Ben Hutton deserves to be on the Canucks roster. The 22-year-old defenceman shocked everyone in the pre-season with his poise and offensive ability. He tied with Sven Baertschi and Bo Horvat for the team-lead in scoring with 5 points in the pre-season, which was also enough to tie him for second among defencemen league-wide.
On top of that, he managed to limit his defensive miscues, making the Canucks coaching and management confident he can, like a guy just getting into indie rock, skip directly to The National.
That’s all well and good. It’s great to see the Canucks following through on their commitment to giving younger players like Hutton, Jake Virtanen, and Jared McCann an opportunity to make the team based on merit. The only issue: they didn’t need to put Frank Corrado on waivers at all.
(Technically, they didn’t need to put Linden Vey on waivers either, but it’s harder to argue that Vey deserves a chance when last season was entirely composed of chances for Vey.)
Corrado and Hutton are superficially similar players. They’re both 22 years old, born less than a month apart. They’re both fifth-round draft picks from the Mike Gillis era. They’re both even from Ontario, just under 4 hours apart from each other.
There are a couple differences, however: Hutton is a much more dynamic, offensive player, while Corrado is a steadier, defensive presence. Hutton is also, as Will Smith would say, the new hotness. Corrado is old and busted.
What I mean by that is that Hutton is new and shiny. Because he was playing in the NCAA, we didn’t even have a chance to see Hutton in any previous pre-seasons, so he’s entirely fresh to our eyes. We haven’t seen him long enough to pick out his flaws and harp on his errors. It would be nice to believe he has none, but that would be naive.
Corrado, on the other hand, has been around Canucks’ training camps since 2011. He’s been around enough that we constantly expect more out of him. We expect him to be exponentially better every time we see him.
Now there’s no doubt that Hutton outplayed Corrado in the pre-season, but there’s context to consider: Corrado has already shown that he can be an effective NHL defenceman.
He showed it in 2012-13, when he got the chance to play for the Canucks in the playoffs and held his own as a 19-year-old. He showed it in 2013-14, when he stepped into the lineup for 15 games. He showed it last season when he played 10 games for the Canucks and likely should have played more.
Last season, Corrado was the only defenceman that managed to post positive possession numbers while paired with Luca Sbisa, and not just positive -- he and Sbisa posted a 58.9% corsi percentage together. With the caveat that it was a small sample size, it was impressive enough that he should have been playing in the NHL.
Corrado has been NHL-ready for at least two seasons and now the Canucks risk losing him for nothing. If all goes well, Corrado will slip through waivers without getting claimed, but the frustrating part is that none of this was necessary. This was not an either/or situation. It wasn't Hutton or Corrado: they could have had both.
With Chris Higgins injured, the Canucks could have temporarily sent Hutton down to the AHL, declared their 23-man roster by the Tuesday deadline, then put Higgins on long-term injured reserve and called Hutton back up. It would have meant carrying 8 defencemen on the roster, but with the risk of injuries, that’s not always a bad thing, particularly when it means that you don’t risk losing a 22-year-old, right-shooting, NHL-ready defenceman for nothing.
What’s maddening is that the Canucks were aware of this and still sent Corrado down.
Trevor Linden was on TSN 1040 and Matt Sekeres asked him about the risk and keeping both Hutton and Corrado. His response? “We obviously could have done that, but we decided not to.”
Linden explained that, “Keeping a player here just to have him here is not serving that player well either,” and said that they wanted to get Corrado more time in the AHL. The fact of the matter is he’s had plenty of time in the AHL and is ready to play in the NHL. If you’re concerned about getting Corrado playing time, then play him in the NHL.
And don’t tell me that this was entirely based on the pre-season, because if that were the case, many other players would have gotten cut: past performance counts for something and Corrado has repeatedly proven that he deserves a longer stay in the NHL.