It goes without saying that injuries are something every team has to be ready to face during the course of a long season.
With Teddy Blueger nearing a return to action, in one of this weekend’s games versus the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens — if not Thursday in Ottawa against the Senators — the Vancouver Canucks are about to be back at (nearly) full health.
Of the names that Rick Tocchet and his staff will have listed in their planning book for the season, only Guillaume Brisebois — still on the shelf with a concussion — and Vasily Podkolzin — back practising in Abbotsford, two weeks after suffering a concussion — are unavailable.
The Canucks are now looking at depth as a dilemma, always a good thing, but rarely something you can count on.
At practice in Kanata, Ont. on Wednesday, the Canucks welcomed Blueger back into the fold, a player they signed in the summer to help improve their penalty killing.
Even without Blueger in the fold, the penalty kill has improved from the league-worst outfit of the past two seasons, when the Canucks touched with being all-time bad at numerous points. It’s not a guarantee, but getting Blueger back gives the PK a chance to improve yet again.
Podkolzin also offers another interesting wrinkle if he gets back on the tear he was on before he was knocked out two weeks ago — he had five goals in the first six AHL games of the season. His coach was very clear that the young Russian was showing glimpses of the consistency the Canucks’ brass believes is inside of him — that given more space to simply play to his instincts, he’ll take his overall game to a new level.
And if Podkolzin does rediscover the joys of being “the guy” — something he hasn’t been able to be since he was drafted, instead being a bit player in the KHL, then having his head spin under the tutelage of three different coaches in the NHL — the hope is he can translate that into being a highly effective winger for the NHL Canucks.
There will be other injuries that will crop up, no doubt, but looking at a fully healthy roster at this moment in time inevitably leads to trade ponderings.
Like, does it make any sense to ice a roster with Anthony Beauvillier and his $4.15-million cap hit on the fourth line? The winger has been fine so far this season, notching five points in 12 games — he posted a very handy 40 points between Long Island and Vancouver last season — but is he really the right use of cap space, especially if Podkolzin continues to grow in confidence?
It’s not a big surprise to hear his name being bandied about as trade fodder. He doesn’t have a no-trade clause, and his contract is up this summer. He makes less than Conor Garland, who has been eyeing a trade off and on for a year, and there’s no long-term commitment to make to him, unlike Garland, who is still under contract for two more seasons.
The real value to understand in a Beauvillier trade is the cap space he fills — even a simple dump to, say, the San Jose Sharks, where there’s a minimal return, would clear space that could be redeployed in adding a new winger in a trade, which sources say is the big target for Canucks management at the moment. They would still like to upgrade their defence via a trade, although signing free agent Ethan Bear seems the most likely course at the moment.
And when you are in the Canucks’ position, off to a hot start, with all your stars on fire, the temptation to strike is obvious — you make your team better by adding players of a high enough quality they can push players already on your roster down the depth chart.
Is it possible that a fully rebooted Podkolzin adds more to the lineup than Beauvillier? Certainly.
Or, for example, adding a winger who is an upgrade on Phil Di Giuseppe, who is a great story but is probably best suited to the third or fourth line in the long term. That would also probably squeeze Beauvillier out of the lineup as well.
Health is wealth for the Canucks right now. But will they treat their position with caution, or abandon?
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