Saturday February 22 - Vancouver Canucks vs. Boston Bruins - 7 p.m. - CBC, Sportsnet, CityTV, Sportsnet 650
Vancouver Canucks: 60 GP, 32-22-6, 70 pts, third in Pacific Division
Boston Bruins: 62 GP, 39-11-12, 90 pts, first in Atlantic Division
It's tempting to jump straight into trade-deadline scuttlebutt, but the Vancouver Canucks also have a very important hockey game on the docket on Saturday night.
They're finishing out a homestand where they've gone 2-2-1 so far, with four of their five opponents outside the playoff picture. On Saturday, they're up against the NHL's top team, the Boston Bruins, who easily handed the Canucks a 4-0 loss at TD Garden two and a half weeks ago.
After beating the Flames 4-3 on Friday night in Calgary, the Bruins arrive in Vancouver on a five-game winning streak, and with a record of 11-1-0 in their last 12 games. The loss came against the Detroit Red Wings, of all teams, who actually became the first time officially eliminated from this year's playoffs on Friday night.
Jaro Halak got the win on Friday in Calgary — in a strange affair that saw the Flames jump out to a 3-1 lead in the first 3:23 of the first period before the Bruins clawed their way back, and did the Canucks a favour by collecting the two points from a Pacific Division team.
I expect the Canucks will see Tuukka Rask again, after he got the shutout in Boston earlier this month. And David Pastrnak arrives in Vancouver in a tie with Auston Matthews in the Rocket Richard race, with 43 goals already this season.
Still just 23, Pasta is in his sixth NHL season, and has improved every year. Check out these numbers from the last four seasons:
2016-17: 75 GP, 34-36-70, plus-11
2017-18: 82 GP, 35-45-80, plus-10
2018-19: 66 GP, 38-43-81, plus-6
2019-20: 62 GP so far, 43-43-86, plus-22
Even with those tremendous stats, he isn't the top producer from his 2014 draft class. With 370 points in 382 career games, he's 39 points behind Leon Draisaitl (409 points in 412 games).
Boston made a pretty significant trade on Friday, acquiring winger Ondrej Kase from Anaheim. The 24-year-old had 20 goals for the Ducks in the 2017-18 season but was limited by injuries last year and has been running below that pace this season.
The Bruins gave up their first-round pick and prospect Axel Andersson — a defenseman who was selected in the second round in 2018 and who's playing in the QMJHL this season. That's a lot, but in addition to adding Kase, who will be a restricted free agent when his current contract runs out at the end of next season, the Bruins were also able to unload three-quarters of David Backes' $6 million cap hit for this season and next.
Backes has been in limbo since he cleared waivers with the Bruins last month. He waived his no-trade clause to facilitate the trade to Anaheim and is hopeful that he'll now get another chance to prove he still belongs in the NHL.
Kase has missed Anaheim's last five games with illness, and isn't expected to get into action with the Bruins until they get back to Boston next week.
As for the Canucks, they've kept almost everything status quo on the ice since their shootout loss to Minnesota on Wednesday. Oscar Fantenberg will slot back in on the blue line against Boston after being activated from injured reserve.
Justin Bailey, Guillaume Brisebois and Tyler Graovac were all re-assigned to Utica this week.
Now — on to the trade rumours!
There has been lots of chatter about Troy Stecher over the last 24 hours — a player whose time in Vancouver, we know, is probably up soon. He's the low-minute man on the Canucks' blue line, averaging 15:05 a game this season, but is earning more than Jordie Benn, Quinn Hughes and Fantenberg at $2.325 million this year — and will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights on July 1.
While Stecher will almost certainly have a different address next season, I don't expect him to be moved by Monday unless Jim Benning can replace him with a better defenseman. Given the Canucks' possession struggles, an upgrade on the back end could be very helpful in their quest for a playoff spot — and it doesn't help that Stecher has been a victim of some bad luck around the Vancouver net over the last couple of weeks, including having Minnesota's game-tying goal deflect off his face and past Jacob Markstrom last Wednesday.
Once again, B.C. boy Tyson Barrie is being linked to Vancouver. He is a righty, so he could slide into Stecher's spot with Alex Edler. And he was a tremendous power-play point man when he played for Colorado. Would he get that chance in Vancouver, where Quinn Hughes has already entrenched himself on PP1? Or could the Canucks benefit from potentially being able to throw out different power-play looks against opponents — and possibly revitalize their man advantage? It has rebounded somewhat this month but ranks 21st overall at 16.9 percent since January 1.
Stecher is the only Vancouver player currently on TSN's Trade Bait List
, ranked at No. 25 with a bullet.
As far as rumoured target Wayne Simmonds goes, I imagine you saw this update on Thursday:
Rick Dhaliwal later suggested that if the New Jersey Devils haven't found another suitor that will meet their asking price, the Canucks could get back into this conversation. I think Simmonds is still a player to watch.
Here's another note from Dhaliwal:
This makes complete sense to me. Baertschi still has one year left on his deal at $3.367 after this season, and has been playing hard in Utica in hopes of earning another NHL opportunity. He had a goal and two assists in the Comets' 6-3 road win over division-leading Belleville on Friday night, which brings him to 39 points in 37 AHL games this season.
When questioned earlier this week about whether he'd considered bringing up some a scorer from the AHL rather than trading for Tyler Toffoli, Jim Benning brushed over Baertschi's name and talked instead about how the organization had considered calling up Reid Boucher, who currently sits third overall in goals and fourth in points in the entire AHL.
Earlier this season, Benning seemed disinterested in giving Baertschi any further opportunities. Now, it looks to me like the door has slammed completely closed for Sven.
By the way — Justin Bailey also had three points in his return to the Comets' lineup on Friday. And a couple of other roster notes from Utica:
• Olli Juolevi is dealing with an injury
• And after appeareing in just three games this season because he was passed on the Comets' depth chart by Mikey DiPietro and Zane McIntyre, Richard Bachman has joined a Swedish team for the remainder of the season.
Bachman was 1-1-1 this season in Utica, but DiPietro has proven to be a quick study at the pro level. He has taken over the starter's job, and is 17-9-2 this year with a .906 save percentage and 2.82 goals-against average. I suspect he's one of the Magnificent Seven minor-leaguers that Jim Benning said he expects to see in the NHL within 2-3 years.
One last note before I sign off — if you have a moment, check out my conversations with legendary Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O'Ree and NHL vice president Kim Davis about the league's efforts surrounding diversity, inclusion and Black History Month. I really enjoyed speaking to both of them!
Other than that — watch out for fake Twitter accounts, and enjoy the game!