The Canucks were one of the teams most affected by the reduced salary cap for this coming season (one of the provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was signed back in January).
How has the salary cap affected Mike Gillis (and what he has been able to do) this summer? How will it affect some of the potential training camp battles which are looming? Let’s take a look.
This summer, Gillis was unable to keep a goaltending tandem set to make nearly $10 million together (although money wasn’t the primary reason that something had to be done in that department). He was also forced to stay out of the bidding for any of the top UFAs – something that may very likely turn out to be a blessing in disguise when teams around the league are saddled with ugly long term deals in a few years.
Gillis spent what few open cap dollars he had at his disposal on depth options with a bit of intrigue; Brad Richardson, who wanted more responsibility than the role he had on the Kings, and Yannick Weber, a talented offensive defenseman who had fallen out of favour in Montreal.
The team is/was pretty set on the back end, but they weren’t able to bring in an elite third line center (Boyd Gordon, Matt Cullen) as they simply didn’t have the available dollars to lure anyone to town. The Manny Malhotra injury continues to sting, no doubt.
I don’t put much/any stock in the latest comments from Chris Tanev’s agent – he’s trying to create some leverage in a situation where he has very little of it. Can’t blame him for trying, though. Until NHL GMs prove to be more willing to use offer sheets as a tool to acquire young talent (and to hamper their rivals), top restricted free agents won’t have as much value as they potentially could.
I still think Vancouver brings in another forward/defenseman before training camp, but let’s work with what we know for now.
There are 12 forwards under contract for $33,230,000. This includes Tom Sestito and Jordan Schroeder, and it doesn’t include Bo Horvat, Kellan Lain, or Brendan Gaunce.
There are six defensemen (not including Tanev) under contract for $19,949,444 million. Let’s assume that Tanev comes in around $2 million. That gives us seven defensemen at $21,949,444 million.
In goal, Eddie Lack and Roberto Luongo make a combined $6,083,333 million. Lack will have to win the backup job in camp, but he has a leg up on Joakim Ericsson for two reasons – his one-way contract, and the fact that his NHL salary of $750,000 is $175,000 less than Ericsson’s ($925,500).
So as it stands, the Canucks (with Tanev) come in at a combined $61,952,777 with a roster of:
(Weber.. which sure feels nice to write, even if it’s as the 7th defenseman..).
There is some flexibility under the cap (just a shade over $2 million). The Canucks will need to carry a 13th forward, as Utica isn’t exactly a short drive away (hint, hint). This is where rookie contracts could work against some of the talented young players.
Bo Horvat’s entry-level contract pays him $1.775 million per season at the NHL level (edit: although $850,000 of that could potentially count against the 2014-15 cap as per the performance bonus cushion rule). Brendan Gaunce’s calls for $1.056 million per season (with a performance bonus of $162,500). Nicklas Jensen’s is $863,333 per season, while Kellan Lain is pulling in $600,000 per season. Unless Horvat has an incredible camp, the Canucks won’t be playing him in the NHL this season. Not only would it not make sense to rush a teenager into the league, but Horvat would be their highest paid bottom-six center (by far).
Gaunce has a slightly better chance as he is a bit more polished/developed in addition to making almost $800,000 less than Horvat. Jensen isn’t a center, but his cap-friendly contract should help his chances of earning a winger spot with the Canucks this season. Lain smartly agreed to a contract with a low NHL cap hit; it improves his chances of making the Canucks significantly. And unlike Gaunce and Horvat, he is already developed as a player, so the Canucks probably wouldn’t be adverse to using him in a depth/utility role with limited minutes and specific responsibilities.
Adding Lain to the above mix gives the Canucks a bit more balance up front:
(Sestito becomes an extra).
Of course, there are several important questions that need to be answered.
Is Kassian ready for more minutes? He’s certainly putting the work in.
Can Corrado build off of his strong debut in 2013?
Can Kesler stay healthy?
Will Schroeder’s shoulder be healthy in time for camp? Can he play regular minutes for Tortorella?
The Canucks need a lot of things to go right for them to have success in 2013-14. But they have also set themselves up nicely from a long-term cap perspective. Assuming the salary cap starts to increase on an annual basis once again for the 2014-15 season, the team will be able to make some big moves next summer (in addition to re-signing their two most important players).