Canucks’ waiver gaffe apparent as Corrado makes Maple Leafs debut

Vladislav Namestnikov scored the overtime winner and picked up an assist as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Vancouver Canucks could use a defenceman like Frank Corrado. At the very least the Canucks sorely need a player like the one Corrado still has the potential to develop into.

On Tuesday night the Minnesota Wild bludgeoned the Canucks 6-2. Vancouver’s defence was lit up more gratuitously than Jimmy Pattison’s house for the holidays.

This wasn’t a one-off performance for a club that has been out-chanced by a wider margin than any other team in hockey, according to Porous defensive play has been a recurrent, painful theme for the Canucks.

While the club’s permissive defensive game has been an obvious issue, the loss in Minnesota served as a flashpoint. The Wild exposed the Canucks’ too-feeble defensive structure repeatedly on Tuesday night. They thoroughly dominated, scored six goals and directed an astounding 14 high-danger chances at the Canucks net.

It was a performance that was as hard on the eyes as it was on Canucks starter Ryan Miller.

As the Canucks were having their posteriors unceremoniously handed to them in Minnesota, Corrado was making his NHL debut for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The affable 22-year-old defenceman hails from Woodbridge, ON and grew up a die-hard Leafs fan. He had somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 to 50 friends and family in attendance at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night.

“There’s going to be a lot of ticket sales today,” Corrado joked to the media earlier in the day.

The Canucks unnecessarily and recklessly placed Corrado on waivers in early October. The waiver wire is crowded by last cuts in early October, but Corrado was the youngest player available by more than a year. It was obvious that he’d be claimed.

“We had two or three other players ahead of Frankie on the depth chart,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said of the decision to waive Corrado during an appearance on TSN 1040 radio in Vancouver last week.

“Quite honestly we felt he needed to play to get better,” Benning added later in the interview. “We didn’t want him sitting around not playing.”

When Vancouver elected to expose Corrado to waivers in October, he was claimed by his hometown Maple Leafs. The Leafs seemed eager to add Corrado to their roster, but they apparently disagree strongly with Benning’s assessment of the need for Corrado to play.

Corrado joined the Maple Leafs 10 weeks ago, but it took until Tuesday for Toronto to insert the versatile defender into their lineup. When Corrado finally dressed for the club on, he was tasked with playing his weak side and handed an extremely prescribed role.

The young defender played just over eight minutes in his Maple Leafs debut. He played well, but he watched from the bench for the final seven minutes of the third period. His defence partner, Roman Polak, played six additional minutes at even strength in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock gave Corrado’s performance a favourable review post-game, even though he admitted that he was reluctant to use him late in a tied game.

“I thought he didn’t play a ton, played his offside and still played with confidence,” Babcock said of Corrado’s performance. “He wasn’t afraid to be out there, wasn’t shy of the situation and skated well. I liked it.”

Despite Babcock’s praise, the Leafs bench boss wouldn’t commit to playing Corrado again in his club’s next game on Thursday. Babcock has apparently backed away from his oft-repeated claim that he’d give Corrado a run of games once he finally got into the lineup.

“I’ll watch the tape and then I’ll decide what’s best for us,” Babcock said.

It’s ironic that where the Canucks decided they didn’t need Corrado in October, it’s now apparent they could use his mobility and overall defensive awareness on their back end. Meanwhile the team that claimed Corrado doesn’t seem to have a spot for him to play regularly, even if they value him too much as an asset to expose him to the waiver wire.

The fact is, Corrado wouldn’t make it through anyway. 22-year-old right-handed shooting defenceman with second pair upside generally don’t clear. Even Benning implied strongly last week that the Canucks might be among the claimants were Corrado to shake loose again this season.

“If something was to happen we’ll look at things,” Benning said.

Corrado didn’t want to discuss the topic on Tuesday. He’s focused on carving out a spot for himself in the Maple Leafs lineup.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Corrado said when asked to react to Benning’s recent comments. “They can say what they want. I’m not there anymore, they made their decision and that’s fine with me. It’s my job here to prove to everyone the player I can be.”

Whether or not Corrado gets that chance in Toronto remains to be seen. He’s obviously spent this season running in place so far, but there should be little doubt that he has an NHL skillset. On Tuesday Babcock focused, perhaps tellingly, on Corrado’s need to get stronger.

“Great thing about sitting out everyday is you’ve got lots of time to (work out),” Babcock told the media. “Obviously there’s the part you see, and the part of developing players and making people stronger so that they’re ready to compete at the NHL level.

“Lots of players, (Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Anton) Stralman is a fine example, of a guy who when he first arrived in the league it took him a few stops to become the player he’s capable of being,” Babcock continued. “You just hope he does it for your team and not two teams down the road.”

That’s a ship that has already sailed for the Canucks, unfortunately.

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