The Canucks’ preseason game on Monday night took place in Abbotsford in the former home of the Abbotsford Heat, reigniting debate over whether the Canucks should bring their AHL farm team across the continent to British Columbia.
There are several good reasons to move the Utica Comets to Abbotsford and one insurmountable obstacle that will likely prevent it from ever happening.
One boon to having the farm team close by is that call-ups to the Canucks in case of injury would be a lot easier. There have been several occasions where the Canucks couldn’t get a call-up out of Utica in time for a game, but the farm team being just down the road would alleviate that issue.
Another positive is that the Canucks would be able to more closely monitor their AHL affiliate if it was in Abbotsford. As it is, Jim Benning made just one trip out to Utica last season. Sure, the Canucks have Ryan Johnson, the director of player development and GM of the Comets, managing things and reporting to Benning, but it would be beneficial for the Canucks to have a closer eye on their prospect development given the concerning events of last season.
Finally, from a fan perspective, having the Canucks prospects in the Fraser Valley would be fantastic. Fans further from Vancouver that might not be able to get to as many Canucks games could still support the team and its prospects, developing a closer connection to them as they work their way up in the system. The Canucks’ farm team would certainly be an easier sell than that of the Flames, that’s for sure.
As a sign of that, Monday’s preseason tilt between the Canucks and Ottawa Senators sold out the Abbotsford Centre. There are a lot of Canucks fans in the Fraser Valley.
The one insurmountable problem is the travel. While Abbotsford has an airport, something Utica can’t claim, it’s so far apart from the rest of the AHL that the travel time would be nightmarish. It would also be a lot more expensive than the travel in Utica, which is primarily by bus. More travel time means less practice time and less time for the players to sleep in their own beds.
There are no AHL teams in the Pacific Northwest, making it completely impractical for the Canucks to put their affiliate in Abbotsford, or anywhere else in BC. The only reason the Flames were willing to do it is that they got a sweetheart of an arena deal from the city of Abbotsford, guaranteeing them millions of dollars in revenue. There’s no way Abbotsford would make that mistake again.
Relocating the farm team to California would alleviate the travel concerns, but have fewer of the above benefits. Perhaps it’s best if the Canucks keep the Comets in Utica a little while longer.
Oh yeah, the Canucks played a game. I watched it.
- The Canucks dominated early, drawing several penalties in the opening minutes, but it was the Senators that struck first, scoring on their first shot of the game. Pressured by Rudolfs Balcers on the forecheck, Tyler Myers coughed up the puck and Chris Tierney set up Bobby Ryan fo the opening goal. To be fair to Myers, he was facing more than one Rudolf Balcer.
- For a while, it looked like the Canucks might escape the preseason without any injuries. Quinn Hughes took a stick to the face earlier in the preseason and got a fat lip and some chipped chiclets, but he’s otherwise okay, and no one else has suffered a serious injury. Then Oscar Fantenberg got ludicrously hit by two Senators at the same time, like this was a Mighty Ducks movie that ignores how hockey actually works.
- It was an ugly hit, particularly on the part of Jordan Szwarz, who hit Fantenberg directly in the numbers. Scott Sabourin, the other Senator involved, hit Fantenberg squarely, but the combination is what did the damage. Fantenberg left the game and didn’t return, while Szwarz was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Hopefully Fantenberg is all right and was only held out for precautionary reasons.
- The Canucks scored twice on the major penalty, with J.T. Miller involved as the net-front presence both times. Just 17 seconds into the power play, Brock Boeser ripped a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle that banked into the net off Miller’s leg. “Ow,” Miller probably said, because Boeser shoots the puck really hard.
- A few minutes later, the power play struck again and it initially looked like Miller’s goal. Boeser sent a sweet one-time pass across the ice to Pettersson, which sent the penalty kill into a scramble, then Pettersson’s centring pass went in off the stick of Dylan DeMelo, who was trying to check Miller in front. Miller didn’t get a point on the play, but like a friend comforting you after a break-up, all that mattered was that he was there.
- The Canucks kept pressing and Alex Edler got in on the goal-scoring with a harmless looking wrist shot from the point that appeared to take a deflection off a Senator stick on its way to the net. Anders Nilsson better get used to it: deflecting is a go-to tactic for most senators. Political humour!
- Miller may have been a boon to the power play, but he did have one gaffe at even-strength, giving the puck away to Artem Anisimov in the defensive zone. Anisimov made like a compliment from a Southern grandmother and went backhanded past Markstrom to make it 3-2.
- Elias Pettersson had one of his best games of his rookie season against the Senators, recording his first career hattrick in an early January game, including the overtime game-winner. On Monday night, he was happy to see the Senators again, recording four points, including a bomb of a one-timer on the power play from his favourite area on the ice: The PetterZone.
- Tyler Myers didn’t have the best game. His turnover on the opening goal far from his only giveaway of the game: in the second period, Jacob Markstrom bailed him out with a great glove save on Chris Tierney. Also, at one point on the penalty kill, he inexplicably moved behind his own net, leaving a wide open area in front of the net, leading to another fantastic glove save by Markstrom on Balcers. I guess part of a defenceman’s job is to make his goaltender look good, so mission accomplished for Myers.
- Some of this is surely confirmation bias: I’ve heard a lot about Myers’ defensive issues, which appear to be backed up by analytics, so my eyes naturally pick out moments where he struggles defensively. It’s still preseason and rust is normal, so let’s hold off judgement until we can get a larger sample size of Myers in Vancouver.
- To his credit, Myers got an assist late in the second period, finding Jordie Benn coming out of the penalty box for an extremely rare breakaway for the stay-at-home defenceman. Benn’s finish was more clinical than Sterling K. Brown murdering a man in a surgical suite, snapping the puck past Nilsson’s blocker with 2.1 seconds left in the second period. It wasn’t luck.
- Fantenberg might be out for a while and the Canucks are extremely lucky the same isn’t true of Brock Boeser. He was the recipient of an absurdly bad hit by Chris Tierney: it blatantly in the numbers, with aeons of time to avoid hitting him in the numbers, and it send Boeser head first into the boards. Do the Canucks’ new jerseys need bigger, more visible numbers? Because it seems like their opponents are having a hard time seeing them.
- The boarding minor gave the Canucks a 5-on-3 and they took advantage. Bo Horvat joined the first unit and Pettersson gift-wrapped a goal for him as a belated wedding present: Horvat just had to camp out on top of the crease and Pettersson delivered a tap-in with a nifty no-look pass.
- The Canucks iced a lineup that looked pretty representative of what we might see in the regular season, including some intriguing combinations. Sven Baertschi got a turn with Pettersson and Boeser and, while Baertschi didn’t get a point, the line as a whole was effective. It’s too bad that Micheal Ferland has been ill, as it’s prevented us from seeing him develop some chemistry with the first line; has anyone checked if Baertschi prepared any food for Ferland recently?
- The second line has potential as well: Tanner Pearson with Horvat and Miller. All three play a direct style that, theoretically, should help them mesh together well. Then there was Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, and Josh Leivo, which makes sense as a checking line, and a fourth line of Tim Schaller, Jay Beagle, and Jake Virtanen, which will likely have the Virtanen fans up in arms. Good thing Pettersson distracted the Abbotsfordians, or they might have rioted in support of the local boy.