Eriksson scratched, Roussel out for the season, Hughes out at least a week
Wednesday March 13 - Vancouver Canucks 4 - New York Rangers 1
Tyler Motte was the offensive hero and Shotgun Jake delivered an empty-net goal just in time for last call, but injuries and healthy scratches headlined the news of the day as the Vancouver Canucks knocked off the New York Rangers on Wednesday at Rogers Arena.
Here are your highlights:
The big news before puck drop was the announcement that Loui Eriksson had been healthy-scratched from the lineup for the first time in his three-year tenure in Vancouver.
Travis Green had been coy about his forward deployment at Wednesday's morning skate. I wonder if that was to avoid the Twitter/talk radio storm that would have erupted if he had announced that he was scratching the $6 million man?
Green downplayed the significance of the decision when the word came down shortly before gametime:
Part of me feels kinda bad for the guy, who had finally stayed healthy this year. But Eriksson had become a fixture on what was derisively being called the $10-million fourth line—and obviously, his salary made up the majority of that investment. And while his 22 points this year actually have him tracking to his best season in a Vancouver uniform, Eriksson has just two points in his 18 games played since the All-Star Break: an assist in that win in Colorado, then his 10th goal of the year against the Leafs last week.
But it's hard to feel tooooo bad for somebody who has been so handsomely rewarded for delivering underwhelming returns.
Eriksson's contract had a no-move clause for its first two years; that dropped to a no-trade clause for this season and next, then turns into a 15-team no-trade list for the final two years of his deal.
A reminder, once again, that teams can only retain salary on two players at a time under the terms of the current CBA. The Canucks' obligations for Roberto Luongo run for three more years. His deal also expires at the end of the 2021-22 season, the same as Eriksson's, and I believe the Canucks would still be on the hook for that money even if Luongo goes on long-term injured reserve at some point before his contract ends — and yes, given how much he has talked about how hard it is now to get his body ready for game action, I'm confident that if he stops playing, it'll be an LTIR situation, not a retirement with cap recapture.
Buget teams looking to reach the salary-cap floor while also economizing on real dollars spent could actually see appeal in the structure of Eriksson's deal, if he was willing to move on and make a fresh start. It does seem possible that his contract could be moved this summer, especially if it was bundled with another asset as a sweetener.
In Wednesday's one-game sample size, the fourth line looked good with Markus Granlund skating in Eriksson's spot with Jay Beagle and Tyler Motte. The trio was on the ice together for Motte's first goal, but Granlund had changed for Antoine Roussel, fatefully, in the 11-second window before Motte's second goal beat Lundqvist.
I'm not going to embed the video of Motte's goal/Roussel's injury/Brendan Lemieux's collision with Roussel that earned him a match penalty. I saw Roussel's leg bend awkwardly as he went down in front of Lundqvist, so I choose not to re-live that. Rangers fans were irate about the penalty call, suggesting that Lemieux's contact with Roussel was accidental as the player was already falling.
After the game, Travis Green announced that Roussel, unfortunately, is now finished for the year due to that injury. That's too bad—he had hit a career high with 31 points in his 65 games this season and worked his way up the lineup at times, showing sick mitts on some of his set-ups. As the Canucks' scoring was drying up, Roussel was trending upward offensively, with four goals and eight assists since the All-Star Break. He also seemed to be the team's competitive engine, able to get the rest of the boys fired up, and was a great locker-room quote. He'll be missed during these final weeks of the season.
I think the other reason for Ranger fans' outrage on the Lemieux penalty is the fact that they felt they'd already been unjustly punished when Chris Kreider got five-and-a-game for his reverse elbow to the head of Elias Pettersson earlier in the second period.
I thought this one was pretty cut-and-dry, and some parties were calling for a suspension to Kreider. The league doubled down on its punishment by hitting him with a $5,000 fine on Thursday.
Pettersson went to the dressing room, but returned before the end of the second period.
Elsewhere, under the radar, Ashton Sautner struggled to get off the ice after he got tangled up with Brendan Smith behind the Vancouver net with about six minutes left in the third period. Word after the game was that he would be "re-evaluated."
Sautner had abandoned his full face shield in favour of a regular visor in recent games as he completed his recovery from the facial injury he'd suffered in Utica earlier in the season. He hadn't drawn a lot of attention to himself since coming up to the Canucks in February but in the case of a rookie defenseman, that's just fine—and it was quite a vote of confidence that Travis Green chose to go with him and Guillaume Brisebois on Wednesday, while scratching Derrick Pouliot.
Wednesday night's game was also Sautner's 10th of the year with the Canucks. That means that, even, though he was papered down to Utica at the trade deadline in order to make him eligible for the AHL playoffs, now he needs to clear waivers before he can be sent down.
The severity of his injury—and Utica's play down the stretch—will both determine whether or not that ends up mattering. The Comets' current losing streak stretched to five games when they were shut out 3-0 by Rochester on Wednesday. They've now slipped behind Belleville into fifth place in the AHL's North Division standings, just below the playoff cut-line.
While I'm on the topic of injuries and defensemen—and protecting assets—we also got some clarity on Quinn Hughes' ankle after Wednesday's game.
As far as injury updates go, this is actually about the best bad news we could get. Keeping Quinn on the sidelines for at least another week means that it'll be impossible for him to appear in more than 10 games this season—when they host Ottawa next Wednesday, they'll have just nine games left on their regular-season schedule.
Ben Hutton's now on Day 11 in a walking boot since he was injured blocking a shot on March 3. For now, I'm just going to figure that "We see him when we see him" when it comes to Hughes.
Though the Canucks' two points were never really in jeopardy on Wednesday night, that could have been different if Chris Tanev hadn't returned to the lineup after his one month, 11-game absence with his ankle injury.
Less than five minutes into the third, the Rangers have a prime opportunity to get back into the game when they got a 5-on-3 opportunity for 1:33. David Quinn called time out. Travis Green went old school with Tanev, Edler and Jay Beagle as his three penalty killers and they were outstanding. Both defensemen stayed out for the entire kill, keeping their movement to a minimum and limiting the Rangers to just one shot attempt, which was blocked by Tanev. Beagle had already been on the ice as part of the 5-on-4 penalty kill before the second infraction was called, so he swapped out for Markus Granlund when during a clear. It was an impressive moment of grace under pressure in a moment where the Rangers had a huge opportunity to get themselves back in the game.
Thursday is a day off for the Canucks. They'll host the New Jersey Devils on Friday at Rogers Arena.