The NHL trade deadline wasn’t the only deadline on Monday: it was also the deadline for NHL teams to decide which of the players on their roster will be eligible to play in the AHL playoffs.
In order for a player to be eligible for the AHL playoffs, they have to be on an AHL roster by the deadline of 12:00 Pacific, same as the trade deadline. This results in a plethora of paper transactions: players getting “papered down” to the AHL for the day, but never actually reporting to their AHL team.
The Canucks papered down just one player, Ashton Sautner, while also sending down Zack MacEwen and Marek Mazanec. All three will be eligible to play in the AHL playoffs for the Utica Comets, but that means two significant players won’t be: Adam Gaudette and Thatcher Demko.
If the Canucks’ season ends early, the Comets won’t be getting much in the way of reinforcements from the Canucks. Gaudette and Demko would be significant difference makers for the Comets in the playoffs, but neither will be available.
Gaudette has bounced between Vancouver and Utica this season, scoring 5 goals and 11 points in 14 games with the Comets. He’s certainly showing that he belongs in the NHL, but the Canucks have also stressed the importance of playoff experience, something that may or may not be available in the NHL this season, but will be in the AHL.
The Comets could dearly use Gaudette as well, as they lack talented centre depth.
Without Demko getting papered down, the Comets will also have to depend on Michael Leighton to carry them into the playoffs. The 37-year-old goaltender was signed to a PTO earlier this season before signing an NHL contract with the Canucks. He went from considering retirement to being a number one goaltender in a hurry.
So, why didn’t the Canucks paper down Gaudette and Demko?
Post-deadline, an NHL team can make just four non-emergency call-ups prior to the playoffs. It’s likely that limit played a role in the Canucks’ decision.
Sautner was immediately recalled after he was papered down, so that’s one of the Canucks’ four call-ups. The Canucks also called up Guillaume Brisebois on Tuesday to give the Canucks seven healthy defencemen after the Erik Gudbranson trade. That’s two.
That leaves just two more call-ups for the Canucks for the rest of the season. If they had papered down both Gaudette and Demko, they wouldn’t have any non-emergency recalls remaining and would need to wait for an emergency situation — an inability to ice a full lineup of 12 forwards, six defencemen, and two goaltenders — in order to bring anyone up from the AHL.
For teams with an AHL affiliate closer to home, that might be less of a concern. It’s easier to call someone up in an emergency situation when they’re a short drive away or even play in the same arena. For the Canucks, however, it’s a bit more difficult.
Utica is on the other side of the continent from Vancouver. On top of that, there’s no airport in Utica: the closest is in Syracuse, but it doesn’t offer non-stop, direct flights to Vancouver. That means you’re looking at a long day of travel just to get to Vancouver: if an injury takes place at the morning skate, there might not even be time to get a call-up to Vancouver in time for the game.
So, as much as it will hurt the Comets’ chances in the playoffs, Gaudette and Demko won’t be heading to Utica when their NHL season is done.