The season is still young, but the Vancouver Canucks currently sit atop the Pacific Division with a 3-0-1 record.
A competitive training camp that saw youngsters Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann earn nine-game trials at a minimum could be a factor in the team’s early success. Virtanen and McCann’s exceptional play in training camp came at the expense of Linden Vey, who cleared waivers and was sent to the AHL.
Could the same fate await Sven Baertschi? The Swiss forward is expected to be a healthy scratch for Friday’s game against St. Louis, according to Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province. Virtanen and McCann have not played in the same game yet during the regular season, but scratching Baertschi on Friday would allow for the possibility of both to be in the lineup.
In a radio interview with TSN 1040 in Vancouver, Vancouver Sun reporter Iain MacIntyre didn’t think the Canucks would attempt to send Baertschi to the minors. “Baertschi has a lot higher standing in the eyes of the Canucks than [Frank] Corrado. I’d be surprised if the Canucks put Baertschi on waivers.” Remember that the Canucks placed Corrado on waivers at the start of the season in an attempt to send him to the AHL, only to see Corrado get claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But MacIntyre did not hold back on his criticism for Baertschi. In the interview, MacIntyre mentioned that Virtanen and Bo Horvat don’t have to score to stay in the lineup because they offer other skills such as physical play. Baertschi doesn’t offer that, so he has to score to stay in the lineup. One comparison that MacIntyre made was to Mason Raymond, who couldn’t score enough as a Canuck because he tended to play along the perimeter rather than close to the net.
Not everyone agrees that Baertschi should be a healthy scratch. In his own interview with TSN 1040, Botchford believes that making Baertschi a healthy scratch won’t help his development. In addition, Botchford cited the fact that Baertschi is the only Canucks forward with a plus SAT rating (34 shot attempts for, 30 shot attempts against).
According to Botchford, a creative player such as Baertschi will need time to develop chemistry with sharpshooter Radim Vrbata. There is no long-term benefit to moving Brandon Prust onto the Vrbata line, as was the case during Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Los Angeles.
So should Baertschi be a healthy scratch on Friday?
Willie on Baertschi possibly getting scratched tomorrow: "This isn't a 'try' league, it's a 'gotta get it done' league" #Canucks
— Farhan Lalji (@FarhanLaljiTSN) October 15, 2015
Quoting Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson might be popular in Canada at the moment, but Desjardins has a point. The NHL is a results-based business, and the Canucks can’t afford to have players in the lineup that lack any meaningful contributions. Baertschi simply hasn’t been noticeable enough in Canucks’ games this season.
In addition, the Baertschi/Vrbata duo simply hasn’t worked. Baertschi has just one assist in four games this season. Vrbata, the Canucks’ leading goal scorer last year with 31 goals, has been held without a point in four games. Horvat, the third member of the line, has just one goal and no assists in four games, but he has still impressed with his two-way play and leadership.
Making a player a healthy scratch can often light a fire under a player, but it can also diminish his confidence. Former first-round pick Baertschi couldn’t seem to make it work with the Calgary Flames, so now having just turned 23 he is onto his second organization. The Canucks gave up a second-round pick to acquire Baertschi, so it would be difficult to believe that they would give up on him quickly. But keep in mind that the Canucks also traded a second-round pick for Vey.
The good vibes from that competition in training camp should carry over to the regular season. If that means a player of Baertschi’s talent and upside is forced to watch a game or two in street clothes, then that’s a good problem to have. But if the Canucks send Virtanen and/or McCann back to junior after nine games, then they may not have the luxury of healthy scratching a player like Baertschi.