<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/10/oct2509_grabmas_rr.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">After being cleared to begin skating by himself last week, Michael Grabner joined the team for their practice today at General Motors Place and looks poised to return to playing hockey by the end of December.
But the question is where?
The first choice appears to the Canucks farm team, the Manitoba Moose. The Moose do not have the sexiest top six in the AHL on paper and with the re-addition of Grabner should be a spark a team that is three games above .500. Prior his call up, Grabner also displayed great chemistry with Russian winger Sergei Shirokov.
But at the same time, Grabner could be a spark to the Canucks who are four games above .500 and displayed great chemistry on a second line with fellow speedsters Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler.
How the Canucks play in the time between now and until Grabner's activation of injured reserve will determine where he goes and if the game against the Anaheim Ducks last night was just a blip. The fact that the Canucks are at the 23-man roster limit with Pavol Demitra still on injured reserve will definitely play a role.
All players presently on the roster are waivers eligible and all hold one-way contracts with the exception of Tanner Glass and Jannik Hansen. Grabner on the other hand is not waivers eligible and is on a two-way contract which puts him at a disadvantaged position.
The popular consensus among Canucks fans is that Grabner has played well enough in his nine games thus far with the Canucks this season and should be given a spot on the team upon his return and Darcy Hordichuk should be dispatched to the minors because he's a floater and is useless.
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/08/aug1309_hordy03_b.jpg" width="300" height="257" class="imageFloatRightFramed">Are we expecting too much from Hordichuk?
I tend to think so. Yes, he was hailed by Mike Gillis as this great fourth line enforcer who could play a regular shift, bring energy, and be a deterrent to extracurricular activities on the ice. Much like how Dave Nonis hailed Tommi Santala as the league's best fourth line centre. But he is an enforcer after all, is he not?
A floater, a four minutes a night guy, dumb penalties, questionable hits, and a bench warmer in the third period is what you get for an enforcer in the NHL. Hordichuk brings a decent skating to the table, something many enforcers in the NHL are unable to do.
Having an enforcer is important and look no further than the last four Stanley Cup champions coming out of the lockout.
Last year, Eric Godard was there to serve and protect for the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2008, there was Aaron Downey on the Detroit Red Wings. In 2007, there was of course George Parros and Shawn Thornton on Brian Burke's Anaheim Ducks. In 2006, there was Jesse Boulerice for the Carolina Hurricanes, albeit for four months of the season before being traded as part of the Doug Weight deal.
Questionable hits so far this year in the NHL this season have also been committed to mostly teams that have lacked a heavyweight enforcer.
Both Jarkko Ruutu and Alexander Ovechkin's respective hits on Patrick Kaleta of the Buffalo Sabres, David Koci on Washington's Mike Green, Ovechkin on Tim Gleason of Carolina, Mike Richards on David Booth of Florida, Carcillo's cheapshot on Matt Bradley of Washington in a fight, or Georges Laraques knee on Niklas Kronwall of Detroit.
So, in short, I believe Darcy Hordichuk has a place on this team and I would say his job is safe on the team.
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/11/nov1_glass2_rr.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">As well as Tanner Glass has played this year and as bad as Hordichuk has played this year and his reluctance to get into a fight, I would say Glass's job is in danger, if not more than Hordichuk.
After surprisingly making the team out of training camp, Glass has played exceptionally well so far this NHL campaign and already setting career highs in goals, assists, and points in a single season. But two things are working against Glass.
Waivers. If the Canucks choose to put Darcy Hordichuk on waivers to clear the requisite roster space for Michael Grabner or Pavol Demitra's return in January, he will most likely get claimed by a rival NHL club. Carolina, Detroit, New York Islanders, and Washington are all without a heavyweight. Surely, any one of these could put a claim in or any of teams that already have a heavyweight could as well as it is not easy finding one that can skate.
Even if Hordichuk manages to clear waivers and gets sent to the minors, he will be subject to re-entry waivers if the Canucks ever want to bring him back up at which point you run the risk of having a rival team claim him and have half of his cap hit count towards the Canucks' cap.
Glass has the higher probability of clearing waivers and is a player not subject to re-entry waivers.
Redundancy. Both Tanner Glass and Rick Rypien are similar players. They both are quick on the forecheck, like to run guys through the boards, great middleweight scrappers, decent puck skills, and solid defensively.
Needless to say, I think Rypien wins.
Whatever the decision is, when Michael Grabner returns and Pavol Demitra in January, it is a decision for Alain Vigneault and staff to make, and not ours.