Vancouver Canucks Daily Rumblings: Utica Too Far Away

Sep 23, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Jordan Subban (67) skates against the San Jose Sharks during the first period at Rogers Arena. The Vancouver Canucks won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sport
Sep 23, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Jordan Subban (67) skates against the San Jose Sharks during the first period at Rogers Arena. The Vancouver Canucks won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sport /

The Vancouver Canucks may love their AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets. But how much sense does it make to have a farm team on the other side of the continent?

The big news of the day regarding the Vancouver Canucks’ AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets, was that center Mike Zalewski and Richard Bachman were signed to new contracts. Both are expected to spend the majority of the 2016-17 season with the Comets, but they could, under certain circumstances, see some NHL time as well. Which brings us to the question: how much sense does it make for a franchise in Vancouver, British Columbia, to have their AHL affiliate in Utica, New York?

Jeremy Davis of Canucks Army discussed that topic, while Canucks Army writer Jackson McDonald explored whether or not Vancouver has a real second line.

I would like to weigh in on both discussions, and don’t forget to leave your opinion in the comments as well!

Wait, lines can be numbered?

Jackson McDonald — Canucks Army: Do the Canucks Have a Second Line?

"In Vancouver’s case, defining the team’s second line by ice-time would be an exercise in futility. Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins has been known to use questionable deployment strategies and the line that gets the second-most ice time is likely to change from night to night. With that in mind, we’ll define the Canucks potential second-line players by their offensive production."

The reason why this topic really interested me is my recent article on how I believe Loui Eriksson should play on the second line with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi. But there we already have the problem: are Horvat and Baertschi good second-line players?

As said in the quote above, it was nearly impossible to decide who the second line was last season. For one, head coach Willie Desjardins mixed things up regularly, having players like Brandon Prust or Derek Dorsett on the line that was listed second on the official game report. Furthermore, there were games when the fourth line of players like Prust and Dorsett had more ice time than the Sedin twins. So that doesn’t really tell us anything.

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While McDonald went on to identify potential second-line players by their ability to provide offense, I would personally define a second line as the one that gets the second-most even-strength ice time. And here the question is not only who should get that ice time, but also whether Desjardins will have an actual hierarchy in his lineup instead of rolling all four lines.

The Pittsburgh Penguins showed that rolling four lines can work great. But that only works when you have a star player like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel on each line, along with players that can keep up with their skill and pace. In addition, you need depth players that can do more than eat ice time and hope nothing bad happens while they’re on. Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl, for example, contributed regularly from the fourth line.

Vancouver, on the other hand, can only spread Eriksson and the Sedins out on two lines. Mainly because the twins are almost impossible to separate. I would definitely do just that, though — put the Sedins and Eriksson on separate lines.

As I wrote in my article, Eriksson with Horvat and Baertschi could get to about the same production level as the Sedins plus Jannik Hansen. It is definitely the safest bet. Nobody knows how much Brandon Sutter, Anton Rodin, Alex Burrows and all the others can contribute, and it doesn’t even seem unlikely that Baertschi-Horvat-Hansen would be a relatively weak line.

A line of Eriksson-Horvat-Baertschi could be a second line by both definitions — ice time and production. And it is something Willie Desjardins should consider.

Utica is just too damn far away

Jeremy Davis — Canucks Army: How Much Longer Should the Vancouver Canucks Keep Their AHL Franchise in Utica?

"The distance between Vancouver and Utica is not only something that NHL teams are moving on from, it’s the longest distance between an NHL city and its affiliate in the league – and it isn’t close. The 3,686 kilometres between the cities is more that one and a half times the next longest distance. Vancouver and Utica are also the only pair that are three time zones apart (marked by a red bar), while only three others are even a single time zone apart (marked by yellow bars), with the other 26 pairs being in the same time zone."

When the Winnipeg Jets decide to call up or demote Connor Hellebuyck, which is something that happened frequently in the 2015-16 campaign, nothing really changes for the goaltender. Well, other than his teammates, that is. The city is the same, the rink is the same, it’s all the same.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs do the same with prospect William Nylander, things are slightly different. The Marlies’ Ricoh Coliseum is about a 10-minute drive away from the Leafs’ Air Canada Centre. But the important part is: there is zero travel connected to roster moves between the two teams.

In Vancouver, however, things are different. Very different. A distance of 3,686 kilometres is a lot, and it is especially annoying for players who get called up for just one game, or sometimes even just as an insurance in case a hurt Canuck can’t play.

But do they even want to move their affiliate west?

Related Story: Utica Comets a Blessing for Vancouver

The Utica Comets were founded in 2013 and have since served as the Canucks’ farm team. So far in three years, there hasn’t been a problem. The Canucks are happy with the Comets and the Comets are happy with the Canucks. If only it Utica wasn’t so far away.

But yet, Trevor Linden has said the Canucks are not interested to move the Comets west. After all, they picked Utica for their farm team in the first place, so saying it’s two far away a few years later wouldn’t make a lot of sense.

The distance sucks, for the teams as well as the players, but that is literally the only thing that sucks about the affiliation. As long as that is the case, there is no reason to make a change.

Next: Why Eriksson Shouldn't Play with the Twins

That said, once the Canucks consider moving their affiliate for whichever reasons, they should and certainly will find a place closer to home. A potential landing spot is the WHL Giants’ former home, the Pacific Coliseum right in Vancouver. But bringing a third major club to the city might not be the best idea.

Luckily, the Canucks are happy with the Comets for now, so they have more than enough time to think about their next affiliate.