BURNABY, B.C. - Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning says his move to send left-winger Sven Baertschi to the minors shows the team's growth.
The club announced Monday that Baertschi has been placed on waivers alongside right-winger Nikolay Goldobin and defenceman Alex Biega, with all three designated for assignment to the Canucks' American Hockey League affiliate in Utica, N.Y.
The decision wasn't an easy one, Benning said, especially after the Canucks traded for Baertschi in 2015 and worked for years to develop his game.
“He's been part of our group here for the past four or five years. It was a tough conversation,” the GM told reporters after the Canucks practised in Burnaby, B.C. on Monday.
“I think, you know, it's kind of the evolution of us as a team. My job is to try and improve the team, sign better players, trade for better players over the summer. So we got better players in camp so we were going to have to make tough decisions.”
Baertschi's assignment follows an abbreviated season where he played just 26 games due to a concussion and post-concussion syndrome.
The 26-year-old Swiss forward had 14 points last year, a marked departure from the career-high 18 goals and 17 assists he put up for the Canucks in 2016-17.
Benning said the fact that Baertschi doesn't play on Vancouver's top-two power-play units or the penalty kill factored into the move.
The GM also confirmed that he talked to other teams about trading for Baertschi but “wasn't able to find a fit.”
That doesn't mean he won't play in the NHL this season, however, Benning said.
“We're going to have injuries again. He's going to come back up at some point. But to start the year he's going to have to go down,” he said.
Canucks coach Travis Green first worked with Baertschi nearly a decade ago with the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks.
Green said the forward simply wasn't at the top of his game at training camp this year.
“I've known Sven for a long time, since he was 17 years old. And this was not an easy decision by our organization, quite frankly,” he said. “It's one of those tough decisions that you've got to make. Things change fast in the NHL and (Baertschi) is still part of the Canuck family. But he's got to go through waivers and we'll see where he ends up.”
NHL stars are used to seeing their teammates come and go, but Canucks centre Bo Horvat admitted that seeing Baertschi sent down “stings a little harder.”
“He's pretty close to me and my family. It's definitely a tough day. But, I mean, tough decisions have to be made and we're excited for the year ahead,” he said.
“I know for him on a personal note, just going through what he's gone through, the head injuries and having a baby (over the summer), it's life changing. So it might take a little bit more time for him to be himself.”
Still, Horvat “absolutely” believes his friend will soon find himself back in an NHL lineup.
“There's no doubt in my mind that he'll be back and stronger and faster and a better hockey player,” he said. “That's just the type of person he is. He's a hard worker and he's going to do whatever it takes to get back here.”
One player spared from Monday's roster trim is centre Adam Gaudette.
The 22-year-old native of Braintree, Mass., put up 12 points in 56 games with the Canucks last season, but knew he'd have to impress in training camp and pre-season play to cement a spot on the roster.
When he arrived at the rink for practice on Monday, he found he'd done just that.
“(Green) just said 'Congrats and keep working.' And that's all that I can do now,” Gaudette said, adding that making the team is only step one.
“Step two's going to be actually getting into the lineup and sticking there. So it's definitely not over. Can't settle down now, got to keep going, keep working.”
Monday's cuts also saw the Canucks send down Goldobin, who spent part of last season skating on a line with stars Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser before being a repeat healthy scratch. The 23-year-old Russian amassed 27 goals in 63 games.
Biega, 31, also returns to the Utica Comets, where he started last season before being called up amid a spate of injuries. He saw action in 41 games with the Canucks, registering 16 points.
Sending a player to the AHL isn't a permanent move, Green said.
“One thing I've learned about the NHL is that it changes fast. And when you've got pieces that can go up and down, you can make changes,” he said. “This team could look different next week. NHL teams change fast. And when you're a team trying to get better, you know, we want guys that are playing well and you make changes if they don't.”
Vancouver will kick off the season in Edmonton on Wednesday.