With a mandatory two-week quarantine in effect for anyone traveling to Canada from outside the country, the NHL needed a solution for Canadian teams with American AHL affiliates like the Vancouver Canucks. A two-week quarantine just wouldn’t do if injuries struck and a team needed a call-up from the AHL in a hurry.
The NHL landed on taxi squads for every team — 4-6 players who are technically in the AHL for salary cap purposes, but stay with the team and are ready to step into the main roster if needed. It’s not only helpful for teams like the Canucks, but also the rest of the NHL, who are dealing with players held out of the lineup due to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.
On Tuesday, the Canucks added another option for keeping players available for a quick call-up: a loan agreement with the Manitoba Moose.
The Moose were the Canucks’ AHL affiliate from 2001 to 2011. Some of the team’s top players for their 2011 playoff run spent time developing with the Moose, like Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, and Kevin Bieksa.
When the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets in 2011, however, the Moose became the Jets’ affiliate and moved to Newfoundland to become the St. John’s IceCaps. They returned to Winnipeg in 2015 to once again play as the Manitoba Moose.
The Canucks have currently loaned three players to the Manitoba Moose: centre Tyler Graovac, defenceman Ashton Sautner, and goaltender Arturs Silovs. Of the three, Silovs might be the most important, as he now becomes fourth on the Canucks’ goaltending depth chart.
Since the Moose are in another province rather than another country, the quarantine protocols are less severe, requiring just seven days of quarantine. That allows the Canucks to call up players from the Moose to fill out the taxi squad rather than waiting an extra week for players from the Utica Comets.
It also further complicates the Canucks’ depth chart. So, let’s take a moment to take stock of which Canucks players are where.
Canucks Active Roster
J.T. Miller - Elias Pettersson - Brock Boeser
Tanner Pearson - Bo Horvat - Nils Höglander
Antoine Roussel - Adam Gaudette - Jake Virtanen
Tyler Motte - Jay Beagle - Brandon Sutter
Loui Eriksson - Zack MacEwen
Quinn Hughes - Travis Hamonic
Alex Edler - Nate Schmidt
Olli Juolevi - Tyler Myers
Jordie Benn - Jalen Chatfield
Eagle-eyed readers might notice that this roster has 24 players, one more than the 23-player limit. Jordie Benn was removed from the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list on Tuesday and returned to practice on Wednesday, but the Canucks have yet to officially send anyone to the taxi squad.
It’s safe to assume, however, that Loui Eriksson will be the player reassigned to the taxi squad when that time comes, having already cleared waivers just over a week ago.
Meanwhile, Jalen Chatfield skated with Alex Edler during Wednesday’s game day skate, while Olli Juolevi skated with Benn and Nate Schmidt moved to the left side with Tyler Myers. It’s possible that Chatfield will make his NHL debut against the Montreal Canadiens in place of Juolevi.
Canucks Taxi Squad
Forwards: Marc Michaelis, Justin Bailey
Defence: Jack Rathbone, Guillaume Brisebois, Brogan Rafferty
Goaltender: Michael DiPietro
The Canucks already have six players on their taxi squad, so will need to bump one player down to either the Manitoba Moose or the Utica Comets if and when Eriksson is sent to the taxi squad.
Centre Marc Michaelis impressed in training camp, to the point that the Canucks changed their plans. He was initially expected to play the season in Utica, but the Canucks wanted to keep him closer at hand as they believe he’s ready to play games in the NHL.
Canucks on the Manitoba Moose
Forward: Tyler Graovac
Defence: Ashton Sautner
Goaltender: Arturs Silovs
Both Tyler Graovac and Ashton Sautner have played NHL games — Graovac has played 70 games between the Canucks and Minnesota Wild — so they’re a bit of a safety valve for the Canucks if they have to dig deep in their depth chart due to injuries.
Silovs is still just 19 years old and was selected by the Canucks in the sixth round of the 2019 draft. He played in the OHL last season, his first in North America. His .891 save percentage may not look great, but it was right around league average for the OHL last season and he has enough size and raw talent to give the Canucks hope for an NHL future.
With the Moose, Silovs will likely backup Jets prospect Mikhail Berdin, but could still see a decent amount of playing time as they don’t appear to have any other goaltenders.
Canucks on the Utica Comets
Forwards: Sven Baertschi, Kole Lind, Lukas Jasek, Will Lockwood, Jonah Gadjovich
Defence: Josh Teves, Jett Woo, Mitch Eliot
Goaltender: Jake Kielly
With the St. Louis Blues’ AHL affiliate suspending operations for the 2020-21 season, the Blues and Canucks came to an agreement to share the Utica Comets as an affiliate. The Blues assigned 16 players to the Comets, including two goaltenders, making the deal with the Manitoba Moose even more necessary to ensure enough playing time for all of their prospects.
Baertschi might be the most surprising player on the Comets. Just two years ago, he was playing in a top-six role for the Canucks and made sense as an experienced veteran that could step in and play on the first or second line in a pinch. They arguably could have used him with J.T. Miller out for the first three games.
Perhaps Michaelis’s performance in training camp pushed Baertschi down to Utica or perhaps the Canucks weren’t even willing to consider Baertschi as an option.
With nine players between the taxi squad and the Moose, it’s unlikely that any players currently on the Comets will see playing time with the Canucks this season unless injuries get truly dire.