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A baker’s dozen of former Canucks: How are they doing this season?

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Hungry for some leftovers?

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Canucks dispatched 13 players who suited up for them last season. A few were sent packing during the 2018-19 season and the rest were ixnayed during the off-season. How are they faring in their new jerseys? Does general manager Jim Benning have any regrets about anyone he drove to the airport?

He does do that, right?

The first two players to be shown the door were goalie Anders Nilsson and forward Darren Archibald. On January 2nd, 2019 the pair were traded to the Ottawa Senators in return for Mike McKenna, Tom Pyatt and a 6th round 2019 draft pick that the Canucks used at the Entry Draft later in the year to select promising Latvian puck-stopper Arturs Silovs.

The real purpose of the transaction though was to make way on the big team for blue-chip goaltender Thatcher Demko. The heir-apparent to the number one goalie pads had learned all he could in the AHL and it was time to get his NHL education underway in a significant way to determine if his promise was going to be realized. The unintended consequence of making way for Demko also led to the unfortunate circumstance of yet another potential successor to the Luongo-throne, then OHL goalie Michael DiPietro, making his NHL debut while still in his junior diapers. While his nappy needed changing after the experience, what didn’t kill him made him stronger. DiPietro is off to an excellent start to his pro career in the AHL and he has already established himself as the organization’s number three go-to goalie. He is currently backing up Demko in the NHL while established numero uno Jacob Markstrom tends to personal matters.

Meanwhile, Anders Nilsson this season has been splitting duties with Craig Anderson in Ottawa. He has put up a record of 7-7-1 in 15 appearances along with a save percentage of .911 and a goals against average of 3.15. Demko has established himself as Markstrom’s back-up and appears ready to seriously challenge him for the lead pads before too long. He is 6-4-1 in 11 games with a .912 save percentage and a 2.83 goals against average. Career AHL winger Archibald has since moved on to a spot in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ system.

A couple of weeks after the trade with the Senators, Benning exchanged Michael Del Zotto for Luke Schenn with Anaheim Ducks’ general manager Bob Murray. The Ducks’ had earlier in the season given Schenn a one-way ticket to AHL San Diego and told him in no uncertain terms he would be staying in southern-most California for the rest of the season and suggested he look into buying a retirement home elsewhere in North America. Despite the dire prognosis, the Canucks took his contract on in order to rid themselves of Del Zotto’s poor song choices and defensive miscues. Del Zotto had the last laugh though as the Ducks’ a few weeks later moved him on to the St. Louis Blues where he appeared in seven regular season games for them and in zero games on their long playoff run and yet qualified for a Stanley Cup ring on his finger.

Schenn to his credit got his long NHL career back on track in the AHL and earned a call-up to the Canucks where he established himself at the end of the season as the designated protector and defence-pairing mate of young superstar in-the-making Quinn Hughes. The Canucks had interest in him continuing his role in the 2019/20 season but in the end Schenn chose to sign as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning during the summer. While Hughes is doing quite well this season with new partners, Schenn started his season back in the AHL. He eventually was summoned to the NHL by the Lightning and has played in twelve games, netting one goal while playing about 13 minutes per game.

Del Zotto, after his summer tryst with the silver chalice, signed with the Ducks as a free agent no doubt hoping to be traded to the next Stanley Cup winner at the 2020 trade deadline. To his credit, Del Zotto is playing nearly 20 minutes a night on Anaheim’s defence and has a +7 plus/minus rating, although Vancouver fan cynics will say that this is due more to the brilliant goaltending of John Gibson than his play. Coach Dallas Eakins appears satisfied though rolling him out as a top four defenceman game in, game out.

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Vancouver Canucks
Dec 1, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Sam Gagner (89) congratulates goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) for the win after the third period at Rogers Arena.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Trader Jim next freed Sam Gagner from the shackles of the minor leagues dumping him on an unsuspecting then Edmonton general manager Peter Chiarelli. The Oilers’ GM though was able to dump a booby-prize of his own back on Benning in the form of Ryan Spooner. Gagner is still an Oiler this season putting up one goal in 15 games but has also spent time with their AHL affiliate. Spooner was bought out of his NHL contract by the Canucks and now plies his trade with Minsk in the KHL.

On-a-roll, black-top GMJB next jettisoned the Big E out of town. Canucks’ fans would likely say the E stood for error (as in the trade itself) and error-prone but Pittsburgh’s head honcho Jim Rutherford decided it stood for Erik as in Erik Gudbranson. By all accounts Guddy fared well in his early going with the Pens but less than a year later Rutherford returned him to the left coast in a Salary Cap dump to join his former teammate MDZ in guarding the Ducks’ goalies in California. Like his little-buddy, Gudbranson is sporting +7 plus/minus rating playing near Disneyland and he has been on the ice for over 20 minutes a night. Either John Gibson is that good or Canucks’ fans and media bum-rushed two quality top four defencemen out of the City of Rain. I say give Gibson the Vezina now! But Gibson’s numbers are pretty average, He has a .910 save percentage and a 2.86 goals against average. Maybe there is something special in the salt water at Sunset Beach?

Whatever your current verdict is on Erik Gudbranson’s worth as an NHL defenceman, the Canucks have been thrilled with the play of Tanner Pearson since he donned the blue-and-green and many other colours this past February. He has potted 17 goals in 48 games played for the Canucks since the exchange for the much-reviled defenceman. More importantly he has filled a vacant top six forward spot and has for the most part gelled with Captain Bo Horvat as a line mate. He also kills penalties and wears a Stanley Cup ring on his finger which likely gives him some extra cachet with his young and talented Vancouver teammates.

Jim Benning also disposed of long-time number seven defenceman Alex Biega in a mercy trade with the Detroit Red Wings which allowed the popular Biega to continue to play in the NHL with the lowly Red Wings instead of riding the buses again in the minor leagues. Biega has continued his seventh man role with Detroit appearing in 13 games this season. He has recorded zero points and a -2 plus/minus rating on a very bad Red Wings’ club.

The other five players axed by the Canucks’ front office include Brendan Leipsic, Markus Granlund, Brendan Gaunce, Ben Hutton and Derrick Pouliot.

Leipsic was lost to the Los Angeles Kings on waivers and then signed as a free with the Washington Capitals over the summer. The other four skaters’ contracts were not qualified and they were allowed to walk as unrestricted free agents. Granlund signed with the Calgary Flames, Gaunce with the Boston Bruins, Hutton with the Los Angeles Kings and Pouliot with the Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues. Leipsic, Granlund and Hutton have had marginal positive impacts on their new NHL teams and the other two have spent most of their seasons so far in the American Hockey League.

So it appears that pastry chef Jim was correct in throwing out this bad batch of soft rolls while he continues to spend his team’s dough to bake up a winner for a city that longs for a NHL hockey championship.