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Monday Mailbag: Canucks top-six upgrades, Abbotsford check-ins, and more

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Photo credit:Matthew Henderson
Cody Severtson
2 months ago
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Something, something preamble about the Canucks’ iffy last few weeks.
Something, something, “But, haha, the Calgary Flames, am I right!?”
Something something positive!
With that, let’s get into today’s questions!
What is going on with Zach Sawchenko and Dmitry Zlodeyev?
Zach Sawchenko is currently suffering from what’s called “third-goalie syndrome.”
Devotees will remember that Spencer Martin once suffered from said syndrome when he began his Canucks tenure slotted behind Michael DiPietro and Arturs Silovs during the Abbotsford Canucks’ debut season.
Despite having the most experience of the trio, Martin started just two games in the first three months of the season. It took a run of sub-.900 save percentages from DiPietro and Silovs for Martin to take the starter’s position away from the Canucks’ young tandem and run away with it.
During the 2022-23 season, the Canucks ran a trio of Collin Delia, DiPietro, and Silovs. DiPietro struggled to earn reps and was then traded to Boston for Jack Studnicka when it was clear he was no longer a piece of the organization’s goalie plans.
Both Silovs and Nikita Tolopilo are playing very well for Abbotsford after some early hiccups. At this point, it’ll take a dramatic shift in performance or a callup of Silovs or Tolopilo to get Sawhchenko a game. Through 12 starts, Silovs has a .912 save percentage, including a .913 save percentage at 5-on-5. Rookie netminder Tolopilo has a .907 save percentage, including a .904 save percentage at 5-on-5.
Unfortunately for Sawchenko, that’s how she goes as a third-stringer in the AHL. Reps are really tough to come by, and it takes a lot to steal the crease.
As for Dmitry Zlodeyev, I’ve heard that he’s practicing with the team in the regular white practice jersey. The pre-game reports from Abbotsford play-by-play man Brandon Astle consistently refer to Dmitry Zlodeyev as a healthy scratch, so it’s reasonable to believe it is not injury keeping him out of the lineup.
The team is winning and winning a lot. Like Sawchenko and the goalie trio situation, it’s just tough to crack the lineup for a first-year pro making his debut on North American ice.
Is there anyone of note from Abbotsford’s penalty kill that could fill a slot in Vancouver if called up?
It’s tough for AHL callups with little experience to crack NHL special teams, especially the penalty kill. Typical NHL coaches get set with their guys at the start of the season and rarely stray from the path. It’s a reason why so many coaches fail, because they are creatures of habit and unwavering trust in their system. Travis Green put his NHL coaching career on the line over not wanting players like Elias Pettersson or Quinn Hughes on the penalty kill. If you recall, the penalty kill during his final year was one of the worst in NHL history.
The Abbotsford Canucks’ penalty kill ranks as the 10th-best in the AHL, and they sit in a three-way tie for the league lead in shorthanded goals, with six total.
I would like to see Linus Karlsson get a look with the Canucks’ PK, purely because Abbotsford holds a positive goal differential with Karlsson on the ice during his reps in Abbotsford. Same with Arshdeep Bains, who has outscored opposing power plays 3 to 2 while on the PK.
What happens to Zadorov when Pius Suter and Carson Soucy are healthy? Does he get moved up or down on the defensive pairings?
As I understand it, the team only needs to subtract one of their sub-million-dollar cap-hit players from the NHL roster. The easiest solution is sending Linus Karlsson back to Abbotsford, as he does not require waivers to be sent back down. Nils Åman requires waivers to be sent down, so it’s safe to say he’s here to stay. Rick Tocchet likes Phil Di Giuseppe, Mark Friedman, and Noah Juulsen, so Karlsson to Abbotsford is the likeliest option here.
Pius Suter is on IR, not LTIR, so his cap hit is already factored into the team’s cap room.
Ignore the line combos and d-pairings below; the image illustrates how one transaction is enough to create the cap space necessary to activate Suter and Soucy.
What area should Allvin & co be looking at to improve: the right side of the defence, or a forward for the top six?
I think the team’s defence got significantly boosted by adding Nikita Zadorov to the fold. When Carson Soucy returns, that then becomes a pretty legit defensive group. Moreso if they add Ethan Bear to the fold.
Rick Tocchet really liked Ethan Bear’s game and has cited his return from injury as a potential boost for the club. Theoretically, there’s a world where Tyler Myers ends up as this club’s 7th defenceman, depending on whether the club signs Bear and how NHL-ready he is after such a long recovery from surgery.
Hughes-Hronek
Soucy-Bear
Zadorov-Cole
Myers
Juulsen
Friedman
I think this club would be wise to explore an upgrade for the top six. Not just a one-dimensional offensive-minded top-six forward but a guy who contributes defensively. I have to think Andrei Kuzmenko has made himself the odd man out with Rick Tocchet. Heck, Kuzmenko was signed to a two-year extension just four days into Tocchet’s tenure; not a long rope for his new head coach to figure out if he’s a guy he’ll gel with.
Selling low on Kuzmenko would be brutal, considering how much he could have gone for last season when the Canucks were clearly out of playoff contention. That being said, this management group doesn’t care about the optics of opportunity cost lost.
One team sticks out to me as having a potential top-six option for the Canucks: the Ottawa Senators and Mathieu Joseph.
This one’s a long shot, but it’s based on the fact that the Senators were desperate to shed Joseph’s cap hit as they waited for clarity on the Shane Pinto situation. The Senators season has been off the rails since Michael Andlauer took ownership, and sit dead last in the Eastern Conference. They’ve scored the 4th-fewest goals in the league but have scored the 12th most goals per game. The Sens have made it clear that Joseph is not a future fit, despite him being a key contributor to their penalty kill and at even strength while carrying an extremely affordable $2.96-million-dollar cap hit.
I doubt Kuzmenko has Ottawa on his list of teams he’d waive for, but if the Canucks can somehow turn the $5.5-million-dollar offensively-minded forward into a 26-year-old winger, locked up to a cheaper cap hit  (for longer) who can play up and down the lineup AND kill penalties, they should do it.
Even if the Canucks have to retain, I think it’s a worthwhile venture. A rising tide lifts all boats, and swapping one-dimensional forwards for better two-way contributors would help this team rebound from its November struggles.
Is a 5th-round pick for Sam Lafferty still a steep price to pay?
Alright, I’ll own the L on this one. Lafferty has been a fantastic addition to the Vancouver Canucks, especially since getting bumped up to a line with Elias Pettersson and Ilya Mikheyev.
That being said, now that we know Patrik Allvin is capable of grabbing legit contributors like Nikita Zadorov for 5th-round picks, it almost feels like a wasted opportunity to be shedding late-round picks the way he has! Apparently, Allvin can cook when teams are desperate. Something that I don’t think any Canuck fan thought was possible of their favourite organization, given the previous decade of near-perpetual Ls on the trade market.
Why hasn’t Mark Friedman been given ice time? He seems to be a better option than Noah Juulsen overall?
Two simple reasons: lack of size and lack of penalty-killing prowess.
For all of the defensive warts of Juulsen’s game that are currently under the microscope, being a reliable penalty-killer (relative to this team’s current penalty-killing ability) isn’t one of them.
Juulsen logs over a minute of ice time shorthanded, and during those minutes with him on the ice, the Canucks are conceding the fourth-least goals against per 60 minutes of ice time (5.83 goals against/60 minutes). Only with Carson Soucy on the ice shorthanded are the Canucks getting a better rate of goal allowed per 60 minutes of ice time. Juulsen also leads all Canucks skaters on the penalty kill with the most blocked shots per 60 minutes of shorthanded ice time.
Sure, at even strength, Juulsen has struggled, but he is a net positive on the penalty kill. As the Canucks PK struggles in the minutes without Juulsen on the ice, he’ll still have a place under Rick Tocchet for his ability to eat minutes shorthanded.
Twofer: How does Jeremy Colliton’s coaching style and systems relate to Tocchets? What Similarities do they both share that allow for callups to have a smoother transition?
Aatu Räty update, please!
Jeremy Colliton was on with the Halford & Brough morning show last week where he spoke about this. According to Colliton, he and Tocchet speak quite frequently about play style, but more specifically, what is expected of players when they get to the NHL. A lot of the messaging was boilerplate stuff. When players from Abbotsford get to the NHL, they’re asked to finish their checks, move their feet, skate hard, know when to change, and when to commit to offence.
It all sounds very boring and simple, but the truth is communication was not a strong suit of this organization in the past. For example, Kole Lind spent his entire AHL career on the wing, having never played on the penalty kill before the club decided to play him at center and on the penalty kill in the final year of his entry-level contract because they had next to no center depth. Then, when Lind got to the NHL, they played him back on the wing.
Aatu Räty has played a mix of center and right wing for Abbotsford with little reps on the power play and plenty on the penalty kill. The result? He’s presently 6th in all situation points and leads the team in 5v5 production with 11 points in 19 games played, the third-best 5v5 points per game on the team. Additionally, his skills as a two-way center have allowed him to dominate his minutes. At 5-on-5, the Canucks have outscored opponents 13 to 7 with Räty on the ice.
Should Räty earn an NHL callup, which would be well-deserved at this point, Rick Tocchet can trust that he can flex him to the wing or centre. Folks would be surprised at how many teams and players do not communicate expectations of players ahead of the season. Or, don’t communicate specific expectations.
At the end of last season, Jeremy Colliton made it expressly clear that Bains would need to add lower-body strength to improve his game. Sure enough, that’s exactly what Bains targeted in the offseason, resulting in him being the first player to reach 20 points this past weekend, with four assists against the Laval Rocket over two games.

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