The Vancouver Canucks made a quartet of unexpected cuts on Sunday, putting four players on waivers.
These were four players that didn’t just have a legitimate shot of making the team — one of them was supposed to be on the top pairing alongside Quinn Hughes.
Yes, the Canucks have waived Travis Hamonic, who never reported to training camp for what the Canucks have only described as a “personal issue.” With Hamonic, the Canucks have also waived Justin Bailey, Madison Bowey, and Phil Di Giuseppe.
Let’s break down each of these cuts, starting with Di Giuseppe.
No Italian Job: Phil Di Giuseppe
It’s legitimately surprising to see Di Giuseppe on waivers. The veteran winger looked like one of the Canucks’ better forwards during the preseason, with a simple but effective game. He wasn’t flashy but he was always in the right spot on the ice and made the right play. He was also very effective in puck battles along the boards.
“I’m confident in what I can bring and the identity this team has and what they need,” said Di Giuseppe at camp. “I used to be a pure skill guy and then found a defensive role in Carolina and then New York I was more looked on as a defensive player.”
Di Giuseppe was effective as a defensive forward with the New York Rangers last season and looked like he could fill a similar checking line role in Vancouver. Right from the first day of camp, the Canucks lined up Di Giuseppe with checking centre Jason Dickinson and it looked like they were a solid duo.
The two also worked together on the penalty kill, which is the one area of Di Giuseppe’s game where he lacks experience at the NHL level. Ultimately, that might have been his downfall.
While Di Giuseppe didn’t look out of place shorthanded, the Canucks’ penalty kill struggled as a whole. That likely influenced part of the return in the Olli Juolevi trade to the Florida Panthers, as they brought back penalty killer Juho Lammikko.
Still, it seemed like there could be room for Di Giuseppe with the team still keeping Nic Petan, Justin Dowling, Matthew Highmore, and Zack MacEwen on the roster so far. It’s not quite clear what else the Canucks wanted to see from Di Giuseppe.
Another bump in the road: Justin Bailey
It’s been a tough year for Justin Bailey. He suffered a brutal shoulder injury on a hit from behind by Milan Lucic, requiring surgery. He spent the offseason rehabbing and getting back up to speed, prepared to earn a spot with the Canucks in training camp, only to test positive for COVID-19 when he attempted to enter Canada, forcing him to quarantine in the U.S. before reporting to camp.
“I was rehabbing, training in Connecticut all summer and I went back to Buffalo for, like, three days just to see my family and get a skate in,” said Bailey. “[They] shot me a text, said make sure you get a test and I ran out and got one and obviously it came back positive. I didn't believe it. Went and got a second one and it was positive again.”
“It’s just another bump in the road,” he added.
As a result, Bailey got a late start on earning a roster spot and simply didn’t have enough runway available to take flight. He only got into the one preseason game in Edmonton and that was it.
It’s a shame, as Bailey truly looked like he was an NHL player in his brief stint last season before getting injured. He has an alluring combination of size and blazing speed, making him a menace on the forecheck.
If he clears waivers, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bailey earn a call-up in short order.
Curtain call: Madison Bowey
One of the more pleasant surprises at Canucks training camp was the performance of Madison Bowey.
The 26-year-old defenceman was a bit of an afterthought — he was acquired last season primarily to satisfy a requirement for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. At the time, his best asset was his 55 NHL games over the last two seasons, allowing the Canucks to protect Tyler Myers from being claimed by the Kraken.
But Bowey took a purposeful approach to camp and the preseason, making himself a legitimate option for a depth role on the right side of the Canucks’ defence, particularly with Hamonic not at camp.
Bowey looked calm and comfortable in the preseason, making crisp breakout passes and jumping up in the play effectively. At the very least, he put himself in the conversation to be the team’s seventh or eighth defenceman.
He was essentially battling with Kyle Burroughs and, evidently, Burroughs won.
Still, it was a strong showing for Bowey, who has struggled at the NHL level in recent years. At the very least, he made an impression with the Canucks coaching staff and could be a candidate for a midseason call-up if the Canucks face injuries on the right side.
Nothing to report: Travis Hamonic
It’s tough to know what to say about Travis Hamonic. The Canucks have refused to quiet rumours about his absence being related to his vaccination status, something that was reported by Rob Simpson at Vancouver Hockey Now. If it is purely a personal issue keeping Hamonic at home, the Canucks are doing him a disservice by not ending the speculation.
Whatever the reason for his absence, Hamonic going on waivers does clear up some cap space. Instead of a $3 million cap hit, he will have a $1.875 million cap hit as a member of the Abbotsford Canucks.
With so much uncertainty regarding his reason for being absent, it seems very unlikely that another team will claim him off waivers.