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Photo Credit: © Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

‘Once somebody’s got their mind made up it’s hard’: Sven Baertschi spoke candidly about his tough past two seasons

After signing a three-year, $10,099,998 contract in the summer of 2018 at the age of 25, Sven Baertschi appeared to be a key cog in the rebuild of the Vancouver Canucks.

He was a young winger that Jim Benning traded a second-round pick for and his offensive game began to thrive when he was given top-six minutes with the Canucks.

Baertschi was a solid power play producer for the Canucks in his NHL time but something changed after concussion-related injuries kept him out of the lineup for 53 games in the 2018-19 season. After that year, he was basically sent to the AHL and forgotten about after Benning called him a “soft skill” type of player.

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It’s definitely a tough situation as Baertschi appeared as though he would add winger depth to the organization but after the 2018-19 season, he was solely relied upon to be a good leader to the young guys in the AHL and was passed on time and time again when the NHL team went through injuries and needed help on the wings.

On Thursday morning, Baertschi went on CHEK TV’s Donnie and Dhali to talk about his time in Utica and what he hopes for in the future now that he is an unrestricted free agent.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself the last couple of years,” said Baertschi. “It was definitely not easy at the beginning being sent down and trying to continue to try to play to the best of your abilities and continue to grind it out. I was grinding it out, and I knew this day was going to come. I was going to be a free agent and hopefully, something good will happen here this offseason.”

Baertschi was asked about what he learned in the AHL environment.

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“I was put in a different situation than where I was in Vancouver,” said Baertschi. “All of a sudden, I was one of the oldest guys in the room, I’m surrounded by a bunch of young guys. Guys that came fresh out of college or junior hockey and all of a sudden, they’re looking at me. Compared to before, I was looking at Hank and Danny as the older guys setting good examples and all of a sudden I was the person guys were looking at trying to learn from and it was definitely different. I found myself in a different position but also I was able to work on my leadership. I was able to work with younger guys and show them how and what it’s like to be a pro hockey player.”

Though it looked like Baertschi could have definitely helped the Canucks roster over the past two seasons, he was only given six games in two shortened seasons.

Don Taylor asked him where he thought things went wrong with the organization.

“I suffered a concussion,” said Baertschi. “Throughout that concussion, I was dealing with the mental side of things and wasn’t doing so hot. It took longer to recover, it was the process that took me a long time and I came back to the team and started playing, I wasn’t quite ready for it, and then came back again. When I was coming back in August, after missing 30-something games, I was ready to come back and I got healthy scratched again when I was supposed to come back. So, that’s when it started, I sort of started to have like a weird feeling about it, I don’t know if it was anything do to with the length of time I had to take to recover.”

“Then going into the offseason, they obviously added a few pieces, and then coming into camp it sort of felt like they looked at me different from the hockey side of it. I went into training camp and I thought I’d played pretty good, had a really good camp. In many ways, I think their outlook and path had changed and there just wasn’t room on the team for me. It was hard to come back after that, once they decided I was gonna go to the minors, it was really hard to come back and when I got a call, the leash wasn’t as long as it used to be before for me and a couple of mistakes knocked me out of the game and sent back down. I’ve always been a player that needed a little bit of a longer leash to be able to perform at my highest level, and I’m gonna make mistakes. I think people know that about me, when I have a longer leash, I perform way better but I didn’t get it when I got back up so it made it hard to come back and play for the Canucks.”

Baertschi talked about his mental struggles and said that it’s hard to explain. He spoke about being depressed after taking the initial hit that brought on the concussion as he felt he was letting the team down.

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“I had all these feelings and they were hard to explain where they come from,” said Baertschi. “I can’t explain how it happened.”

He spoke about struggling to be able to go do simple day-to-day things like going to the grocery store as he would begin shaking when just going to grab groceries. Baertschi claimed he saw a great sepcialist in Vancouver who taught him about mindfulness and meditation and that was the positive turning point for him.

He said that up until that point of working with a specialist that he wasn’t able to properly recover during his post-consussion symptoms. At the beginning, he was a little worried about the physical side of the game but went on to say, “I’ve been healthy ever since and been playing harder than ever.”

When asked about his future, he said “nobody knows”, Baertschi still wants to try his hand at the NHL and also said that money is not a deciding factor. He just wants to play in the NHL and I have to believe that some team will give him that opportunity. He is 28 years old and scored at just under a half-point per game pace in his 291 NHL games.

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The concussion obviously was the main reason why he was not able to play in the 2018-19 season and to a degree, he opened up about the recovery being tough and holding him back at the beginning of the 2019-20 season.

This past season is a bit confusing as he should have been an option for the Canucks to call up when we were seeing players like Jimmy Vesey and Matthew Highmore be given top-six minutes. Granted, it would have taken a quarentine to get him into the Canucks’ lineup, but he was under contract and had shown top-six/nine potential in the past.

Baertschi talked about being passed on as a call-up or seeing the Canucks target other players through waivers before even thinking of giving him another shot in the NHL.

“Every time somebody called up or guys are added, you get that feeling that they just forgot about me. It was hard,” said Baertschi. “Once you’re buried, it’s hard to bounce back and you’re be hoping you might get another shot but once somebody’s got their mind made up it’s hard to bounce back and come back and play.”

The organization did not give him a shot and Baertschi was a good soldier as he became a leader to the young prospects in Utica.

I watched a lot of Baertschi over the past two years and at times, I would have definitely liked to see more in the AHL. If he is serious about an NHL future, he should have been dominating the minors. At times, he was dominating that league but there were far too many games where he simply did not look like he belonged in the NHL.

When Benning talked about Baertschi as soft skill, it should have been a kick in the pants to Baertschi to not be that type of player in Utica and simply put, he wasn’t consistently playing with a hard skill play-style.

I think there is an NHL job out there for Baertschi, who tallied over a point per game in the 2019-20 AHL season but only put up 14 points in 24 games this year.

At 28 years old, he might need to win a job out of camp on a PTO or two-way deal with another team.

As for the Canucks and Baertschi, his contract coming to an end is a good thing for both sides. Obviously, it didn’t work out well for either party, but now that Baertschi is a UFA, each side can wipe their hands and move on from the strange situation.

From all accounts, Baertschi has been a great helper to the Canucks prospects and the coaching staff down in Utica spoke very highly of him on and off the ice.

All that being said, this could be the last time you’ll see Sven Baertschi’s name here on CanucksArmy.