Jim Benning signed his final restricted free-agent of the 2015 offseason by rewarding Utica Comets left winger and Vancouver Canucks prospect Sven Baertschi with a one-way contract, essentially guaranteeing Baertschi will be pencilled into the opening night lineup for the 2015/16 season.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Canucks?src=hash">#Canucks</a> re-sign <a href="https://twitter.com/SvenBaertschi">@SvenBaertschi</a> to 1-year contract. RELEASE → <a href="http://t.co/P3TMaiRx99">http://t.co/P3TMaiRx99</a> <a href="http://t.co/TVZh5lXbnx">pic.twitter.com/TVZh5lXbnx</a></p>— Vancouver Canucks (@VanCanucks) <a href="https://twitter.com/VanCanucks/status/626145684970991616">July 28, 2015</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Baertschi rejected his qualifying offer from the #Canucks. They have talked about multiple year deals. Cap space needs to be cleared.— NEWS 1130 Sports (@NEWS1130Sports) July 16, 2015
The former Flame had until the July 15th RFA tendering deadline to accept his qualifying offer from Vancouver, but he reportedly refused to take a 2-way deal because he wanted to be in the NHL next season. With Baertschi signing a one-way contract, it allows him to make the same salary whether he's playing in the AHL or NHL.
If the Baertschi experiment fails miserably for whatever reason in Vancouver, he'll need to clear waivers to be sent down to Utica, which is obviously not going to happen. Since qualifying offers are based on a player's previous contract -- and Sven was coming off a 2-way, entry-level deal -- Baertschi's only option to get guaranteed NHL salary was to reject his qualifying offer from the Canucks at $832,500. The Canucks were forced to oblige to offer Baertschi a qualifying offer to make sure he didn't become an unrestricted free agent. With Jim Benning publicly stating on numerous occasions that Sven Baertschi is ready for the NHL and has grown out of the American Hockey League, it made sense for both parties to have the 22-year-old Swiss-born winger be signed to a one-way contract.
Baertschi appeared in 15 games with the Flames notching 4 assists before dressing in three games with the Canucks after coming over at the trade deadline from the Calgary in exchange for a 2nd round pick (53rd overall, Rasmus Andersson). Sven looked okay by netting a pair of goals in the final regular season game against the Oilers, which ultimately cost the Canucks 4 draft positions to select 23rd overall instead of 19th.
According to a source, a scout in the Canucks organization tried to persuade management and the coaching staff to purposely tank the game which would've had the Canucks finish with 99 points in the regular season and allowed them to pick higher in the draft without causing playoff ramifications, but management quickly shot down the notion as they couldn't preach tanking to the organization, fanbase and media.
Sven managed to suit up in Games 5 & 6 of the Canucks first round series versus his former team, but was a non-factor finishing the series with no shots on goal, ruining the idea Sven could enact "Svengence" and ignite the "stick it to your old team that just traded you" narrative.
The thirteenth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft flourished after being demoted to Utica following the deadline deal and eclipsing a point per game (7 goals, 8 assists) in 15 regular season games by forming the Comets top scoring threat with Cal O'Reily and Alexandre Grenier. Baertschi would finish the 2014/15 AHL season with a cumulative total of 40 points in 51 games split between Adirondack and Utica.
A playmaking winger that possesses above average speed and attains a decent wrist shot, the Svensationicould potentially start into a top-six role with the Canucks next season if he has a strong summer and adds a few pounds of muscle. Baertschi has scored at every level he's played at and there's no reason to believe why he can't make that final step and at least solidly himself as a NHL regular.
Comets head coach Travis Green has seen Baertschi improve his defensive game first hand ever since Green coached the sharpshooting swiss born in Portland with the Winterhawks of the WHL back in 2010. Baertschi ended up potting up 91 goals in 156 career junior games . Like any young offensive player, Baertschi still needs to drastically improve his defensive game if he wants to compete and maintain a full-time position in Vancouver. Green acknowledged that Sven has the skill to play in the NHL, but still needs to improve in other facets of his game in a Vancouver Province article written by Ben Kuzma:
"He was a dominant player at our (AHL) level and all signs indicated that he’s ready for the next jump," Green said Wednesday. "You have to give players the opportunity and it should be a prolonged look to give the player confidence that you believe in him. I have a lot of belief in Sven. He has a chance to be a top-six forward who can play on your power play and is a guy who deserves the chance.
"What we tried to stress is that there’s a fine line of when to think offensively and when you have to be safer with the puck. Those areas are more from his own blue-line back to the goalie and when to make a pass off the wing and into the middle. He’s like a lot of young guys who want to score, but we would play him in the last minute and he was a go-to guy.
"He’s going to have ups and downs, but does he have the potential to be a second-line NHL winger? Absolutely, 100 per cent. Of all the kids I’ve had, there are a handful who I have said should play in the NHL and he’s one of them."
Baaetschi has the most offensive upside in the Canucks left-wing depth chart -- excluding Daniel Sedin -- and will be given every opportunity to excel on the second line with Bo Horvat or newly acquired centre Brandon Sutter, with sniper Radim Vrbata lining up on the right side. So far in Baertschi's short-lived career, he's managed just 10 goals in 69 games which included a stretch of only 5 tallies 61 matches after netting three goals in his first five National Hockey League games.
It's put up or shut up time for Baertschi to prove that he is in fact capable of contributing goals to a Canucks squad that will be starved for even strength production next season because of the departure of now Toronto Maple Leaf Shawn Matthias and Pittsburgh Penguin Nick Bonino.
The Canucks are desperate to inject more youth and skill into their lineup, and while Baertschi has the sexy stature of a finesse top-six point producer, he needs to prove to Willie Desjardins that he's not a defensive liability if he's bumped off the Canucks' second line in favour of, say, Chris Higgins. Baertschi could struggle to find his identity playing on the third or fourth line if he's used in more of a checking role (like he was in Calgary which caused his devlopment to be tainted); as Higgins, Brandon Prust and Ronalds Kenins are far more competent and responsible away from the puck than Baertschi currently is.
At $900,000, this contract sets up Baertschi to showcase himself to both the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks that he's a bonafide NHL player. The contract is right around where most speculated it to be considering what Emerson Etem just got $850,00 from the New York Rangers; Baertschi and Etem both play a skill game and have similar offensive numbers in the AHL and NHL to date, with Baertschi NHL's PPG coming in slightly more admirable. If Baertschi performs adequately to the Canucks standards, then he'll set himself up nicely for a multi-year bridge contract if he's able to contribute somewhere in the 15-goal range next season, a minor improvement from his current NHL pace. That number seems plausible, especially if Sven is awarded time on the Canucks disastouros second power play unit, which was absolutely abysmal last season potting in only two tallies on the man advantage.
"It’s all about me pushing," said Baertschi. "I just want to prove I can play in this league and prove that they (Canucks) got the right player. It’s a dream and this is a restart for me because I went through some tough times."
Baertschi's right about the "pushing" aspect. But the real question fans of this team want to know is how much push back will Baertschi manufacture in a rugged Western Conference once his relatively small 5'11" , 190-lbs frame starts getting knocked around? "Bae" better be bulking up in the gym this summer like the rest of the West did on paper and in the gym, otherwise the Benning could be stuck with wasting a 2nd round pick that may depreciate into nothing if lost on the waiver wire or if his value significantly plummets because of subpar performance.
Sedin-Sedin-Burrows Baertschi-Horvat-Vrbata Higgins-Sutter-Hansen Prust-Vey-Dorsett Kenins #Canucks— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) July 28, 2015