After a series of pretty nice deals by Canucks management, including the Chris Tanev extension and trades for Adam Clendening and Sven Baertschi, most of us at Canucks Army were more than a little surprised to see the Canucks extend Luca Sbisa and Derek Dorsett. Drance, Rhys, and Petbugs all chimed in on their angles on the deal over the last couple of days. All definitely worth a read, but I think it’s safe to say it’s been a long time since there have been deal(s) which provoked such a consensus negative reaction.
Beyond what our other writers touched on, these extensions raise a lot of questions about what management’s plans are in terms of navigating the salary cap and building a team for next year. We’ll explore this after the jump.
Vancouver’s Cap Situation
I took the following breakdown from NHL numbers:
That leaves us with 17 players under contract for 2015-16, using up $66.64M of cap room.
We’re unlikely to know with certainty what the 2015-16 cap will be until the last part of June, but recent media reports have estimated it to come in anywhere from $71M to $73M, which really isn’t a lot of room for the six open positions Vancouver will need to fill. Let’s take a look a the cap room per open roster slot using a $73M, $72M, & $71M cap:
|2015-16 estimated cap||$73.00||$72.00||$71.00|
|Estimated cap room||$6.36||$5.36||$4.36|
|Remaining Roster Spots||6||6||6|
|Cap Room per Open Spot||$1.06||$0.89||$0.73|
Yuck. The best case scenario of $73M isn’t pretty, and a worst case scenario of $71M is downright ugly. As it stands, Vancouver won’t be able to afford to fill their roster with players making much more than the league minimum salary.
Weber & Matthias on the Way Out?
All signs currently point to Shawn Matthias, a pending UFA, receiving a decent raise from his current $1.75M AAV deal. Unless one of Vancouver’s 17 contract players is moved, it seems next to impossible for him to be re-signed by the Canucks. I have to wonder if the Canucks received some indication that the two sides were too far apart to get a deal done, or whether Matthias just didn’t factor into the Canucks long-term plans. In any case, it looks like Matthias’ days as a Canuck will be all but over at the end of this playoff run.
The same could be said for Yannick Weber, who’ll be an RFA at the end of the season. Because of his RFA status, there is a chance he’ll be in for a smaller bump from his current $0.85 AAV deal, but its pretty hard to envision the Canucks being able to hold on to him given the room they have left. He’s improved as the year has gone on and has shown some chemistry with Dan Hamhuis of late, while putting in top 4 minutes in the wake of injuries and scoring 11 goals on the season.
I can understand walking away from Matthias if he wants to test the UFA waters, as a Clarkson-esque overpay for a big “center” who can score could be on the horizon for Matthias – why wouldn’t he take advantage of that? However, putting yourself in a position where you can’t sign Yannick Weber because you paid $3.6M per year for Luca Sbisa is simply poor planning. This year, Weber’s play has been consistent with a fringe top-4 defensemen. That’s not something you should let go of easily, especially since Kevin Bieksa’s play likely leaves a hole on the right side.
The Last 6 Spots
On the bright side, it does look like there will be lots of open spots for young players on ELCs. I would expect Vey, Kenins, Baertschi, and Clendening to be re-signed for around the $1M/year range. Jake Virtanen would be a new face I’d expect to be a lock, but it could be tricky as his cap hit with bonuses is $1.775M. Similarly, Hunter Shinkaruk has made great strides of late, but you could argue he’s not yet ready to make the jump and given the cap constraints, his $1.1M cap hit might be a bit too much to squeeze in as well.
But now that we’re off to the post-season, what if a Kenins or a Baertschi has that Cinderella post-season run that seems to happen to one or two young guys every year? What if an unsigned talented young RFA like Kenins does the unthinkable and scores that series winning goal, but they don’t have enough room to match a predatory offer sheet because of the $11M tied up in Sbisa, Dorsett, and Miller’s contracts?
If we learned anything from Jim Benning last summer, its that he’s not afraid to make shuffle the deck, and not afraid to ask a player to waive their no trade clause (see Garrison, Jason), so it’s fair to say the roster as constructed above will be pretty different from the one that hits the ice in October. Perennially injured and/or dog house fan favorite Zack Kassian would be an obvious choice to change area codes, but that wouldn’t exactly solve their cap problems given his AAV is only $1.75.
Many Canuck fans, including myself, would like to see Kevin Bieksa hit the road. He’s a perfect candidate for a cash-strapped cap floor team, given his AAV of $4.6M is significantly higher than his actual cash owed next year, which is $2.5M. He does have a NTC in his contract, but we know Benning isn’t too shy to ask a player waive this clause, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see him play out the last year of a contract in a warm weather market in a mentorship role like Willie Mitchell working with Aaron Ekblad this year in Florida. He has lots of old team mates who have played out the sunset years of their careers in small market cities too, and I doubt he’s heard a lot of complaints from Sami Salo, Roberto Luongo, Willie Mitchell, Mattias Ohlund, and so on.
To me, the most curious part of these signings isn’t the contracts themselves, but rather the questions they raise around how the rest of the roster is going to be brought under contract and constructed for next season. As it sits now, they’re very much handcuffed, so It’s hard for me not to expect additional roster moves when the playoffs are over and the draft comes around.
Any way you slice it, something has got to give. There’s too little cap space to go around, and too many players to sign.