The Vancouver Canucks caused a bit of a stir earlier this week when head coach Bruce Boudreau announced that Nils Höglander would be a healthy scratch for Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Wild.
At the time, there was word that Höglander would get back into the lineup soon. But the stir only intensified when it was subsequently announced on Saturday morning that Höglander had been reassigned to Abbotsford.
Several in the fanbase were fuming at what they perceived as a slight against a young player that already seemed to be struggling with confidence. But it wasn’t that at all…it was a self-described “paper transaction” brought on by the necessities of the Canucks’ current circumstances.
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For once, this one has nothing to do with cap space. They actually entered Saturday morning with a cool million-and-change of Micheal Ferland’s LTIR relief available for spending, but only theoretically.
What the Canucks did not have available was roster space. The Saturday morning roster contained 13 forwards (Höglander included), two goaltenders, and a whopping nine defenders. Of the set, only Travis Dermott had been placed on Injured Reserve. That’s an active roster of 23, which is the maximum that a team can carry at any one time.
The issue arose out of the sheer number of absences and potential absences that the Canucks are experiencing on their blueline.
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Dermott’s return is still up in the air. Riley Stillman left the game against Minnesota with what sure looked like a concussion, and will be out for an indeterminate amount of time — but perhaps not enough time to warrant a trip to the IR. Tucker Poolman was described as a game-time decision against the Wild and did not dress. He presumably remains a game-time decision tonight, and he’s joined in that regard by Quinn Hughes, who is suffering from some unknown ailment.
Nine defenders on the roster, but only five that could be guaranteed to skate in Saturday’s home opener. Hence the need to recall Noah Juulsen as the potential sixth defender.
But in order to add someone to their already-maxed active roster of 23, the Canucks had to send someone down. There’s no real ambiguity about it. And, for obvious reasons, that player couldn’t be a defender or a goalie, so it had to be a forward.
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To avoid placing a player on waivers and possibly losing them, the Canucks had to choose from one of their four waiver-exempt forwards. That’s Vasily Podkolzin, Andrey Kuzmenko, Nils Åman, and Höglander.
Of that group, Höglander admittedly makes the most sense to demote. He’s already outside of the lineup as a recent healthy scratch, and the others would be difficult to take out of their current spot.
Kuzmenko is finding success in the top six and developing chemistry with some of the Canucks’ most important players.
Podkolzin is emerging as a true power forward and changing games with his physicality.
Åman is a center, and coming off a strong game that featured the first goal and assist of his NHL career.
So, it’s Höglander.
The transaction is a paper one in that, although Höglander is going to miss tonight’s game, he will almost certainly be recalled the second that one of Dermott, Stillman, Poolman, or Hughes is deemed 100% ready for action again. That will hopefully happen before Monday’s matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes. Juulsen will go back down, Höglander will come back up, and the whole process will be especially smooth because Abbotsford is literally right next door.
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Thus, the “demotion” of Höglander is only a technical one, and it can’t really be said to be based on performance, attitude, or even salary.
It’s just basic roster mechanics, and a consequence of the team being besieged by a truly outlandish number of injuries for so early in the season — even by Canucks’ standards — and of those absences being of such ambiguous lengths.