A lot has happened over the past two weeks; as a result, the Vancouver Canucks team looks a lot different than it did at the beginning of October. In this edition of Canucks News & Rumors, I’ll trace some of those changes and then look at two recent signings by the team. As well, I’ll follow one rumor that at least one young forward’s agent is knocking at Jim Benning’s door about a possible contract.
As a bit of a sidebar, I find it hard to believe the changes this Canucks team has undergone during the past few weeks. I would have bet that Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev had each found a home in Vancouver and would remain Canucks. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Personally, I like this team and its make-up, but as a fan of the game, I really liked Markstrom and Tanev as players. I’m sorry to see them go and wish them well. I need to be reminded every so often that hockey is a professional sport and that players – just as I would in my work – move to where they’ll be paid more for what they do.
Item One: Canucks Relieve the Golden Knights of Defenseman Nate Schmidt
When the Vegas Golden Knights painted themselves into a salary-cap box when the team signed perhaps the No. 1 free agent of the offseason Alex Pietrangelo, Jim Benning jumped in to “help” by “relieving” the Golden Knights of defenseman Nate Schmidt for a third-round draft pick in 2022. Note that I’m using quotation marks, because I’m being totally ironic.
What Benning did was exactly what the Golden Knights needed, but he surely didn’t do it to help. Schmidt was a gift – found money. Benning’s move helped the Golden Knights sign Pietrangelo, but it also helped the Canucks heal what seemed to be a gaping wound when the organization went all-in chasing Arizona Coyotes Oliver Ekman-Larsson (they didn’t get him), which might have cost them defensemen Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher.
[In truth, I think Tanev would have left for the $4.5 million contract the Calgary Flames gave him for four years (which I think is too much term for the oft-injured Tanev); however, I think the organization could have signed Stecher for the $1.7 million the Detroit Red Wings signed him for.]
The Canucks got the former Golden Knights defenseman on a salary dump because the Golden Knights desperately needed salary-cap space to sign Pietrangelo to a seven-year, $61.6 million contract. If Schmidt proves valuable, and he seems to be an upgrade on Tanev, he could be in Vancouver for a long time. He has five years left on a contract that pays him $5.95 million per year.
The 29-year-old veteran defender is both solid and steady. He should continue to be the top-four, minutes-crunching player with Vancouver he was with Vegas. Last season he scored seven goals and 31 points in 59 games for the Golden Knights and tacked on two goals and seven assists in 20 postseason games. It was Schmidt’s third-straight season with at least 30 points.
The good news for Canucks fans is that he represents good value for the team and significantly helps them now that both Tanev and Stecher have moved on.
Item Two: Jake Kielly Signs One-Year, Two-Way Contract
Jake Kielly has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Canucks. With Markstrom gone, and 31-year-old Braden Holtby recently signed to work with Thatcher Demko, the 24-year-old Kielly’s now fourth on the Canucks goalie depth chart. He’ll likely split the AHL Utica Comets net with Michael DiPietro (who’s third in line) next season.
During the 2019-20 season, Kielly played with the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings, posting a record of 7-11-4 with a 3.97 goals against average (GAA) and .887 save percentage (SV%) in 24 games. Although that record seems mediocre at best, the Wings were not a strong team. When he moved to the AHL’s Comets, his record was 1-0-0 with a 1.84 GAA and a .923 SV%.
Item Three: Ashton Sautner Signs One-Year, Two-Way Contract
A week ago, Ashton Sautner signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Canucks. Except for a single NHL game and 2:49 of ice time, Sautner played the entire season with the Comets. His score sheet showed him scoring 12 points in 51 games for the 2019-20 season with Utica.
Since his 2014-15 season with the Edmonton Oil Kings where he scored 12 goals and 39 assists in 72 games, the 26-year-old Sautner has become a defense-first defenseman. With the Canucks he’s moved up and down between the NHL and the AHL and has tallied three assists in 23 NHL games. He’ll likely play most of the season in Utica.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
With Tyler Toffoli having signed with the Montreal Canadiens on a steal of a deal, the Canucks might be on the lookout for another forward with some scoring potential. It would be helpful if Jake Virtanen might fill a regular secondary-scoring position with the club, but so far he’s shown only flashes of strong play.
One name that’s been rumored to be around is Andreas Athanasiou. Athanasiou is an enigma. He seems to have tons of talent, but he couldn’t put it together when he moved to the Edmonton Oilers last season at the trade deadline. The Oilers didn’t qualify him. Word is that his agent, Darren Ferris, has been talking to Benning. However, it’s all smoke and no fire so far.
Ahtnanasiou could be a steal of a deal, or he could be a dud. After Benning’s experience with Nikolay Goldobin, who’s now playing in the KHL with Moscow, one has to wonder how tolerant of “potential” he might be.