The PNE gets underway this weekend. That means we're into the last two weeks of summer, which means the 2018-19 hockey season is within sniffing distance.
The Canucks' first preseason game of the year is one month away. They kick off their schedule with three games in three nights at Rogers Arena—September 18th against Edmonton, 19th against Calgary and 20th against Los Angeles. Then, the team hits the road to play the same three teams before wrapping up the exhibition schedule at Prospera Place in Kelowna against the Arizona Coyotes.
Over in the KHL, the long preseason is already rolling—and includes a number of small regional tournaments.
Look who's wearing the "C" as he accepted the Nizhny Novgorod Governor’s Cup last week — our old pal Nikita Tryamkin! Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg went undefeated in the tournament, finishing up with a 5-0 record to capture the prize.
A couple of other ex-Canucks have also made the jump to the KHL for the first time this year:
• Patrick Wiercioch, who spent the 2017-18 season with the Utica Comets, has signed on for a year in Belarus with Dinamo Minsk.
• Jannik Hansen, who was unable to maintain a regular roster spot in a season and a bit with the San Jose Sharks after he was dealt away from the Canucks at the 2017 trade deadline, has signed a one-year deal with CSKA Moscow. Hansen finished with 4-17-21 in 61 total games with the Sharks. He appeared in just 46 games last season.
While I'm on the topic, here's a rundown of the status of some other former members of the Canucks and Comets in case you missed any of these tidbits during the summer months:
From the 2017-18 Canucks roster:
• Thomas Vanek signed a one-year deal to return to the Detroit Red Wings on July 1. Vanek had 38 points in 48 games with the Wings in 2016-17 before he was moved to the Florida Panthers at the 2017 trade deadline. After his successful season with the Canucks, Vanek gets a raise from $2 million to $3 million this season—also more than the $2.6 million he earned in his previous stint with the Wings. He also has a no-trade clause, so he'll be spared the indignity of the annual chatter about how he always seems to disappoint as a trade-deadline rental.
• Jussi Jokinen, the man the Canucks acquired for Vanek at the deadline, remains unsigned.
• After winning the KHL's Gagarin Cup with Ak Bars Kazan after he left the Canucks to return to Russia last season, Alexander Burmistrov has signed a contract extension for an additional two years.
• Nic Dowd will be slotting into the Jay Beagle role with the defending Stanley Cup champions after signing a one-year deal worth $650,000 with the Washington Capitals on July 1.
• Jayson Megna also signed with the Capitals on July 1, on a one-year, two-way deal that will pay him $650,000 at the NHL level and $315,000 in the minors. That's a bit of a pay cut from the one-way deal that paid him $675,000 with the Canucks and Comets last season.
• After his one-year sojourn to North America, defenseman Philip Holm signed his first KHL deal on July 16, with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. Before signing as a free agent with the Canucks after his gold-medal win at the 2017 World Championship, Holm had played in the Swedish Hockey League. He spent most of last season in the minors, playing just one NHL game with the Canucks before being dealt to Vegas at the 2018 trade deadline in exchange for Brendan Leipsic. Holm might have some fun memories of being a Black Ace but did not dress for Vegas, finishing out his season with the AHL Chicago Wolves.
• After being flipped to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forward Tanner Kero on June 24, Michael Chaput signed a two-year, two-way free-agent contract with the Montreal Canadians on July 1. The deal carries an average annual value of $675,000 at the NHL level and a minimum salary of $325,000 in both years at the AHL level. A native of Montreal, Chaput is going to take a shot at being the French Canadian center that the Habs are always seeking.
Notable members of the Utica Comets who won't be returning:
• Cole Cassels, now 23, signed on with Grizzlys Wolfsburg of the German League and is playing his first preseason games this weekend. Cassels' career peak came during the 2014-15 major junior playoffs, when he shut down Connor McDavid to help his Oshawa Generals move past the Erie Otters on their way to an OHL title, then won the Memorial Cup.
But Cassels played through injury that spring, and was never the same afterward. In three seasons in Utica, he had 15-29-44 in 202 games and was a minus-25. Last season was his best, with 26 points in 69 regular-season games and three points in Utica's competitive five-game first-round playoff series against the eventual Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies.
"It was a bit surprising for me when Cole was offered to me a few days ago," said Grizzlys sports director Charly Fliegauf
when Cassels' signing was announced on July 31 (via Google Translate).
"He was struggling after winning the Memorial Cup in Utica in his first two years, and some injuries were a hindrance to his development. In the last season, however, it was much better. Especially in the second half of the season, when I saw him three times in February, he was one of the best players with a supporting role. He plays in all three zones despite his age already with a lot of responsibility, is above average at the bully and knows his side players very well."
I thought Cassels showed flashes of his old OHL self in that playoff series against the Marlies. I'm a little surprised that the Canucks organization chose to part ways with him but I guess with all the young talent coming in, roster space is at a premium in Utica just like it will be in Vancouver next season. I'm also guessing that Cassels' new German contract will be an improvement over the $67,500 a year that he earned in each of the three seasons on his entry-level deal in Utica.
• Joseph LaBate remains an unsigned UFA. He remains close with Thatcher Demko, popping up regularly in Demko's Instagram Stories.
• Griffen Molino signed an AHL deal with the Toronto Marlies. After being with Utica for just one season, where he had 10 points in 46 games, his wedding this summer attracted a large contingent of Comets players.
• After being dealt to the Los Angeles Kings in December in exchange for Nic Dowd, Jordan Subban signed a one-year, two-way deal with Toronto on July 1. Like Chaput, Subban is returning to his hometown. His deal pays $650,000 at the NHL level and $95,000 in the AHL.
Subban saw a big drop in production last season. After scoring 16 goals and appearing in the AHL All-Star Game in 2016-17, he had just five assists in 16 games with the Comets when he was traded. With the Kings' farm team in Ontario, he managed 4-4-8 in 36 games and was a minus-9 over the rest of the year.
• After appearing in just seven games with the Comets, Anton Rodin eventually decamped for HC Davos in Switzerland, where he had six points in eight regular-season games and seven points in six playoff games.
He'll take one more crack at North America next season after signing a one-year, one-way deal worth $750,000 with the Anaheim Ducks.
currently shows the Ducks with just 11 signed forwards for next season—including the probably-on-IR Ryan Kesler but not including RFA Nick Ritchie. The Ducks could have room for a skill player like Rodin up front on their roster if he shows well in training camp.
It's rare for former Canucks to excel in their new settings, but I wonder if we'll end up looking at Rodin next season as one that got away?