CANUCKS: Gag­ner back with Mar­lies, but is Sam on the move to Hawks?

The Province - - FRONT PAGE - PATRICK JOHN­STON pjohn­[email protected]­media.com twit­ter.com/risin­gac­tion

If the Chicago Black­hawks are in­ter­ested in Sam Gag­ner, Canucks gen­eral man­ager Jim Ben­ning isn’t say­ing.

Asked Wed­nes­day if there was any truth to the sug­ges­tion from Sport­snet’s El­liotte Fried­man that the Hawks “might be think­ing” about the re­cently de­moted Canucks for­ward, Ben­ning de­murred.

“I’m not go­ing to com­ment on dis­cus­sions we’ve had. It’s not fair to the other teams,” he said over the phone Wed­nes­day, an off-day for his NHL club.

Vet­eran for­ward Gag­ner was lent back to the Toronto Mar­lies of the AHL on Tues­day, a some­what sur­pris­ing move given the prom­i­nent role he had played for the Canucks over the past two weeks. Over those two weeks, Gag­ner went from the AHL to the first line on an NHL team — as well as play­ing on the first power-play unit — and now back again.

Gag­ner had been play­ing lots and play­ing well. It seems en­tirely pos­si­ble other teams might have no­ticed.

An­other team, an­other sea­son, the Canucks might have looked at the other de­mo­tion op­tions avail­able to them when Jay Bea­gle was cleared to re­turn to the lineup, two months after break­ing his arm.

But with the team want­ing to give min­utes to younger play­ers, with an eye on the fu­ture, Ben­ning in­di­cated the lack of a role for Gag­ner go­ing for­ward was the main de­cid­ing point.

“Part of it was (Adam) Gaudette, we wanted in the mid­dle,” Ben­ning said. “And we’d just traded for (Josh) Leivo.”

Gaudette has been cen­tring the fourth line for the most part this sea­son. He started the sea­son with the Utica (N.Y.) Comets of the AHL, but was re­called just over a week into the sea­son when Bea­gle went on the in­jured-re­serve list.

Gaudette would be an easy de­mo­tion back to the mi­nors, since he doesn’t need waivers. (Gag­ner also cur­rently doesn’t need waivers.)

Fur­ther, Ben­ning said, the coach­ing staff wanted to have a look at Leivo on the first power-play unit, in the pivot spot that Gag­ner had been in­hab­it­ing for most of the past two weeks.

Thus, if there was no spot for him as a cen­tre and no spot for him on the power play, plus his cur­rent waiver-ex­empt sta­tus, Canucks man­age­ment didn’t see an ob­vi­ous other fit on their ros­ter for him. Best to send him to the mi­nors now, even if there was an­other op­tion like send­ing down Gaudette, or per­haps waiv­ing one of the team’s two spare blue-lin­ers.

(Fur­ther moves are likely to hap­pen in the next few weeks, with Bran­don Sut­ter and Sven Baertschi both work­ing their way back to health.)

Hockey may be a busi­ness and a cruel one at times, but from a hu­man per­spec­tive, for the player be­ing moved from one’s fam­ily just weeks be­fore Christ­mas can’t be easy. It might even be up­set­ting.

Ship­ping out the vet­eran for­ward wasn’t an easy choice, Ben­ning said, echo­ing his sen­ti­ments from be­fore the sea­son, when Gag­ner was first waived and then lent to the Mar­lies, the farm team of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Ben­ning said he told Gag­ner, who he signed to a three­year, US$9.45 mil­lion con­tract just 18 months ago, that he’d con­tinue to look to find an NHL team that might be in­ter­ested in trad­ing for him.

“As teams now start get­ting in­juries, maybe some­thing will hap­pen,” Ben­ning said. “If some­thing is there, we’ll do it.”

— GETTY IM­AGES FILES

Sam Gag­ner of the Canucks, left, bat­tling On­drej Kase of Ana­heim in re­cent ac­tion, played well in his call-up but had no clear role mov­ing for­ward.

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