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Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

How Utica’s Signing of Defenceman Jaime Sifers Affects the Comets

The Utica Comets announced this morning that they’ve added defenceman Jaime Sifers to their roster for the next two seasons, signing him to an AHL standard player contract.

Sifers spent the last three seasons in the Columbus organization, the last two of which were on an NHL contract. He’s played in 37 NHL games, though he hasn’t suited up at that level since the 2009-10 season. Last season, he had six goals and 20 points in 74 games, and has averaged 0.27 points per game over a 544-game AHL career.

The Sifers deal looks to bring a veteran presence to what could be a very young AHL blueline. The list of outgoing defencemen for the Comets this season is largely populated by veterans of the professional level, including 28-year old Chad Billins, 28-year old John Negrin, 27-year old Colby Robak, and 26-year old David Shields.

At 34-years old, Sifers is a full five years older than the oldest defenceman to suit up for the Comets last season. That would be 29-year old Alex Biega, who played just a single game for the Comets as part of a conditioning stint.

On a related note, I’d expect Biega to play a much bigger role for the Comets this season, as the additions of Del Zotto and Wiercioch have pushed him to the 8th defenceman at best. Given the makeup of the roster, I’d think that the Canucks would be starting the season with 14 forwards instead of eight defencemen (health permitting). Besides, at this point, those games should be going to Andrey Pedan, Jordan Subban, and the newly re-signed Evan McEneny, rather than Biega, who was dead last on the Canucks in Goals Above Replacement last season.

Because moving Biega back to the Comets seems like such a reasonable move, I’m not sure I get the necessity of the Sifers addition. I understand the want for veteran presence, though I feel Biega could address that. He was made captain of the Comets two seasons ago, and he’s played far more NHL games than Sifers has. There’s also Philip Holm, a 25-year old veteran of 287 professional games, who the Canucks signed following the World Championships. Despite his age, Holm is waiver exempt, making him an easy add for Utica, at least to start the season.

Crowded Blueline

There are a couple of other areas in which this signing could cause complications. One is the sheer number of defencemen on the roster. Assuming the Canucks start the season with seven defencemen and assuming full health (always risky), by my count there would be 11 defencemen on the Comets roster at that point. After Sifers, Biega, and Holm, there are the aforementioned prospects on the cusp of the NHL: Pedan, Subban, and McEneny. Then there’s Guillaume Brisebois and Jalen Chatfield, who will join Utica this season as rookies, and Ashton Sautner, going into the final season of his Entry Level Contract. The last two are Anton Cederholm and Mackenze Stewart, for whom I am not as concerned about how much playing time they get – they’re probably headed for the ECHL anyway.

Even without considering Cederholm and Stewart, things are pretty crowded. This many players would lead to three healthy scratches per night on defence – in a group where eight of nine are on NHL contracts – or possible the demotion of one of Sautner, Brisebois or Chatfield. In any case, the addition of Sifers could have a very real impact on the playing time of young players that the Canucks are grooming for NHL duty, which, to me, is a concern.

Veteran Status

The other complicating factor is the AHL veteran rule that governs how many veterans can be in an AHL lineup on any given night. A team can dress no more than six veterans (260 or more professional games) and at least one must be a veteran exempt player (fewer than 320 professional games. With 735 pro games, Sifers is certainly a vet. But so is Biega (442) and Holm is a veteran exempt (287).

Then there are the forwards: Michael Chaput (372) and Jayson Megna (328) are likely to be squeezed out of the Canucks roster this season, while AHL contracted players Wacey Hamilton (336), Carter Bancks (428), and Darren Archibald (347) are all over the limit as well. What this means is that no more than five of Sifers, Biega, Chaput, Megna, Hamilton, Bancks, and Archibald can dress for any one game.

Furthermore, if more than one of young players like Brock Boeser, Nikolay Goldobin, Jake Virtanen, or Andrey Pedan were to make the Canucks out of camp, it would be at the expense of another veteran. Alex Burmistrov, Reid Boucher, Anton Rodin, and Patrick Wiercioch could be candidates to be beat out, and all four are also veterans by the AHL definition.

Not all of these players are going to be on the AHL roster at the same time (six players from the above chart will be on the NHL roster to start, again assuming full health), but a lot of them will, and they won’t be able to play together.

One area where I could see the Sifers signing as useful is if one of Biega, Pedan, or McEneny were lost on waivers before getting to Utica. Or when the Canucks and Comets are inevitably decimated by injuries. Even in that case, signing a guy to a PTO would make more sense to me. As the situation currently stands, there just aren’t enough spots in the lineup for all these defencemen, and the veteran limit is going to force established vets out of the lineup on a nightly basis.

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    The other situation that would make sense with this signing is that the Canucks have a pending trade in the works. IE If they have a trade in the works for one of Tanev, Hutton, or Gubrandson, then they may want to shore of their defense now in anticipation.

  • Sandpaper

    Can never have enough defensemen, but this does provide for some depth if a trade or loss of a defensemen or 2 on waivers.
    I would not be surprised to see Pedan moved before the off-season is done. Return might not be that great but a late draft pick, is better than losing a depth player on waivers.

    • Peachy

      Pedan will almost certainly clear waivers. He cleared last year, and hasn’t demonstrated anything since to substantially increase his value. Of the AHL defensemen, only Chatfield, Subban and Brisebois would return picks, and none are waiver eligible anyways.

        • Ragnarok Ouroboros

          Vegas has a tonne of players they cannot keep from the expansion draft. I think a large number of those players will be placed on waivers, which means there will be a good number of defensemen available for any team to take.

          • Silverback

            That may be true, however the best of that lot will have been traded for picks or multiple defencemen traded for a more valuable forward. After the trades are completed all that would be left would be the least valuable players on the team.
            I personally like the strategy Benning has taken. Choose who you want, not what is left over.

  • CometsHARDCORE

    While it doesn’t affect your analysis one correction is an AHL veteran is above 260 games not 240.

    You can not overstate the importance of a solid veteran leader to mentor the younger players down on the farm and by signing a guy like this to an AHL contract they are guaranteeing that role will be occupied for the entire season. Yes maybe Biega could fill that if he was sent down and if he clears waivers but if that doesn’t happen then there is a void in that mentorship position. I can easily see Biega staying on as an 8th defenseman in a role where he sits for weeks and fills in when needed for a game or two at either defense or forward….something he has done in the past.

    With inevitable injuries and the possibility of losing a dman to waivers a solid AHL depth dman is a welcome addition and allows a few guys to play regularly in K-Zoo. Maybe we can use our ECHL affiliate for call-ups for a change instead of another year of the PTO merry-go-round.

  • natevk

    I’m interested to see the impact of the Kalamazoo agreement on the Canucks prospect development. With all these signings, maybe the Canucks will use the ECHL to get some of the younger guys into regular games and then with the inevitable injuries — call-ups? The opportunity to work up the ladder might be a good motivator for some of these guys, though I realize the quality of play and structural development may not be as beneficial in the ECHL.

    On another note — Looks like Utica is going to be a much better team this coming year than last at least!

    • Charlie y

      Not to hack on the ECHL, but I have been to a several games in Victoria before the Salmon Kings left and subsequently to some WHL games with the Royals coming in, and found a big uptick in pace, skill, and entertainment with the WHL. Bigger bodies and more fights in the ECHL mostly, but I don’t think I’d call it a developmental league in the majority of cases. Certainly not to the degree that a franchise would/should be using it to season their prospects as a part of the big plan.

        • Dan-gles

          It is definitely a development league but it’s success stories are usually of the bottom six type of player. I live in Victoria and watched the cougars (long departed) and all the best teams up to our now royals play. The salmon kings of the “E” were most definitely the best hockey we have ever had in town. With the exception of when the LA kings had their training camp here back in the early nineties but I don’t think that counts.

          • Charlie y

            Hmm, interesting take but I personally don’t agree on either of your points. I wasn’t around for the cougars, so no comment on that. I did go to a lot of SK games, had fun, but doubt more than 5% of those players move up. More of the lobby on the way out pro aspirations. Insert Burrows rebuttal here.