An unfortunate concussion—and a recent bout of illness—have combined to keep Sven Baertschi out of the Vancouver Canucks lineup for the majority of the 2018/19 season. In his absence, several other players have stepped into top-six roles—with varied results—and that’s raised the important question of Baertschi’s role with the team in the long term. Below, we’ll try our best to answer that question.
What Role Does Sven Baertschi Play Right Now?
|PPG Ranking Among NHL Forwards (20+ Games Played)||202nd||155th||145th||125th|
Throughout his time in Vancouver, Sven Baertschi has consistently performed as a top-six forward—albeit one on the low end of the production scale.
As of right now, there are 31 teams in the NHL, which means that—rather unscientifically speaking—there are about 93 top line forwards out there and 186 top-six forwards. His injury history aside—for now—Baertschi’s point-per-game totals put him well within the bounds of top-six production in all but his first season with the Canucks.
That being said, Baertschi has never approached first line production, and he probably never will. At this exact moment in time, Baertschi is playing like a second-line left winger, which is exactly where he sits on the Canucks’ current roster. But how long will that be the case?
How Long Can He Keep That Up?
Previously on CanucksArmy, a former contributor crunched the numbers when it came to NHL development curves and found that forwards typically peak—in terms of both overall production and advanced analytics like WAR—at around age 24, with their “primes” extending from age 22 to 26. Other predictive models have turned up similar age ranges.
Last year, the main man Ryan Biech put all that together in a graph depicting when each Canuck forward could be expected to hit their peaks and prime, and the results certainly seem to jive with the “eye test” thus far.
What does this mean for Sven Baertschi?
If these models are to be believed, Baertschi should be reaching the end of his prime in the current 2018/19 season, and after this year his numbers should be expected to decline. Now, it must be noted that these statistical models are far from perfect and there are exceptions to every rule—just look at Alex Ovechkin, whose production plummeted during his supposed prime years then skyrocketed when he hit his 30s—and it is not guaranteed that Baertschi’s numbers will immediately decline.
Still, it seems fair to conclude that Baertschi is rapidly approaching the end of his period of maximum effectiveness as an NHL forward. It’s also fair to conclude that he’s probably past the point of any dramatic uptick in his scoring totals. In 2018/19, Baertschi is what he is.
A further complicating factor is Baertschi’s injury history—his current brush with illness aside. In his time with the Vancouver organization, Baertschi has missed an average of 21.5 games per season—which represents more than a quarter of the regular schedule. That’s a significant amount of wear-and-tear, and it could lead to Baertschi declining a bit quicker than the average NHL forward. Or maybe not. These things are impossible to predict.
In The Context Of The Rest Of The Team
As of the 2018/19 season, the Vancouver organization isn’t exactly swimming in productive left wingers. Nikolay Goldobin has seen a surge in his scoring totals as a 23-year-old—which is again consistent with the above chart—but beyond him the options are few and far between. Jonathan Dahlen is having a solid, if unspectacular, rookie season with the Utica Comets, but he’s probably a year or more away at this point. Jonah Gadjovich and Petrus Palmu are even further away.
That means that Baertschi’s spot on the roster is safe for now, but that could also change within a season or two. If Goldobin permanently establishes himself in the top-six and Dahlen progresses quickly, the Canucks would be foolish not to make space for them at the expense of an aging Baertschi. Whereas Baertschi is exiting his prime, Goldobin is just entering his—and Dahlen is just 21 years old
There’s also a great possibility that the Canucks acquire a more productive left winger—perhaps one capable of keeping up with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser on the top line—in the near future. While the right side of the defense represents the greatest organizational need at this moment in time, the left wing is definitely next on the list—and one has to imagine that Jim Benning already has his eye out for potential acquisitions, whether they be through the draft, trade, or free agency.
Even the most optimistic of Canuck fans don’t really expect the team to be competing for the Stanley Cup any earlier than 2020/21. Baertschi could still feasibly be a solid second-line option for the Canucks in that season, but it would probably be preferable for them to find a stronger candidate in the meantime—if they truly want to transform into a contender, that is.
The Contract Factor
Sven Baertschi is currently in the first year of a three-year contract extension that carries an annual cap hit of $3.37 million. Given the comparables for Baertschi’s contract available on CapFriendly, it’s fair to say that the Canucks received a bit of a bargain when they re-signed him—at least, based on his current level of production.
Baertschi’s contract runs out after the 2020/21 season, and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent at that point—and presumably ready to cash in on a larger deal. Unfortunately, that’s also the time period in which Baertschi’s production rate will almost certainly be going downhill.
This reads as a situation in which the Canucks could easily find themselves paying for past performance and locking themselves into a regrettable long-term contract. In other words, if the team hangs on to Baertschi until 2021, they should probably expect to cut ties with him at that point—unless he signs for a major discount—lest they end up with another cap-complicating deal.
In the short term, Sven Baertschi has a role with the Vancouver Canucks—and there’s no heir apparent to his position as a top-six left winger. In the long term, however, the situation will almost certainly change. To put it bluntly, if the Canucks are still relying on Baertschi as a top-six forward when his contract comes to an end in 2021, it will probably mean that the team isn’t quite as strong a contender as most fans hoped—and so the search should already be on for a replacement.