Vancouver Canucks Reassign Brendan Gaunce to Utica Comets; Activate Ben Hutton from Injured Reserve

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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski – USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Canucks are getting healthier, and as players return to the lineup, it comes at the expense of teammates who’ve stepped up in their stead. Today that came to a head, as the Canucks were forced to reassign Brendan Gaunce to the Utica Comets to bring their roster to the 23 man limit.

In this case, specifically, it’s Ben Hutton’s return that’s forced their hand. Hutton’s returning to the Canucks lineup after suffering a hand injury blocking a shot in a January 6th game against the Calgary Flames.

Before we dive into the specifics of this decision, we should note Ryan Biech predicted a roster predicament of this sort hours before it developed. Therein, he indicated the Canucks might choose Gaunce for demotion to the Utica Comets if for no other reason than he doesn’t require waivers.

Lastly, that fourth line isn’t going to get broken up UNLESS the Canucks want to avoid waiving anyone and send Gaunce down until someone gets injured. Which is almost inevitable.

If Biech sounds concerned about the Canucks desire to break up the fourth line, that’s entirely reasonable. They have the single highest Corsi For% among Canucks lines, with Vancouver controlling a gaudy 58% of shot attempts when Gaunce is playing with Jack Skille and Michael Chaput. To suggest they’re one of, if not the best fourth line in the NHL isn’t a stretch — no matter how unlikely it may seem.

The further one dives, the clearer it becomes who’s driving that line’s success. Gaunce currently leads the Canucks by CF%Rel. Tm with a 7.2% impact on his linemates’ ability to control shot attempts at even strength. By raw Corsi For%, Gaunce’s 52.3% is bested only by Derek Dorsett’s 53.3% mark in 13 games.

Of course, one can’t broach Gaunce’s season without invoking the ugly doughnut in the goals column. As Canucks Army’s own Jeff Paterson pointed out, Gaunce is one of three forwards this season to register 400+ minutes and leave goalless.

When Gaunce is playing on the Canucks fourth line, though, they’re garnering a 55% expected goals ratio. Which is to say, while not a lot is happening, the majority of it should be happening in the Canucks favour. Whether Gaunce is scoring the goals himself or not, he’s putting in the work to create an environment where his team should control desirable goal results at even strength.

The Canucks are worse off for this decision, if only so slightly. And for a team that will need everything to go their way down the home stretch for a playoff push, losing value on the margins like they so willingly did with this decision matters. 

  • RobsNNAccount

    I get why management made this decision, however, I don’t see this as a good way to reward a young player who is doing well defensively. Gaunce seems to be the type of guy Willie would want to keep around.

    • TrueBlue

      It just strikes me as inconsistent with their previous indifference towards waiving players. I do support the asset management mind you, and if this becomes the norm moving forward, that’s great. What would be weird is if this is simply “we need to protect Megna”. He’s a useful piece, but I really would be surprised if he was claimed.

      It’s probably just a case of “someone has to move, and we don’t want to lose anybody from our 4th line, so let’s make the safe play that at least allows us to retain everyone.”

      • RobsNNAccount

        I agree it is inconsistent. That being said, one could also argue that Gaunce may benefit from time in the AHL while people like Megna have nothing to gain from being in the minors. I have a hard time believing that management sees someone like Megna as more than a place filler, so why send him down to get more play time?

          • RobsNNAccount

            I agree with you, personally I wish that they had sent down Megna. However, I can see an upside to giving Gaunce time in the minors. In a perfect world I would have liked to have seen Gaunce and Megna go down and have them bring Grenier up, he has been playing very well and probably deserves some recognition.

  • JuiceBox

    Gaunce has exceeded all expectations this year quietly going about his business with ruthless efficiency. It’s shame that they have to send him down, I would have rather seen Boucher waived instead. I am getting the sense that management has finally come to the realization that this team is nowhere near good enough to compete for a playoff spot and is now making moves accordingly because if the goal is compete for the playoffs, this move certainly doesn’t help their cause.

    Getting top line minutes in Utica isn’t exactly a death sentence for Gaunce; infact, it’ll probably be better for him than playing 8-10 minutes per night in Vancouver.

    • EddyC

      Boucher is a goal scorer, we need him to develop and can’t afford to let him be claimed. With Gaunce there is no risk and maybe he will get his scoring touch in A

      • JuiceBox

        Boucher is a goal scorer? OK…

        As it goes, most players are waived and most players don’t play for a reason. Other team’s might be high on him but he has clearly not shown anything of value or any hint that he could help this team win since he got to Vancouver or he would have been in the line-up by now.

        Is this what we have been reduced to? Calling a player with 12 goals in 86 games over 4 seasons a goal scorer? Oi….

  • TC

    I don’t have a problem with this. Send Gaunce down, and try to let him get the feel for the offensive side of the puck again.

    Currently, he’s a decent fourth liner. If he can put a few more points on the board, he could top out as a really good third liner in the future. He’s only 22, so he still has room to grow offensively.

  • Riley Miner

    lol, this team hurts my brain. Gaunce is the defensive rock on the 4th line. You think Chaput’s the one keeping the line above water? Skille? Yeah, no. Megna and Chaput should have been waived before Gaunce, at least if this is a ‘meritocracy’. Oh well, at least Gaunce doesn’t have to deal with being on this team.

  • TD

    I agree with above posts. This means they don’t lose an asset and playing top minutes might spark Gaunce’s offence. I would bet this is only temporary and would be surprised if a trade of one of the d men doesn’t occur.

    The next squeeze will come when Gudbranson returns. We might see Stecher sent down as he doesn’t need waivers either. Does Hutton need waivers? Time to get going Trader Jim.

    I predict the Canucks will dress a d man to play forward within the next two weeks as they no longer have a spare forward on the roster.

  • Riley Miner

    My argument is; if this team is planning on keeping themselves in the playoff race giving the young guys a winning atmosphere, Gaunce helps accomplish both goals. He won’t score, but he’s a minute-burner that doesn’t hurt you defensively, something I can’t confidently say about at least a few other forwards on the team, some of which are never scratched. I get that it’s a decision to avoid waiving (to be honest, I don’t think they even considered waiving Megna, I think it was to avoid waiving Boucher, which IS defensible) someone, but at some point you have to listen to your own message. Keep guys on that are helping you win. Boucher will score goals that this team desperately needs. Skille can do the same. Gaunce prevents goals. That should be your 4th line right there. Waive Chaput. Easy.

  • Hockey Warrior

    Who cares, sad to say this kid is a DUD.. the only analytics you need to know are SIX POINTS in 67 games and a career MINUS NINE with the Canucks. NOT GOOD ENOUGH for the NHL guys.

    Fellas, the ENTIRE FOURTH LINE is a bad JOKE and has been for three years and counting… especially for a coach and GM that preach ROLLING FOUR LINES as a mantra to the mugs who believe their LIES.

    Benning 2014 – “This is a team we can turn around in a hurry.”

    Benning 2016 – “We’ve never once said this was going to be easy or fast.”

    Wake UP blowhards – has this fanbase REALLY dumbed itself down THIS MUCH in three years of double talk and abject FAILURE to worry about a plug like Gaunce?

  • Jabs

    This is a terribly pathetic risk adverse move by the Canucks. One of the many minor leaguers should be getting waived instead, this team is delusional if they think anyone would claim Megna, Chaput or Larsen.

    On the bright side, at least Gaunce gets to play some serious minutes now and everyday is another day closer to Willie being permanently sent to the minors.

  • Killer Marmot

    I guess if the Canucks had put someone on waivers then CA would spend the next five years lecturing Benning on asset management.

    Actually, CA probably will anyway.

  • TheRealPB

    I’m not sure that I buy the argument that being “the rock” on the fourth line of a 26th place team is enough to bemoan the demotion of a young player who will most likely benefit from getting more meaningful minutes in a more offensive role in the minors. I think the other questions that Curmudgeon asked in a different thread are better — why not play Gaunce in a third line situation or with better offensive players or send him down earlier. At the level of “asset management” however, this makes the most sense even if I don’t think any other team should really be wanting to claim Larsen, Megna or Chaput (although of all of those I think Chaput has actually shown best). Boucher wouldn’t last through a waiver process either.

    • Chris the Curmudgeon

      Yeah, it’s pretty clear that there are a couple of teams in the league who covet Boucher (Devils and Predators) and that he would not pass. If the intent is to try to get Gaunce to work on his offence with more playing time, with the goal of seeing him contribute at a higher level down the line, then fine, but as we discussed elsewhere, why not either let him try that in the NHL first (ie: in Megna’s “spot”), or send him down as soon as you have decided you don’t plan to.

      • TheRealPB

        I think this is right. I get that he earned a spot but unlike Horvat who was slowly moved up the lineup and with better players, Gaunce didn’t have that opportunity. I am not saying he’s anywhere near as good but if the idea was to make him more than a fourth line grinder I’m not sure why he was given the role and position that he was. In fact I thought that if he was going to play fourth line minutes it would have made much more sense in doing so as a center. If you were just going to keep him as a LW then I completely agree with you that he should have been the one in Megna’s spot.

        • Chris the Curmudgeon

          Agree 100%, little to add, except to also agree with Rob above, in that for all the hard work he’s put in, I think Grenier has done enough to earn a callup too. As long as we’re playing AHLers in the lineup, why not make it a full meritocracy for them? In that vein, one could argue that Chaput has done enough to keep his 4th line spot. Not sure if anyone could honestly argue that about Megna.

  • wojohowitz

    I`m not displeased to see Gaunce go down. I hope he scores a hat trick in his first game but I don`t think he has been given a fair shake. All three of Megna, Chaput and Skille have been up and down in the line up including playing with the twins. As far as I recall Gaunce has been used strictly on the fourth line with minimal minutes. In Willie`s world Megna, Chaput and Skille gives the Canucks the best chance to win now and Gaunce does not. That does not make sense to me.

    Here`s the problem with Boucher. He`s been waived twice. They like his potential. What he has not done is stay in shape. His commitment is questionable. Will he grow up and find his game or will he bounce around and out of the league because he has never passed a Timmys without buying a donut.

  • Killer Marmot

    Gaunce’s NHL salary is (counting performance bonus) over a million. His minor league salary is $70,000.

    If Gaunce was assigned to Utica over less-valuable players solely because he was waiver-ineligible then the Canucks might want to make that up to him as a sign of goodwill.