Pettersson could miss 2nd game as Canucks look for another win over Leafs
After a rousing win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night, the Vancouver Canucks will try to string together two straight wins for the first time since January in their rematch on Saturday.
It's a start time of 4 p.m. Pacific — prime time on Hockey Night in Canada, when the nation will be watching.
And there's a good chance that Thursday's 3-1 win may have flown under the radar in many circles, not just because of the late start on the east coast, but also because there was limited postgame coverage. News of Walter Gretzky's passing broke during the second intermission, so there were tributes to him. Then, about an hour after the game's end, the news broke that the Calgary Flams had dismissed coach Geoff Ward, and brought back Darryl Sutter.
Sutter's introductory press conference also happened to line up exactly with Jim Benning's first Zoom call since January on Friday morning, pulling a good chunk of the national spotlight away from the Canucks.
And let's face it — we don't generally get a lot from Benning when he does speak, and Friday was no exception. He downplays perceived miscues, keeps the spotlight on the positives, and professes loyalty to those within the organization — perhaps to a fault, sometimes.
A couple of weeks ago, it seemed like the going-nowhere Canucks would have no issues cutting ties with impending free agents Brandon Sutter, Tanner Pearson and Jordie Benn, who could all be valuable at the trade deadline. But this week, Sutter said he wants to stay — and the 32-year-old has a modified no-trade clause that allows him to submit a list of 15 teams where he can't be traded.
On Friday, Jim Benning also expressed interest in signing Tanner Pearson to a contract extension. On the plus side, Pearson is still just 28. And he has a strong relationship with Bo Horvat, both on and off the ice. But despite the arrival of Nils Hoglander this season, Pearson has just nine points in 27 games — by far his least productive stretch since arriving in Vancouver.
Benning made a good deal when he sent Erik Gudbranson to Pittsburgh in exchange for Pearson at the 2019 trade deadline. In his first 88 regular-season games, up till the pause last March, he had 30 goals and 57 points, an average of 0.65 points per game.
This season, he's at basically half of that — 0.33 points per game.
A couple of weeks ago, Elliotte Friedman reported in '31 Thoughts' that Arizona could be interested in a winger like Pearson as a rental. As of Saturday, though, the Coyotes are currently sitting four points out of a playoff spot in the West Division. And they could have a tough time dislodging anybody from a solid-looking top four of Vegas, Colorado, St. Louis and surging Minnesota — not to mention a rapidly improving Los Angeles Kings group, with whom they're currently tied.
Because Pearson signed his current contract when he was still with the Kings, he does not have any form of trade protection, so he could be dealt.
If Benning does pursue a new deal, I wonder what the terms would be? Due to all the financial pressures and uncertainties caused by the coronavirus, traditional contract extensions have not been happening this season. Even big stars like Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who are both impending UFAs, are no closer to getting new deals in place.
Under these circumstances, and with the addition of some of the stars like Taylor Hall and Tyson Barrie who took one-year deals last season in hopes that the league's financial landscape would improve for them, I expect we'll see an absolutely massive UFA class this year — probably augmented even more by a significant group of younger RFAs who don't receive qualifying offers.
That should make for an unprecedented buyers' market for teams.
In my mind, any kind of extension for a player like Pearson would have to be negotiated with these ideas in mind. Surely, that would come in well below the $3.75 million that he has been earning over the last four seasons?
On Friday's call, Jim Benning also took a good amount of heat for the fact that he's now in his seventh season at the helm, and those early promises that the team could be turned around quickly look pretty hollow at this point.
This is an interesting juxtaposition:
The Leafs are riding high in the North Division right now. But if they remain clear favourites at the end of the season and somehow *don't* get out of the division and reach the final four, what will the conversation be then?
Heck — what will the conversation be if the Canucks manage to beat the Leafs on Saturday and sweep this mini-series?
On Thursday, Toronto could be excused, coming off a dominant performance in Edmonton, playing a third game in four nights, and leaning on third-string goaltender Michael Hutchinson.
The Leafs took Friday off so as I write this, there's no word yet on who will start in goal.
With the 4 p.m. puck drop, the Canucks are also skipping a morning skate after practicing on Friday. They are playing their fourth game in six nights, and Thatcher Demko was excellent again on Thursday night, stopping 31 of 32 Toronto shots. Now, after he was given Tuesday off in Winnipeg, it seems conceivable that Demko could get the nod again on Saurday.
Here are a couple of possible lineup updates:
On Friday, Benning mentioned that Elias Pettersson had suffered a minor upper-body injury in Winnipeg, which is what kept him out of Thursday's contest. Sounds like he'll miss a second straight game on Saturday.
In addition to Jake Virtanen's out-of-nowhere two-goal performance on Thursday, the other thing I liked about the Canucks' play was their physical game. In his second game of the year, Jayce Hawryluk's ice time ramped up to a whopping 8:04. He did a nice job of setting the tone with three first-period hits, two of which came right before Virtanen's opening goal.
Making his NHL debut as a last-minute fill-in for the missing Pettersson, I also thought Marc Michaelis was steady enough. He did finish the night as a minus-one, on the ice for Pierre Engvall's goal, but took a regular shift throughout the game, playing mostly on the "we're all centres" line with Brandon Sutter and Adam Gaudette.
One other transaction note from Friday: the Canucks moved defenseman Guillaume Brisebois off the taxi squad. He has been loaned to the AHL's Laval Rocket, so he'll get some game action but still be easily available if the Canucks need to call him up.
While you're waiting for puck drop today, tune into Sportsnet around noon to catch Game 3 of the PWHPA Dream Gap Tour women's hockey showcase. Saturday's game is being played at United Centre in Chicago, featuring many of the top players in the game.
Now that the women's world championship has been set for May, it's so great to see these players back on the ice in competitive game situations for the first time in more than a year. Last week's New York showcases were great, and I'm eager for more.
Here's my story, from the New York Times:
Enjoy the game!