Graphic Comments: Subtraction By Addition

If you’ve been a Canucks fan long enough, you will likely remember a couple of deadline deals Pat Quinn made with the St. Louis Blues. The most cited is the deal for Jeff Brown, Bret Hedican and Nathan Lafayette (sigh) that set the Canucks up for their unlikely run to the 1994 Stanley Cup Final.

But a few years earlier, Quinn made a much more significant deal when he shipped Garth Butcher and Dan Quinn to the Blues for Geoff Courtnall, Sergio Momesso, Robert Dirk, Cliff Ronning and a 5th round pick. While that turned out to be a great return for the Canucks, at the time there was concern than they had also given away a lot in Butcher and Quinn.

One explanation for the deal, which has stuck with me ever since, was that the real benefit of the trade was that it was addition by subtraction. No matter the player return the Canucks got back, what they really wanted was to get Dan Quinn and his off-ice, playboy lifestyle away from Trevor Linden.

In many ways, addition by subtraction is probably how the Cody Hodgson trade might be described, ironic as that might be, considering the return. Sometimes the best way to make your team better is to jettison some of those off-ice distractions.

So what does this have to do with the current edition of the Canucks? Well, yesterday they engaged in something that I will call subtraction by addition. I mean, what else did you expect at Canucks Army, if not more math?

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that Luca Sbisa and Derek Dorsett are off-ice problems or distractions. In fact, by all reports Derek Dorsett has made a significant, positive contribution to getting Bo Horvat and Ronald Kenins accustomed to life as a professional hockey players.

But the Canucks did make a signficant subtraction yesterday, and that was in the wiggle room they have under the NHL’s salary cap. In today’s NHL, it’s important to remember that cap room is an asset. Just ask the NY Islanders, who managed the snap up two top-notch defensemen in Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk on the cheap precisely because they had the cap room and the Blackhawks and Bruins didn’t.

So what did these two contract extensions do to the Canucks’ cap situation? The Army’s @MoneyPuck_ added it all up and it’s not pretty:


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Based on this tally, the Canucks are sitting at $66.6 million committed to 17 players for next year. Given that NHL teams typically carry a 23-man roster, that means they have to fit six more contracts under the cap. And this is where I differ slightly with Money Puck’s tabulation. He has the cap at $73 million next year, while I’m pretty sure it won’t be any more than $70 million given the state of the Canadian dollar and the likelihood that the NHLPA doesn’t want to apply a large cap escalator due to concerns with escrow.

The leaves the Canucks needing to fit six contracts into about $3.5 million of cap room.

What’s the NHL minimum again?

Now look, I’m not saying Dorsett and Sbisa are completely without value. Well, not Dorsett anyway. As noted earlier, he’s been a great mentor for the kids on the team, and would be a valuable asset over the next couple of years as a few more prospects (hopefully) make the transition from Utica to the big club. But that value greatly diminishes as his salary goes up:


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Not only that, but locking him up for four years isn’t just a drain on cap room, but it’s one less entry level roster spot that one of those kids can come up in to develop at the NHL level. I mean, if Dorsett is so good with the kids, and that’s the big value he brings, give him a coaching job. Don’t use excessive cap room and a roster spot on him.

But what about the energy these guys add to the lineup, you say. Who else throws hits, you ask.

Well, we’ve been through this before:


If you’re hitting guys, it means you don’t have the puck.

Yes, it’s great that they can throw thundering body checks. Yes, that can help get the puck back. But if that’s the main tool in your toolbox, it means you are either an overall liability defensively or you can’t do much with the puck offensively when you actually have it. It also means that you are eminently replaceable. And if you’re replaceable, you should be paid at replacement level. In today’s NHL, you cannot waste cap room on the bottom end of your lineup if you hope to be able to afford the skill at the top end.

Depth is important, but it must be efficient.

Finally, there’s been a suggestion that at least the Canucks didn’t give these guys the same no trade clauses that have handcuffed the team’s ability to make significant changes to the roster.

Yes. Thank heaven’s for small miracles.

That being said, I’m not the first one to suggest that the contracts themselves might be all the trade protection these guys need:




You can also check out the monthly collections of Graphic Comments over at The Sporting News.

  • Graphic Comments

    First and most important:
    Welcome back! I’ve missed your posts. More please.

    Second, and entirely speculative:

    I did the same cap calculation and the conclusion I came to was VERY different. To use your phrase: CAP addition by subtraction.

    As much as I like all three, I’m guessing the master plan is to say goodbye to at least two of Bieksa, Hamhuis, or Burrows. That frees up 8-14 Mil.

    Then put in 3 or 4 ELC rookies and you have room for at least one more sneaky good signing like Vrbata,

    Maybe there’s a plan to trade Miller too, but that’s far from certain. He’s been fine, and could be useful trade bait at the deadline next year. Especially if he gets to showcase another good record early in the season. Of course, The Stork could also be a fantastic acquisition for a bubble team that needs a Dubnyk-like saviour and we know GMJB loves picks.

    • comsymp

      I think you see all three of Higgins, Burrows and Bieksa gone, replaced by Baertschi, Kenins, Matthias, maybe Richardson, and Weber. and you still have about $2million in savings. I think Miller is here next year, but my understanding is that the third year has a move clause for either the club or Miller and I think that will be exercised. I expect more of a 50-50 split of the goaltending this next year, with Lack as the top goalie the following year (29 years old) backed up by Ericsson. None of the bad news, i.e. Higgins, Burrows and Bieksa will be announced after the playoffs end. I expect the club will not ask for much for any of them and will accomodate their desires. Bieksa, Toronto or Buffalo, Burrows, Montreal and Higgins, Boston or a New York club. All of them would be interest. Biekas would replace Phaneuf as a leader in Toronto. Burrows brings grit and some scoring to Habs, Higgins a veteran player to young clubs like NYI or NJ. Linden has said they will get younger, this will be how they do it.

    • Graphic Comments

      Thanks! There’s nothing like unbridled outrage to get me motivated. Probably why I managed to actually post weekly during the lockout. 😛

      As for the likelihood that they’ll move some vets, I think that’s a foregone conclusion given that they can’t fill out their roster with the cap room they have left. But that doesn’t mean they should, as Rhys likes to day, burn piles of money at the same time. By all means, trade a couple of these guys and give yourself more room, AND give yourself even more room by not wasting it on Dor$ett and Sbi$a.


  • Waffles

    At least if they’re not performing well in 3 or 4 years’ time they can be dumped for draft picks at the trade deadline in their contract years. Though I have to agree I’m not super stoked about these deals, especially the Sbisa deal being a big shocker with the money and term. But hey, it could have been worse – we could have signed Sbisa for 4 years or more instead of only 3.

    It’s also interesting to note that Dorsett will be making more money than both Bonino and Hansen.. I can only imagine how much money Mathias will be asking for after seeing these deals.

  • Graphic Comments

    So the plan is to bring back the same old, mediocre team that probably should be around 10th in the conference behind SJ, LA & DAL if not for blindass luck.

    I’m sorry – the same old, mediocre team MINUS Matthias & Richardson in all likelihood.

    “As much as I like all three, I’m guessing the master plan is to say goodbye to at least two of Bieksa, Hamhuis, or Burrows. That frees up 8-14 Mil.”

    With many teams in a cap fix as bad or worse than Vancouver, you think teams are going to be eager to take on those contracts without giving a bloated one back?

    That doesn’t even factor in that those 3 players have NTCs and they won’t waive them just for the sake of it.

    God forbid the Canucks win a playoff round and Benning rewards Vey with an insane extension…

  • Waffles

    Nice one about Matthias haha, this has basically guaranteed we won’t be able to bring him or Richardson back. They’re going to be screwed when they need to renew Bonino too, I think his contract ends next year? This has been a disaster in cap management, considering every once in a while we describe Higgins and Hansen as overpaid.

  • Waffles

    The calculations should assume Baertschi ($894k), Vey ($735k) and Clendening ($742k) with at least 10% minimum raises. There is no way that Benning is not going to have them in next year’s roster.

    • comsymp

      I wish Benning could read this comment.

      For the few good moves he’s made while he’s been here, he’s also made some enormously, head-scratchingly, wtf awful moves.

  • yvr_guy

    The graphs finally did it, got me to create an ID so I could come out of the ether and share a virtual fist bump. Well done.

    These two contracts highlight how differently the “old school” and “new kids” view the game.
    You can definitely call me a New Kid, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to completely write-off the Old School. While everyone should agree that if you sign better singers to the choir the end product will sound better, hockey is a little more complex. Having guys willing to bang or take a punch to the face has got to have some sort of impact on the good players on the roster too, if only because it gets the opposition to lose focus. But how to get the numbers to show it?

    • Graphic Comments

      Welcome aboard!

      And yes, there’s definitely a constant tug of war between the “old school” approach to the game and a more reasoned, analytical approach. I think if you stick with it, and really think about things each time you’re conflicted, you’ll come around to understanding the basis for the analytics.

      That being said, there definitely are many things that you can’t measure very well. But the issue with these two particular contracts is that the Canucks are *overpaying* for what Dorsett and Sbisa bring. You can get guys that hit and are otherwise a liability for much cheaper than this. Plus, it’s a trade off. With the lower cap room, they are now in a position where they may not be able to sign some of the other pieces that arguably bring more to the table.

      So it’s not that what these guys bring isn’t valuable. It’s the net effect on the make-up of the team that has to be considered.