Photo Credit: Utica Comets Facebook Page

The Comets Are Loaded… And it’s Going to Cause Some Problems

Note: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Philip Holm is not considered a veteran exempt player, by virtue of the fact that Allsvenskan games are not counted towards the total. (October 10th, 2017)

When Jim Benning went on a spending spree in NHL free agency during the summer, one clear side effect was that the Utica Comets were going to get a lot of overflow. That in turn, meant that the Canucks’ minor league affiliate had the potential to be a very powerful team.

I wrote about this possibility back in July, pondering whether the Comets could be a powerhouse offensive team this season (for the first time in their existence, really), with the Vancouver additions pushing high end prospects and productive professional veterans into Utica’s top six.

That is certainly still the case, and even though I got a couple of the assignments wrong (I had Brock Boeser and Jake Virtanen going to the AHL instead of Anton Rodin and Reid Boucher), the Comets still look like a formidable squad, perhaps even a Calder Cup contender. As you can see in the final depth chart below, there are plenty of players capable of putting up points in the minors.

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However, all that depth in what is supposed to be a development league can cause problems. I wrote on the subject of veteran limits after the Comets signed defenceman Jaime Sifers. The rule prohibits the use of too many skaters that have perhaps specific thresholds of professional games played.

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).

Professional games here can mean the NHL or the AHL (but not the ECHL), as well as the European elite leagues.

At the time that I wrote the Sifers article, the possibility of going over the veteran limit seemed legitimate, though it could have been avoided simply by using rotating scratches on depth AHL journeymen. Now, with Rodin and Boucher, a pair of veterans, heading to the Comets instead of Boeser and Virtanen, who do not have that designation, the Comets are going to be in some serious trouble when they go to fill out their lineup card.

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Below is a chart of Canucks prospects and bubble players, as well as AHL vets, with their total number of professional games played as well as a veteran designation, if applicable (names of players that made the NHL team are crossed out to make it easier to count the players quickly).

Among the players on this chart with the veteran designation, only Alex Biega and Alex Burmistrov made the Canucks’ opening roster. That leaves eight players with the veteran designation, and one more with the veteran exempt designation.

This is a major problem. What this means is that only five of Patrick Wiercioch, Anton Rodin, Darren Archibald, Michael Chaput, Jayson Megna, Carter Bancks, Wacey Hamilton, and Jaime Sifers will be able to play on any given night.

The likely result of this is that there will be a whole lot of veterans getting scratched on a nightly basis, probably starting with AHL contracted players like Archibald, Bancks, Hamilton and Sifers. Sitting three of those players would bring them down to the limit, and would probably appease most Canucks fans, but I’m not sure how the Comets coaching staff will feel about essentially eliminating those players from their roster until injuries occur. Not to mention, Darren Archibald led the team in goals and points last season and very nearly made the NHL club, likely making him a legitimate candidate for an NHL call up this season. Meanwhile, Carter Bancks was the team captain last season, and led the Comets in points the season before.

Honestly, I have no clue how the Canucks and Comets are going to solve this problem. It could be that some trades are on the horizon, more likely of the AHL vets so as not to disrupt the crop of potential NHL call ups. Hopefully it won’t come to something like returning a younger player to the minors so they can send a veteran to the NHL.

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What we do know is that the team is aware of the situation. Comets beat writer Ben Birnell reported that head coach Trent Cull will be in contact with the Canucks regarding a potential solution.

(Note that the number in the above tweet does not include Wiercioch or the Veteran Exempt player.

I expect that we’ll see some moves shortly in order to resolve the issue. The Comets season starts on Saturday in Toronto, with a 1:00pm puck drop.

  • Ronning4ever

    The detail and insight in this article and the construction of the ‘rights’ depth chart are freaking unbelievable. Hat’s off to the author. This is why CA is my go to site for Canucks stuff. My partner hates you guys.

  • RuxinsVinegarStrokes

    Hey guys, long time lurker. I heard Laurence Gilman mention this article on 1040 today. I cant figure out the trolls who complain about this site (why come to the site is my question…). I think you guys are doing awesome. Cheers.

  • You answered your own question. Extra players will need to sit, healthy scratches.

    Injuries, I believe, had plenty to do with how we did in the standings and not just last year. It appears the plan is to have plenty of bodies, to give depth to both Canucks and Comets. It only makes sense.

    • We’re talking about 4 healthy scratches of veterans every single game. Nobody plans that intentionally. Far too many veterans not getting game time is a bad idea. I expect they’ll do something else to fix it.

  • Dirty30

    Was Biega put on waivers? I thought he was still with the big club sitting in the press box. If he is still with the Canucks, that’s one less vet to worry about.

    With the number of maintenance days Henrik has already taken, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a vet called up soon — that would solve the other vet problem for a while.

  • LTFan

    Very interesting and informative article Jeremy. There are many moving parts in running an NHL hockey team and its’ AHL affiliate. Who would have thought it was this complicated?

  • CometsHARDCORE

    Do all of Holm’s games count towards AHL veteran status? A couple of the seasons that he played in Europe were in the second tier HockeyAllsvenskan and not the SEL.

  • krutov

    this confirms my view pedan was in the pouliot trade at the canuck’s request.

    the solution would be trades or player loans.

    hard to see how they didn’t see this coming this summer when they signed sifers though.

    • Chris the Curmudgeon

      It’s possible that they figured Virtanen would be in the AHL and Boucher or Rodin in the NHL, and likewise that Wiercioch would make the team (before Pouliot became available). Still, I agree with you, as much as Sifers is a grizzled vet with tons of experience, the signing seems a little questionable for a team aiming to sign as many veterans as they did.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    It could get even more challenging when Gaunce returns from injury, provided there aren’t a crush of other injuries hurt before him, though a few hurt players is probably more likely than not. Gaunce will likely stick in the NHL (I highly doubt he would clear waivers, and that the team would even try), meaning another player needs to get sent back to Utica. Unless Boeser or Virtanen plays himself off the team by then, it probably means Biega getting waived and adding to the ranks of veterans down there. I guess they could send Wacey Hamilton to the ECHL (a bit of an indignity for a good AHL soldier like him), but otherwise something’s gotta give.

    Another frustrating element here is that while the team might want their first callup, in case of injury, to be Goldobin or McEneny, whereas that choice might be influenced by this requirement and force them to call Rodin or Wiercioch instead. Or Megna (shudder).

    • RuxinsVinegarStrokes

      Gaunce didnt get picked in an expansion draft. Good chance he isnt valued as high as we think he is. Lots of teams have a Gaunce type player in their mix.