Brendan Morrison is moving closer and closer to a contract with the Vancouver Canucks.
The former Canucks star, trying to revive his NHL career, was superb Saturday in a 4-1 preseason victory over the Anaheim Ducks. Morrison generated scoring chances, notched an assist, and was responsible defensively, flashing a complete game that is difficult to ignore when compared to Vancouver's other centres.
The Canucks will cut down to 32 players, if not fewer, Monday, but Morrison is likely to stay. His tryout agreement with Vancouver expires on Oct. 7, at which point the team will either have to offer him a contract or set him loose.
Vancouver has its first three centremen set. Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhotra will anchor the first three lines, though Malhotra could play left wing if need be. That means at least one more centre is needed for the fourth line, and another middleman may be kept as an extra forward.
Cody Hodgson, Vancouver's top prospect, was to make his preseason debut Sunday in Edmonton. But the former first-round draft pick is already running out of time, and it would be a surprise if he makes the club at this late stage.
The Canucks have three remaining exhibition games this week, and their regular veterans will want the bulk of ice time to get themselves ready for the Oct. 9 season opener. That means Hodgson will have to make an instant impression if he wants to avoid a trip to the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose, Vancouver's farm team.
Here's a look at the candidates battling for jobs at centre:
Experience: 829 NHL games
He can play on any line, in any situation, and could even play the wing if need be. Morrison is clearly a fan favourite to make the team, but he began camp as a long shot because of Vancouver's tight salary-cap situation and the fact that the team has 48 professional contracts and is limited to 50. But the former West Coast Express star poses little risk. He's a get-along guy sure to mix well in the dressing room, and he is familiar with many Canucks forwards.
Experience: 0 NHL games, 11 AHL games
He was scheduled to centre a line of Sergei Shirokov and Bill Sweatt in his preseason debut. Hodgson has yet to show that he can play at the NHL level, and is coming off a wasted season ruined by back injuries. Hodgson's salary-cap hit, $862,500 (U.S.), is expensive compared to his competitors (depending on what Morrison might receive). It's only a few hundred thousand more, but given Vancouver's cap plight, those dollars may make all the difference.
Experience: 89 NHL games, 296 AHL games
The free agent signed a one-way contract on July 1, a structure and date that suggest Perrault is a good bet to make the team. But the Moose have agreed to pay a significant portion of Perrault's salary should he be demoted, and he is not subject to re-entry waivers if he is recalled to the NHL. That means he is an ideal candidate to be stashed away and called up when depth is needed, unless he forces a different decision this week. Alexandre Bolduc and Mario Bliznak, two journeyman minor-leaguers, are also in the mix, although they would really need to stand out to earn a roster spot. Bolduc had a strong game Saturday, chipping in offensively, killing penalties and being physical, while management has been impressed with Bliznak's performance at camp.