Goldobin’s departure for KHL solid proof Canucks have outgrown him

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Vancouver Canucks' Nikolay Goldobin. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks’ biggest mistake on Nikolay Goldobin was re-signing him last September.

He cost them $900,000, almost none of it counting against their salary cap since the 24-year-old spent all but one game this season in the American Hockey League.

The winger’s weekend signing in the Kontinental League was overdue, not unexpected. CSKA Moscow is depriving the Canucks of a good, albeit expensive, minor-league player.

Goldobin was an easy guy to cheer for — an amiable, earnest player who, despite the Canucks’ discouraging history with Russians over the last generation (see Nikita Tryamkin), badly wanted to play in Vancouver. He told local radio reporter Rick Dhaliwal on the weekend that he’ll try the National Hockey League again when his two-year contract with Moscow expires.

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But had Goldobin matched the persistence and tenacity of his advocates in the media, he’d have found a way during three years in the Canucks organization to establish himself in the NHL and wouldn’t need to go to the KHL to re-start his career.

Instead, even as he worked hard and continued to pile up points in the minors, he repeatedly failed to seize opportunities at the NHL level, which became fewer as the Canucks improved.

The Canucks were bottoming out in their rebuild as a 69-point team in the 2016-17 season when Goldobin was acquired from the San Jose Sharks at the trade deadline in exchange for veteran winger Jannik Hansen, whose NHL tank was nearly empty.

Possibilities seemed endless for Goldobin, a skilled playmaker drafted 27th by San Jose in 2014 after a 94-point season in the Ontario League, when he poached a breakaway goal in his first game for the Canucks.

He scored 17 more in his next 113 games.

The Canucks evolved, Goldobin didn’t.

Three weeks after he joined Vancouver, the Canucks signed their own first-rounder, Brock Boeser.

Elias Pettersson arrived as a rookie one full season later.

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Then Josh Leivo was acquired from Toronto and Tanner Pearson from Pittsburgh. General manager Jim Benning traded for J.T. Miller last June, and signed Micheal Ferland a month later. Adam Gaudette made the team last fall, and Tyler Toffoli was added ahead of the trade deadline in February.

All of these forwards are better than Goldobin, who didn’t take advantage when he had the chance of far weaker competition for lineup spots.

By the end of the 2018-19 season – before Miller and Toffoli and Gaudette – Goldobin was healthy scratched in 10 of the final 11 games by coach Travis Green. Despite top-nine deployment that included 2:33 of nightly power-play time, Goldobin contributed two goals and two assists in the last 23 games he played. And he didn’t play with enough urgency or quickness away from the puck to make up for his lack of scoring.

“Those aren’t numbers that are really going to keep a guy in the league,” Green lamented back then. “We know he’s not going to be a guy that’s heavy and hard and physical and I know that I’m alright with that. I want his compete level to be high, and I think it has been higher. But at the end of the day, you take the month of November (12 points in 14 games) away and he hasn’t done a whole lot. So somebody else gets an opportunity, and that’s the way this league is.”

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Green implored Goldobin to do something to help the Canucks and help himself. Which is why it was surprising, after he failed to, that the team re-signed him six months later to a one-way, one-year contract.

We get it; it was a low-risk hedge against injuries to the NHL roster or the unlikely possibility that Goldobin, after six years of professional hockey, would suddenly figure it all out and do something more than make a nice pass when the puck came to him.

“It’s a pressure game today and you’ve got to be able to apply pressure either with your body or your mind and with your stick and be in the right spots,” Green said during the pre-season, shortly before Goldobin sailed unclaimed through waivers on his way to the Utica Comets, where he had 50 points in 51 games.

He never came close to making the NHL team. The big story when it was chosen last October wasn’t the omission of Goldobin from the Canucks, but the surprise demotion of Sven Baertschi, who was bumped to the minors by Gaudette’s play and Loui Eriksson’s contract.

In his only game for Vancouver this season, an 8-6 loss in Pittsburgh on Nov. 27 when the Canucks collapsed in the third period, Goldobin started on a line with Miller and Pettersson but did not have a shot attempt in 8:37 of ice time. Even-strength shot attempts were 12-1 for the Penguins with Goldobin on the ice, which was a total of 19 seconds over the final 27 minutes as Green benched him again.

His callup from the AHL ended on Dec. 6.

The Canucks were unable to give away Goldobin to another NHL team, and rather than wait all summer for a tryout offer from someone, the player did the right thing in signing now with Moscow. In two years, if he has done something more than make money in the KHL, Goldobin could get another NHL look. Just not in Vancouver.

The Canucks have outgrown him.

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