On paper, the (ghastly) Canucks defence was set.
Then training camp started, and the de facto top pairing was nowhere in sight. Now, there’s a chance they may not be reunited at all.
Quinn Hughes continues to miss training camp and preseason action because of a contract holdout, but reports from today are now suggesting that his presumed partner, Travis Hamonic, is contemplating everything from joining the team to sitting out the year, to retiring altogether.
Friedman: I'm really wondering that at the very least, Hamonic is considering opting out by October 1st, 2021.#canucks— BuckFoston (@BuckFoston_) September 27, 2021
CHEK TV’s Rick Dhaliwal had more on the Hamonic situation during Monday’s edition of Donnie and Dhali.
“This is a family man,” Dhaliwal said on the show. “What I’ve been told by everyone on the weekend is that it’s always family first with Travis Hamonic.”
That shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Hamonic opted out of the 2020 bubble playoffs, citing his daughter’s health as the reason.
However, rumours have been swirling that the reason Hamonic isn’t in training camp is because he’s not vaccinated. While Sportsnet's Iain MacIntyre reports that Hamonic’s vaccination status is “an aspect” of his absence, Dhaliwal shot down the rumours.
“His mom’s a nurse, and I am not hearing he is anti-vax.”
Regardless of the why, the fact of the matter is that the Canucks could be without their “top pair” right-side defenceman to start the season.
What this means for the Canucks defence
Losing your top pairing right-shot defenceman would be a massive blow for most NHL teams. For the Canucks, it’s a minor setback.
Most metrics from last season suggested that Hamonic played at a third-pairing level. The veteran rearguard and Hughes did improve slightly as the season wore on, but they were often overwhelmed by the opposition. Without Hughes, Hamonic’s numbers were downright ugly (30.1% Expected Goals For).
There’s no good answer, however, for replacing Hamonic. Both Tyler Myers and Tucker Poolman are better off as third-pairing defencemen as well, and both seem to struggle defensively with increased responsibility.
The Canucks could also pair Hughes with his former partner, Luke Schenn. However, the former Canuck does seem to have some early familiarity with Jack Rathbone, and he’s not much more than a depth option either.
Regardless of if it’s Schenn, Myers or Poolman...or EVEN Hamonic playing with Hughes the Canucks defence is destined for trouble next season, barring a miraculous improvement in performance from one of those right-shot defenders.
Could be telling that Rathbone and Schenn were together tonight. Leaves Hughes, Myers, OEL and Poolman in the top four — which may not have Hamonic. pic.twitter.com/cyOM2ayFCY— Jason Brough (@SadClubCommish) September 27, 2021
What this means for Pettersson and Hughes
There won’t be any clarity on the Pettersson and Hughes contract negotiations until Hamonic’s future is decided.
While the first temptation would be to go and find another right-shot defenceman on the trade market, the best move would be to take that excess money, and sign Pettersson/Hughes for as long as possible. If the Canucks pro-scouting department thought signing Myers and Poolman long-term were good ideas, why would you trust them to find a replacement?
This team is going to ride or die on the backs of Pettersson and Hughes. Keeping them in the fold for as long as possible is what the Canucks need to do to avoid future headaches and contract stand-offs with their franchise icons.
One other small thing to note is that Hamonic opting-out could potentially allow the Canucks to keep both Rathbone and Juolevi in the fold, something that didn’t seem possible even a week ago.
I “boldly” suggested that the Canucks might try to force Juolevi into the opening night line-up while sending the waiver-exempt Rathbone to the minors. However, after Juolevi flopping onto the ice like a fish after the team’s first bag skate, coupled with Rathbone’s strong performance early in preseason and training camp, it seems all but confirmed that Rathbone will begin the season with the team.
Having Hamonic leave the team would theoretically allow the Canucks to keep Juolevi and Hunt as extras, while icing a defence that looks something like
Hughes — Poolman
Ekman-Larsson — Myers
Rathbone — Schenn
At the end of the day, depth players come and go, but the Pettersson’s and Hughes’s of the world don’t. If you have the money, just go lock up your best players for as long as possible.