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Photo Credit: Darrel Dyck/CP

Analyzing the Canucks cap situation heading into the off-season

Jim Benning and Co. are rolling into the summer with a very favourable salary cap situation. While the team has some internal housekeeping to do, most importantly, a long-term deal for Brock Boeser, the front office has a lot of flexibility to improve the team.

Housekeeping

The Canucks currently have about $53 million tied into their roster for the 2019-20 season. If the salary cap ends up at $83 million, as it has been suggested, that would give Vancouver about $30 million to work with this summer.

First and foremost, the Canucks have some players in need of new contracts. At the top of the list is budding star, Brock Boeser, whose entry-level deal expires on July 1. Beyond Boeser, the Canucks have Markus Granlund, Josh Leivo, Tyler Motte, Nikolay Goldobin, Ben Hutton, and Derrick Pouliot in need of new deals as restricted free agents. Vancouver’s only key player set to hit the unrestricted free agent market is veteran defenceman, Alex Edler.

Boeser is coming off of a 56-point-in-69-games showing in his sophomore season and it probably wouldn’t be prudent to give him a bridge deal. Stephan Roget wrote during the season about contracts for similar players to Boeser over the past few years. I think a nice comparable is William Nylander, who inked a six-year deal worth ~$6.9 million annually after holding out for the first few months of the season. Something around that would be ideal for Boeser.

The more difficult decision for the Canucks revolves around veteran defender Alex Edler. The Canucks are thin on the blueline and Edler is a nice veteran to have around as a stop-gap as prospects like Quinn Hughes work their way up to the NHL level. He’s coming off a resurgent season in which he posted 34 points in 56 games, but injuries have always been a concern for Edler. Given the Canucks’ situation, signing Edler to a higher AAV, lower term contract would be the smart play here.

Utilizing cap space

The two big tickets in free agency this year are Erik Karlsson and Artemi Panarin. Both players would be welcomed additions to the Canucks and the team has the cap space to make it happen. The issue, of course, is whether or not Karlsson or Panarin want to come here and join a team in the middle of a rebuild.

We’ve seen Jim Benning make ugly signings like Loui Eriksson, Michael Del Zotto, Sam Gagner, and Jay Beagle in recent years that didn’t make the team any better. If you can add Karlsson to the blueline, Panarin up front, or another game-changing free agent, then sure, flex the open cap room, but just because you have money doesn’t mean you have to spend it in free agency. There are other ways the Canucks can utilize their bevy of cap space.

One strategy would be opening themselves up to being a bad contract dump for the year. In the past, we’ve seen teams like the Arizona Coyotes take on the contracts of Marian Hossa and Pavel Datsyuk in order to acquire assets. The Canucks could likely net themselves some prospects or draft picks if they were willing to help some other teams navigate their salary cap woes.

The Toronto Maple Leafs need to sign restricted free agents Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson, and moving out Patrick Marleau, who has one year left on his deal, would make that much easier on them. The Tampa Bay Lightning are in the same situation. They have to sign Brayden Point and would love to dump the final year of Ryan Callahan’s contract.

Even if it isn’t for a one-year dump, the Canucks could still take advantage of a team in cap hell. The Vegas Golden Knights have painted themselves into a corner with big free agent contracts to Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, and Paul Stastny. This could make a solid player like Colin Miller, who has three years left on his deal at $3,875,000, available to acquire for cheap.

Any of these situations would be better than signing mid-level free agents to larger contracts than they’re worth just for the hell of it.

  • Goon

    Unfortunately, the Canucks have had cap room to take on bad contracts in exchange for useful assets for years, and Benning has never made use of it. I have a hard time believing he’s going to now. I’d love to be surprised, but just don’t think it’s going to happen.

    • DeL

      The worst situation to happen to Linden Benning et al was the team finishing with more than a hundred points. Then the hockey genius Aquilini probably figured the team only needed some tweaks. I’m assuming but I think TL left because he was tired of the meddling. Regardless of what Aqulini says about not contacting anyone about the vacant president’s position which has been refuted by reliable sources there is a reason why no one has accepted the job. FA has a well deserved reputation.

    • j2daff

      it is likely true and is very unfortunate. It is likely due to the “old school” style he manages with. It’s a shame as there could be a lot to be had this year in helping teams like TO/TB and possibly the Jets and Oilers out of there cap troubles.

  • DJ_44

    One strategy would be opening themselves up to being a bad contract dump for the year.

    The author then goes on to speculate about to examples that will never happen: Marleau, with a full NMC who would probably not want to go to a non-contender in the last year of a spectacular career; and Callahan, who has a M-NTC with a sixteen team white-list.

    The video-gamers, bloggers, and local media-types love to use phrases like “weaponize the cap” and “asset management” with little comprehension as to what they mean or how you would discern fair value for the service provided.

  • Killer Marmot

    Any assessment of the cap situation has to look at least two years ahead, when Hughes and Pettersson will presumably be signing new contracts. It would be a pity if the Canucks had to dump valuable assets in order to re-sign those two.

  • Jamie E

    “We’ve seen Jim Benning make ugly signings like Loui Eriksson, Michael Del Zotto, Sam Gagner, and Jay Beagle in recent years that didn’t make the team any better”

    Of the players listed, only the Eriksson contract can be accurately described as “ugly”. The others were impactless, but pose(d) no real threat to the Canucks cap structure. The Beagle deal is annoying in terms of its term, but let’s not be Chicken Littles. What will be disappointing in all likelihood is how uncreative Benning will be with the cap space he has. As fans, we can only hope he is not beginning to feel a bit desperate and on the hot seat because THAT could lead to some ugliness on July 1st. We should HOPE that GMJB is sleeping very soundly and peacefully these days and doesn’t feel his job is in jeopardy.

    • Goon

      I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the Del Zotto and Gagner contracts in the same way as Eriksson and Beagle. Del Zotto and Gagner were smart bets that didn’t turn out. Keep making smart bets, and eventually they’ll turn out. Eriksson and Beagle are both bad bets. Eriksson has failed spectacularly. Beagle was fine last season but the issue with Beagle was always the term committed to an older player. It may be fine in year 1, but in years 3 and 4 it could be a problem.

      • Kootenaydude

        Meh. The Beagle contract is only 2.2 million the last two years. His last year is $1 million signing bonus and $1.2 salary. That’s peanuts if they want to buy him out the last year.

      • DogBreath

        Do we really think Benning is the reason they haven’t weaponized the cap? I bet he’d love to take advantage of this for assets. However, it’s Aquilini’s money being spent and clearly he is the decision-maker on whether to spend it this way.

    • DeL

      Correct. Eriksson was sought by other teams but signed here because management assured him he would play with the Sedins who he had chemistry with on the international stage and successive coaches decided they knew better. At the time of the signing I recall people being only upset because he didn’t get Lucic. Gagner was coming off a productive season where he was used in specific situations. Didn’t happen in Vancouver. Remember the coach runs the bench.
      I agree Benning has to reach outside the box but not in desperation. We will see if he can.

  • Locust

    “Weaponize the cap space” is the stupidest thing to say in relationship to running a business that happens to be a sports team.
    It means so many different things to different people. Take on bad players and their contracts for prospects and picks…. sign top free agents … sign free agents to trade later …. sign no one and save the space for next year … etc etc etc

    • IF

      Taking strategic advantage of your cap space is only one of a number of tactics and strategies that the canucks have not utilized. Taking on a Datsyuk like contract in exchange for an asset can be brilliant but time sensitive option. The fact that the canucks have never wanted to use these tools shows a GM or franchise that is either not trying hard enough or perhaps just not skilled enough to use every tool in the box.

      • Goon

        That bottom feeder finished five points clear of the Canucks this season and has finished ahead of the Canucks in every season but one (when they were one spot behind) since 2015.

        So… yeah.

        • james

          Teams like Arizona that take subsidies from the the teams that make money, should not be aloud to weaponize there cap. How many times were they baild out. It’s just wrong.

          • Goon

            Arizona has typically “weaponized their cap space” by taking on contracts where the real dollars payable were way below the cap hit. They were basically paying Datsyuk nothing in real dollars, and absorbing his $7 million cap hit. So this is just nonsense.

        • Bud Poile

          Canucks : Arizona season records
          2018-19: one loss difference.
          2017-18: one loss difference.
          2016-17: one loss difference
          2015-16: one loss difference
          2014-15: Vancouver finishes with 24 more wins than Arizona

          So….nothing to see here.

  • Ken Priestlay Fan

    These articles always make it sound like you can just call up GM X and they’ll shower you with picks and prospects to eat a single year of an aging player. Don’t get me wrong; I’m fully behind the concept of taking on Marleau or Callahan (who is probably a ‘Benning’ type player) for a year in order to gain some some assets, but I think expectations need to be tempered as to how easy it is to do and what you can get. Would it really be worth having Marleau take a wing slot from a younger player if the best the Canucks get is a 3rd round pick because there are 4 or 5 other teams offering to take him on?