Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Who Goes Down When Sven Baertschi Returns?

The Vancouver Canucks have been without Sven Baertschi since an October 24 headshot from Tomas Hyka of the Vegas Golden Knights—a play that went unpenalized. Baertschi’s recovery from this concussion has been troubling at the very least. After spending nearly a month off the ice, Baertschi started skating again in late November, but he continued to suffer symptoms and dizzy spells. As it often is with head injuries, Baertschi’s return date remained in flux as November drew to a close.

In recent days, however, he’s been able to participate in some portions of practice—with a gray non-contact jersey—and had a hard skate by himself on Thursday morning. While his timetable is still unclear, it seems likely that Baertschi will make his return to the lineup sometime in the next week or so—and that will mean yet another roster move for the Canucks, who will have to send somebody down to make room.

But who will it be?


The Candidates:

Adam Gaudette

As one of just three waivers-exempt players on the Vancouver roster—Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are the others—it probably makes the most sense to return Gaudette to Utica. While Gaudette earned his first NHL goal on November 24 against the LA Kings and his overall play has improved steadily throughout the season, he’s still not receiving a ton of on-ice opportunity.

Thus far, Gaudette has been limited to an average icetime of 10:34 and just 15.7 shifts per game—by far the lowest totals of any Canucks regular. At just 22 years of age, Gaudette still has a bunch of developing left to do, and a top-line role for the Comets might just be the best place for him to develop at this juncture.


Alex Biega

Traditionally, the Canucks roll with eight defensemen and 13 forwards on the roster, but they’ve got away from that this season. The excessive amount of travel that Vancouver must deal with each season is usually cited as the reason for carrying an extra defenseman, but the Canucks will also be beginning a lengthy homestand when Baertschi returns to the lineup—which makes an eighth defenseman an unnecessary precaution.

This could result in Biega hitting waivers and returning to Utica once again, which is something the Comets and their fans would certainly celebrate. Until injuries strike the blueline again, Biega will remain stuck in the pressbox, so he might serve the franchise better by leading the Utica D-corps for a while—especially with Olli Juolevi on the IR for the time being.

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Tim Schaller

It’s certainly arguable that Schaller is the Vancouver forward that has performed the most poorly this season. With just five assists over 26 games—and a fairly dismal record on the penalty kill—Schaller just isn’t delivering what the Canucks expected him to when they signed him as a free agent.

That being said, Schaller’s status as a recent UFA signing—and a veteran one at that—likely makes him AHL-proof for at least this season. It’s a bad look when teams sign a player to play in the NHL and then send him to the minors shortly thereafter, and it can affect their ability to sign future UFAs. Still, his performance thus far would definitely justify it, so it’s not a total impossibility.


Tyler Motte

The numbers for Motte don’t look all that much better than those of Schaller, but the eye test says differently. Motte wasn’t even supposed to make the team this year, yet he’s kept himself in the lineup through sheer determination and force of will. It’s really hard to send down the hardest working player on the team, and that’s exactly what Motte has become.

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Though his underlying stats are questionable, Motte’s boundless energy is often infectious, and he seems to consistently push the play in the right direction. At this point, to send Motte to Utica would send the wrong message to the rest of the roster—and there’s a better-than-zero chance that he wouldn’t make it through waivers.


Nikolay Goldobin

Goldobin’s recent healthy scratch suggests that he at least merits mentioning on this list, but there’s absolutely no reason for Jim Benning to consider putting him on waivers. Though Bo Horvat recently passed him for the team lead in assists, Goldobin remains the team’s third-leading scorer and he’s the Canucks’ only legitimate option in the top-six aside from the Holy Trinity and Baertschi himself. That’s not to mention the high probability of someone else snagging him on waivers or the intensely negative reaction the fanbase would have to such a move.

In other words, don’t worry—Goldy is safe.

  • Killer Marmot

    With the Canucks’ talent for injury, potential logjams usually solve themselves. But assuming there are no injuries in the next few weeks, Biega seems like the obvious candidate. So far at least, he’s proven claim resistant.

    I wouldn’t consider sending Gaudette down until Sutter returns.

    • Dirty30

      Agree, though it’s unfortunate that Biega, or any of the guys actually trying, have to take one for the team instead of guys like Schaller or “Little-Things”.

      • Killer Marmot

        Biega is playing about one game a week right now. Even veterans need ice time. Better he get that in Utica than prowling the press booth in Vancouver. He still gets paid his NHL salary.

  • Darcy 19

    I think he should wait at least until after new years and evaluate himself then. I read somewhere that Sven has had five concussions in his career already, that’s scary bad so why put your career and longterm health on the line when your team isn’t reaching the playoffs any time soon. Don’t let them force you back Sven!

  • DJ_44

    he’s the Canucks’ only legitimate option in the top-six aside from the Holy Trinity and Baertschi himself.

    Steady on there. This is by no means correct. Goldobin is in the conversation, for sure, but Jake looks comfortable in the top six, scores more goals, and no one questions his defensive game or overall effort (anymore). Leivo has also inserted himself into the conversation for similar reasons.

    Sitting out Goldobin as a wake up call is what needed to be done. He has skill. He is not as skilled or polished as Baertschi, but it is there. If he somehow finds a will to compete everywhere on the ice, he will be fine. If not, brace yourselves for more healthy scratches or third line play.

      • Killer Marmot

        Del Zotto has reputation for being one of the poorer players, but his stats tell a different story.

        He has had a plus/minus of +8 in his last 14 games, tough to do given that the Canucks lost almost all of those games. His even-strength Corsi for the season is 51%.

        His offense is down from last year, but that’s partly because he has seen almost no power play time.

  • Ty Webb

    Schallers veteran and recently signed UFA status should have no bearing on the decision making process with regards to putting the best possible team on the ice. He has shown nothing in his first 26 games a canuck to warrant taking away a spot from the other players listed above. The signing clearly hasn’t worked out the way Canucks brass had hoped and, optics be darned, there’s too many passengers on this bus. Time to cut the losses and send him down.

    • Ty Webb

      Why? Gaudette got off to a slow start but he is improving game over game. He is slowly earning TG’s trust and is being given more and more responsibility. He is trending in the right direction and the Canucks need him to continue developing in the NHL. With any luck he will be ready to take on the 3rd line center role by the TDL to facilitate a Sutter trade.

        • LACANUCK

          Gaudette needs playing time. He can get twice the time in Utica and play PP as well as PK. I think he has done well, but Utica’s less travel also means more practice time. It’s a development thing not performance

          • Ty Webb

            Since Gaudette has been called up he has steadily improved with every passing game. He is taking on more minutes and more responsibility and earning the trust of his coach in the NHL. At this point, what part of his development would be better served playing in the AHL? He might be receiving less overall game minutes and less overall practice time in the NHL compared to the AHL but at this point, the focus needs to be quality over quantity. He has shown he is up to the task of not only playing in the NHL but taking on an ever increasing role with the Canucks. We may have to agree to disagree because to me it makes more sense to continue to develop him in the NHL rather than the AHL.

          • TD

            I like Gaudette and the NHL is better than the AHL as far as quality, but that is lessened if you look at the quality of deployment. The AHL time gains quality with first line minutes, first PP, first PK and relied upon in the closing minutes of a game. I don’t see Gaudette going though until Sutter returns.

          • I agree with LACANUCK. Gaudette is playing like a legit Bottom 6 centre but I think his ceiling is higher (2C). To reach that potential, giving him 1st line responsibilities and ice-time in Utica would serve him better because he’s not even close to taking Top 6 ice-time from Horvat or Pettersson.

          • steviewire

            I think that at this stage in Gaudettes development the canucks are more concerned about getting him comfortable with NHL speed and competition, rather than skills development. He needs to be in the NHL for that.

          • Ty Webb, I would say the major difference between Vancouver vs. Utica is that in Utica, there is no sheltering. Gaudette would be expected to lead Utica, which is a different headspace. While I agree that on the whole, the AHL is lesser quality than the NHL, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good development space. While there is less structured player at a team level, the AHL is populated by a ton of blue-chip prospects, former NHL players, AHL/NHL fringe players, NHL players on conditioning stints, and other players who are hungry to standout and get a promotion. Moreover, as a farm team, it’s a more forgiving space for errors – you can only get better when you make mistakes and learn from them so you don’t do that again.

          • DeL

            I agree. Send him to Utica and have him round out his game. Twenty minutes in all situations than ten plus more practice and mentoring and imagine how good he would be next year.

      • tyhee

        The Canucks don’t need Gaudette in the NHL this season. If they did he’d have been getting more ice time when the Canucks are short both of their defensive forwards. This is not a playoff team and the main thing should be where he can play that he will be best for the Canucks in the future.

        1. He’s waiver exempt.
        2. He’d get more playing time and more offensive opportunity in the AHL. There’s no need to rush him.

        I agree with LACanuck that it’s a no-brainer, but I don’t think the Canucks will do it. The Canucks’ history during this management regime is that they keep young high-profile rookies in the NHL rather than the AHL. They did it with Virtanen until he sunk so far they really had no choice but to send him and his stuff to the AHL (where he had a really rough season) and they did it with McCann even though he was sinking as his rookie season went on.

        My second choice would be Schaller. I don’t understand why a person would be concerned that that assigning a player to the minors after he has been given a fair opportunity and has been probably the worst player on the team is going to affect future free agent signings. Is there really anyone connected with hockey that thinks a free agent signing is immune to being sent to the minors no matter how bad he is? I’ve seen that suggestion before and consider it utter nonsense. He’s not only not producing but he’s worse than any forward on the team. Why keep him? His salary combined with his poor play may make him pretty much immune from being claimed on waivers and even if he is claimed, is that a bad thing? Can’t he be replaced with other guys that are available on waivers at least a couple of times a month?

        The Comets really could use a solid AHL defenceman and a solid center, so either Biega or Gaudette would fill a need in Utica. Schaller might as well-he’s young enough to still have some game and maybe being sent to Utica would help him find it.

        • steviewire

          I agree that Jake should have spent more time in the AHL earlier, but I think Gaudette is a different case. He is playing a solid two way game right now and seems more mature than Jake was at the same point in his career. The argument for keeping him up is that he is learning to play against NHL speed and a higher level of competition. Next year, or after the trade deadline if Sutter is moved, and they increase his minutes and responsibility he will be ready. If he was struggling at the NHL level he would probably have been sent down already, but thats not the case

          • steviewire

            @The Overseer I am not a newbie, I just dont post very often. This is the only account I’ve ever had. I tried to post a rational well thought out comment and you insult me? If you don’t agree with my reasoning, tell me why. Why in the hell would I have to prove my credibility in the comments section of a hockey blog. Is this really that important to you? Why not get a more constructive hobby?

          • TheRealRusty

            Steve. As Ray Ferraro has mentioned in past radio interviews, scoring in the NHL is exponentially more difficult than in the AHL which is in turn more difficult compared to the NCAA. The question that needs to be answered is if Gaudette has the potential to be more than a Brendan Gaunce? If the answer is yes, then it is in his long term interest to go to the AHL to learn how to score consistently there. That will be his confidence that he can fall back on next year when he is here full time. Let him play in key offensive situations to hone his craft. If the answer is no then by all means keep him here playing 10 mins a game in a bottom six role, then watch him get phased out in 3 years like Gaunce.

        • canuckfan

          With more practice and time in between games I think Gaudette could also work on his strength hard to do that in NHL as there isn’t enough recovery between games and workouts. He could get minutes and build on his strength.
          Sutter will soon be back and as said earlier will be a sought after player for teams making the playoffs. Even if Canucks are in the hunt at the deadline move him and bring up Gaudette even if they make the playoffs they won’t be going deep will be learning experience for players like Gaudette.

        • CanuckleheadOz

          Perhaps it would actually be to our advantage if Schaller going down affected our “desirability” as a destination for free agents, given JB’s track record with these signings over the years…
          That might be an outcome which could only be trumped by someone/anyone (please) stealing his phone and locking him up for the first 3 weeks of free agency each year. Preferably force-feed him endless prospect videos during this time of imprisonment so that he gets a head-start on the one aspect of his performance that most can agree he does most competently, namely the amateur draft.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Love the Bulldog’s heart but it might be Biega that heads (back) to Utica. Certainly disappointed in Schaller and would prefer him to go but his contract status is the obstacle here. Certainly it won’t be Motte or Goldobin who’ll go. As for Gaudette I’d hold off sending him down until there is no other way around it because he doesn’t have to clear waivers.

  • Holly Wood

    Sven is not likely coming back for a while yet, no need to send anyone down until him or Sutter return from injuries. Gaudette is really the only option unless you want to risk exposing Pouliot or Biega who may not pass through waivers. It’s just as likely another injury occurs in the meantime

  • Sandpaper

    I would think they would keep Biega and Schaller out of the lineup until someone is ready to return then place one of them on a conditioning stint, in Utica, similar to what they did last season, or the one before that with Biega.
    Or they make a trade.

    • If I’m understanding you right, Sandpaper, you’d send Schaller or Biega down on a conditioning stint? The NHL rule book thinks otherwise on that idea: “13.8 Conditioning Loan. Unless a Player consents, he shall not be Loaned on a Conditioning Loan to a minor league club. Such Conditioning Loan shall not extend for more than fourteen (14) consecutive days. The Commissioner may take whatever steps he deems necessary to investigate the circumstances under which a Player is Loaned on a Conditioning Loan. If the Commissioner has reason to believe or determines that the Club has used the Conditioning Loan to evade the Re-Entry Waivers, or otherwise Circumvent any provision of this Agreement, he may take such disciplinary action against the Club, as he deems appropriate. The Player shall continue, during the period of such Conditioning Loan, to receive the same Paragraph 1 NHL Salary, and be entitled to the same benefits, that he would have received had he continued to play with the Club.”

      If it was Baertschi getting sent to Utica, that wouldn’t be a problem. Sending an uninjured Biega or Schaller on for “conditioning” is pretty obvious, it’s to manipulate roster rules.

  • speering major

    I don’t get the excitement about Gaudette’s game. Is this just blind optimism? Guys like Motte and Gaunce can compete out there but they can’t score to save their life. Gaudette doesn’t compete at the level of Motte and he can’t score yet either.

    Gaudette would benefit a ton from getting ice time and some experience at the pro level. The AHL is a step up from college. Gaudette hasn’t proven he can score even in the AHL yet. Boucher lights it up down there and even he can’t produce in the NHL. If Gaudette can find some offense down there he should be in a good position to be effective in the NHL. He looks like will be able to compete out there, but has to get better everywhere. You need to be able to score a few goals in todays NHL. Give him time.

    • I’m excited about Gaudette because I see hockey vision. He has above-average offensive awareness and scoring skill set. Not Pettersson-esque hands but not Jannik Hansen hands of stone either. It looks like he’s trying to translate his NCAA game to the NHL which was driving the net and trying to set up a teammate or score from the dirty areas. It doesn’t help that he’s been paired with bottom 6 guys who aren’t offensive machines like Roussel, Archibald and Leipsic. Gaudette is pretty raw, meaning that I don’t think he has NHL timing or positioning yet. Check out his NCAA highlights and you’ll get a better feel for his game.

      • Missing Burr

        Another kiss-of-death reccy from the same armchair idiot who said with conviction

        “This is a situation where Pedan’s brawn could be applied as a bottom pairing enforcer/PP specialist under Newell Brown’s expertise.”

        woops… embarrassing.

  • RetroCanuck

    Id send down Gaudette so he can build confidence in his offensive game. If he really steps up down there then we could potentially trade a guy like Sutter to open up a permanent spot for him. Gaudette may even be the centre Dahlen needs to really exceed and get up here at the deadline with a trade of Granny or Schaller.

    • Beer Can Boyd

      This is a fair point regarding Dahlen. However, sending Gaudette down would mean that Granlund is your 4th center until Sutter comes back. He’s far more effective on the wing, IMO. They’ve proven by sending Gagner down this year, that salary is no longer the prime concern, and if Green goes on merit, Schaller has to be the one to go. He really has shown nothing so far. Also, if they put him on waivers, he’ll probably get picked up by an Eastern team who saw him score 12 goals last year, and his salary will come off the Canucks books.

      • Bud Poile

        Schaller has more points than Adam while playing 7 minutes each night.
        Gaunce scored 3 points in 3 games and was 61.5% in the circle.
        I understand Gaudette’s defensive acumen is NHL level but Sutter,Beagle,Petey and Bo are the top 4.
        Baertschi and Sutter will have been out 2 + months,apiece.
        As for the question of who goes down when Baertschi returns it is likely both Sutter and Sven return in the new year so there is a winger/d man and pivot to go.
        Hard to believe the team won’t suffer an injury before then.
        Pouliot,MDZ,Schaller,Biega and Gaudette are all on the list.
        Likely some market for Pouliot and MDZ out there and they need to play and be traded.

        • Missing Burr

          STFU with your bi-polar nonsense and answer the questions other esteemed board members have been asking you… WHO traded for Goldy and were YOU cheering for the Vancouver Canucks from 2008 through to the Stanley Cup final run of 2011?…

          • Gino's 3rd Cousin

            I’ll chime in here to throw my vote behind appointing moderators so we can keep this piece of garbage out of here. It’s hard to read through the comments without this human turd trying to derail every conversation. It’s beyond the point of embarrassing.

          • Silverback

            You remind me of my old uncle Mike. At family gatherings he would become incoherent. Just when we thought he was done for the night, he regain conciousness and rattle off a few gems that would make us all just wonder when he suffered the brain damage. Maybe it was just the booze, but it sure left us all wondering.

    • canuckfan

      It is a toss up between Pouliot and MDZ as they are not signed past this year neither are sought after players by any other team. MDZ may have hope in the organization as an assistant coach in Utica if no one wants him after this year if it is true about his attitude if he went down he could also work with the prospects about what they need to do to make the NHL and how hard it is to remain in the big leagues under the new CBA as younger players are cheaper and the team does not care what you did for them in the past when you were young.