks, and Detroit Red Wings.
During a Friday morning radio hit on Calgary’s Sportsnet 960, several Canucks-related topics came up for Elliotte Friedman.
The discussion opened with the Insider being asked about the team’s coaching situation, and well as where they might be at in terms of buying or selling at the deadline.
“First of all, Willie Desjardins is another guy whose contract is up at the end of the year,” noted Friedman. “I mean, it’s interesting. There’s only one GM – we’ve talked about your GM situation – but there’s a few coaches who have that. Desjardins has it, Ruff has it, where they’re up at the end of the season. It’ll be curious to see where they’re all going to be. I think there’s definitely a reason to believe there could be a change in Vancouver too.”
At this point, Friedman appears to pivot toward the trade deadline portion of the question.
“The other thing about Vancouver is their messaging is, ‘We’ll see where this goes.’ I have a theory on this,” explained Friedman. “Everything that gets said in Vancouver turns into a five-alarm blaze. I think they’re just trying to keep it as quiet as they possibly can. I find it very hard to believe that they’re looking at this saying, ‘We’re keeping everybody.’ It just doesn’t make any sense to me.
“I just think that they’re probably just saying, ‘Look, this is our way of not talking about it publicly, so we don’t turn this into a grease fire.’
“I think in that market, which is really intense, it’s not a bad strategy. I think you’d much rather be saying, ‘Look, we don’t know what we’re going to do,’ as opposed to saying, ‘Yes, we’ve gone to all of these guys and we’re going to get them to waive their trade clauses and let’s see what happens here,’ because then it turns it into just craziness.
“So I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re underselling us just a little bit.”
The Canucks have Alex Burrows on an expiring contract with a $4.5 million cap hit, and he has a no-trade clause.
Jannik Hansen, who carries a modified no-trade clause, has another season past 2016-17 left on his contract and has a more affordable $2.5 million cap hit.
The next part of the questioning for Friedman, though, focused on Ryan Miller’s contract running out this summer. His three-year, $18 million pact carries a much larger $6 million cap hit, and his modified no-trade clause lists five teams to which he can be traded.
Jacob Markstrom’s three-year, $11 million contract kicks in next season, so Friedman was asked what the appetite might be for Miller around the league at the deadline.
“He’s had a decent year,” said Friedman. “They’ve said they’re considering re-signing him. So I don’t necessarily think that’s over.
“I think the other thing is what does he want to do? To me, if I was Anaheim, I’d be taking a shot at Ryan Miller. The one thing for him though is his last rental situation was so bad. It just didn’t work out. The thing that was interesting about that was Cory Hirsch was the goalie coach in St. Louis at the time. I talked to him about that, and the thing that he really said was St. Louis had no practice time after they got him, which is kind of that Western Conference situation. And that was one of the major reasons it didn’t work, because he went from a team in Buffalo that was really ragged at that time to a team in St. Louis that was airtight, and he had a difficult time making the transition from one to the other without a lot of practice time.
“I think this is a little bit different. Vancouver is not a great team, but I think they generally play pretty well defensively. They’re a low event team that slows things down. Anaheim is a better fit. I’m looking at Anaheim and I think that’s a move they should do. At least even if he’s not the starter, he backs up Gibson.
“But Miller’s got the choice. I think he’s got a five-team list that he can be traded to. I wouldn’t be surprised if Anaheim is on it. But I do think Vancouver has considered the possibility of bringing him back and that’s not news. They’ve kind of admitted that’s the case.”
One of the not-so-positive storylines for the Vancouver Canucks this season has been Jake Virtanen, the 20-year-old winger who was taken sixth overall by the franchise in 2014.
He had one assist in his 10 games with the Canucks, and in the AHL has only produced five goals and five assists in 38 tries.
Jason Botchford had a blurb on Virtanen worth checking out this week, incidentally, toward the end of The Provies.
Friedman was asked where the Canucks are with Virtanen.
“I think they’re going to be invested on him because he was a first-round pick and they don’t want to give up on him too early,” said Friedman. “You look at Toronto, and the guy I think of a lot – even though he’s not a forward – is Jake Gardiner. Jake Gardiner was a guy a lot of people wanted to get rid of here. Now they’ve got him slotted in the right spot and he’s a really good player for what they do.
“In this league now, the easiest thing to do is fix your problems internally. It’s hard to make trades. The flattening salary cap means it’s really hard to do things. The best solution is can you fix what you’ve got, as opposed to what you need to go out and get.
“I don’t think Sam Bennett is getting traded unless the return is huge. Virtanen though is different. Bennett is far ahead of him.
“There’s something weird going on there now. They’re starting to talk about, ‘Well, maybe (Virtanen) didn’t show up in shape this year,’ which is a bit of a concern because they kept him out there all summer.
“But it’s looking to me right now that the Vancouver Canucks and Jake Virtanen – for whatever reason it’s oil and water right now. It’s not a mix. They probably should have sent him down last year. But you’re not giving up on a guy who is a first-round pick after two years. You’re still going to keep it, even though he’s devalued a bit.”
The host made a comment about Cody Hodgson having not worked out, and that Virtanen could potentially be another high first-round pick that potentially doesn’t pan out.
“Well, Horvat worked out great for them,” countered Friedman. “And probably even better than they thought, to be perfectly honest. I think Horvat is going to have a better chance of producing offensively than I think a lot of us believed he would.
“But every year there’s first-round picks that don’t work out and unfortunately right now it looks like Virtanen is going to be one of them.
“I think in Utica overall this year it’s been a disappointing year. I think Travis Green has been disappointed and I think the organization has been disappointed. They had such a good year the last couple of years, but now all of their best young players are in Vancouver. So it’s been a hard year for them.”
For reference: Covering the Insiders