On Saturday, the Canucks put in their most lacklustre effort of the season, losing to the Edmonton Oilers in less than 8 minutes. It was a demoralizing loss and, with the trade deadline just a couple days away, many Canucks fans are eager to see Mike Gillis shake things up by making a big move.
On Sunday, the Canucks called up Nicklas Jensen and Bill Sweatt from the Chicago Wolves and sent down Zack Kassian and Andrew Gordon.
It would be a mistake to connect these two days together by anything more than chronology. Fans and media alike were quick to call this a desperation move, but the roster movement doesn’t seem to be sparked by the loss in Edmonton. Instead, it looks like this roster move was caused by something that happened before the game even started.
The impetus was Zack Kassian, who was cleared to play on Saturday but was kept out of the Canucks’ game against the Oilers. Some questioned why he didn’t dress, but it seems clear now that the Canucks wanted to instead send him down to the Wolves to ease him back into action after his injury.
While not officially a conditioning stint, since Kassian can be sent down to the AHL without going through waivers, Ben Kuzma reported it as such since that’s essentially what this is. Kassian needs to get into some games to get back up to speed after recovering from his back injury and those games can’t be in a Canucks jersey, according to Laurence Gilman. “We’re in a playoff race,” he told reports, “We don’t have the luxury of having guys play themselves into condition.”
It’s understandable why the Canucks would want to ease Kassian back into the lineup. When he stepped back into the Canucks lineup last time, he immediately threw himself into a fight and aggravated his back injury. At the NHL level, Kassian plays like he still has something to prove instead of simply playing his game, while he is already quite accomplished at the AHL level and can play key offensive minutes to get his game back into shape (and also his back into game shape).
Seeing this as a demotion to the AHL doesn’t make much sense — at the very least, Kassian is a better option in the Canucks’ lineup than Tom Sestito or Steve Pinizzotto. Besides, a brief demotion to the AHL didn’t seem to hurt Jordan Schroeder, who put up 4 points in 3 games and was quickly recalled. A stint with the Wolves may be just what Kassian needs to kickstart his offensive engine.
The Canucks also chose to send down Andrew Gordon, who wasn’t awful with the Canucks, but also wasn’t particularly good. His 6 games with the team gave them a chance to see what they had in Gordon in case they need to call him up again later in the season or in the playoffs.
By sending down Kassian and Gordon, they created the opportunity to call up two more players to the Canucks. Enter Nicklas Jensen and Bill Sweatt. The Canucks need to see what they have in both players, but for two very different reasons.
In Jensen’s case, the Canucks need to see if it is worth burning a year of his entry-level contract to have him play in the NHL this season. A team can normally play a rookie in up to 9 games before using up a year on their entry-level contract, but with the shortened season, that number is reduced to 5 games. Considering Jensen’s excellent season in the Swedish Elite League, finishing 11th in goal-scoring and 1st among Junior-aged players, it’s possible that he’s ready for the NHL now.
That said, Jensen has just 4 points in 11 games with the Wolves this season, so expectations of what he can do in the NHL should be tempered. Jensen just turned 20 a couple weeks ago and may benefit more from finishing this season in the AHL. If there’s any doubt that he’s ready, he should go back to the AHL as it’s simply not worth burning a year on his contract unless he’s helping the team succeed.
Sweatt, on the other hand, presents a different dilemma. The fleet-of-foot forward is a pending Restricted Free Agent and the Canucks need to decide if they want to give him a qualifying offer to retain his rights. Since he has only played 2 games with the Canucks, it’s hard to get a bead on whether he has a future at the NHL level.
What complicates matters is that he’s also the Canucks’ most expensive pending RFA, as he has a $1.2 million cap hit. His qualifying offer has to be at least that amount unless the Canucks take him to salary arbitration and ask for a reduction, as they did with Mason Raymond.
At one point, Sweatt was a highly regarded prospect, as he put up excellent numbers in the NCAA and had high-end speed that caught the attention of scouts. Unfortunately, his hands just can’t match that speed and he’s averaged a little over half a point per game in the AHL, scoring 108 points in 207 games. Still, he looks like the type of player that could be a menace on the third line, using his speed to get in on the forecheck or to hound opposing forwards defensively.
In many ways he looks like Jannik Hansen, but Hansen had 43 points in 50 AHL games in the 2007-08 season at the age of 22. Sweatt is now 24 and has yet to show that kind of offensive upside. At this point, he’s not worth $1.2 million, but if he can contribute to the Canucks’ lineup on the third and fourth line for a stretch of games, he may be worth taking to salary arbitration to negotiate a more workable deal so they can keep him around.
To me, this doesn’t look like a reaction to the loss to the Oilers, nor does it seem like the Canucks see Jensen and Sweatt as any kind of solution or even band-aid for the Canucks’ offensive woes. Instead, it looks like the Canucks simply wanted Kassian to get some time in the AHL and took the opportunity to get a closer look at two players about whom the Canucks need to make a decision.
That, however, is a little less exciting and incendiary than calling it a desperation move borne out of panic.Tags: Andrew Gordon, Bill Sweatt, Chicago Wolves, Nicklas Jensen, Prospects, Zack Kassian