Navigating The Salary Cap – Part 1

Jim Benning has been criticized for his contract signings since 2015. That year, he re-upped Luca Sbisa and Derek Dorsett in the spring and then followed those up that summer by locking up recently acquired centre Brandon Sutter to a five-year deal with a $4.375 million cap hit.

The criticisms of other signings have been less warranted and there are several contracts that have turned out well. Until now the Canucks have had no salary cap issues under Benning’s watch. The purpose of this article isn’t to debate the merits of Benning’s deals, but instead to look at the Canucks current salary cap situation and what options they have to get under the cap at the start of the season while still getting Brock Boeser and Nikolay Goldobin signed. 

The current situation

Since last off-season Benning has brought in Jay Beagle, Antoine Rousell, Tim Schaller, Josh Leivo, Tanner Pearson, JT Miller, Micheal Ferland, Tyler Myers, Jordie Benn, and Oscar Fantenberg for a combined cap hit of $30.75 million according to the highly accurate data at puckpedia.com. This is in addition to a year left on the frequently injured Chris Tanev’s deal, two years for the previously mentioned Sutter, three years of Loui Eriksson’s albatross, two more years of Sven Baertschi and his serious concussion concerns, and a $1 million raise for two more seasons of the aging Alex Edler. Alex Biega is also on the roster for one more year at $825,000. 

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For anyone who’s counting, the Canucks have spent $55.77 million, or 68.4% of the $81.5 million salary cap used up on 16 veteran players aged 26 and older. It would be hard to argue that any of these players are anything more than role players on a contender and a few of them aren’t wanted on the team anymore at all.

But wait there’s more! The suckiest contract that ever sucked has saddled Benning with a $3.03 million cap recapture penalty for Roberto Luongo for the next three years. Sam Gagner’s contract remains on the books in the form of a Ryan Spooner buyout at $1.03 million for the next two seasons. That’s an additional $4.07 million in dead cap space swallowing up 5% of the current cap space. 

Then there are the goaltenders. Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko are both on reasonable deals totalling $4.72 mill, or 5.8% of the cap.

They are now up to 78.2% of the cap and this is without any of the tremendous young players who surely will be commanding massive raises in the near future.

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Bo Horvat is on the one long-term deal that looks like good value to the team. Four more years at $5.5 mill for a legitimate high-end second-line centre is Jim Benning’s best contract.

To further even things out, there are several great young players under 25 on cheaper deals. Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte, and Troy Stecher all have one year left on their bridge deals that total $4.55 mill, taking up 5.6% of the salary cap. Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, and Adam Gaudette eat up a combined $2.76 mill or 3.4% on their entry-level deals.

They are now up to $77.4 million, or 94.9% of the cap. 

Brock Boeser and Nikolay Goldobin remain unsigned coming off of their entry-level deals. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to debate contract values, and keeping estimates on the high side allows for more flexibility if they sign for less. For this model, Goldobin gets $1.5 million for two years and Boeser commands a hefty $8 million price tag for five seasons. The recent escalation of salaries for superstar players coming out of entry-level quickly turns a cap advantage into a cap problem.

That leaves us with a roster of 17 forwards, 8 defencemen, and 2 goalies for a total of 27 players. With generous contracts to Boeser and Goldobin, the Canucks are $5.36 million, or 6.6% over the salary cap. 

There are no obvious solutions here. What is clear is that there are too many forwards. A trade likely would have happened by now if it were an easy option for Benning.

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Schaller and Eriksson

Sending Schaller and Eriksson to the minors will reduce the salary cap by $1.075 million each. As per Article 50.5(d)(i)(B)(6) of the NHL CBA, players sent to the minors will see their salary cap hit reduced by the league minimum, which sits at $700,000 this year, plus $375,000. This move will increase the total dead cap space to an astonishing $9.82 mill, a full 12.0%. This still leaves them $3.21 mill over the salary cap.

Gaudette vs Sutter

Ideally Gaudette and Sutter battle it out for the third line centre at training camp. A best-case scenario is one where Sutter comes back healthy and plays well allowing for Gaudette to play in the minors until Sutter is traded at the deadline. Benning and coach Travis Green tend to lean on their veterans so the assumption for now is that Gaudette starts the season in the AHL. This leaves the Canucks $2.29 million over the salary cap and one over roster limit of 24 players. If Gaudette clearly outplays Sutter and Sutter is sent down instead, they will save an additional $158,334.

Antoine Roussell

All indications are that Antoine Roussell will be starting the season on the injured reserve, subtracting his $3 million cap hit and bringing the Canucks back into compliance, but leaving them with no cap room. Benning could still find himself in trouble and need to make a move if Roussell returns to a fully healthy roster.

Sven Baertschi

A potential wild card in this situation is the health status of Sven Baertschi. At the time of the Ferland signing, rumours persisted that Baertschi might be done with the NHL due to his repeated concussion issues. These rumours apparently were shot down by his agent, but Baertschi’s roster spot in the top six seems less certain with the additions of Ferland and Miller. If he does return healthy he could be a potential trade chip for a team in need of secondary scoring. Either scenario would save the Canucks $3.367 million for each of the next two seasons.

Potential Opening Night Roster

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A breakdown of the Canucks’ salary structure is shown below…

Several things stand out when looking at this chart. The Canucks have a lot of salary in their third and fourth lines, and they are able to do this due to the cheap deal that their first-line centre is on. The defensive pairings look well balanced. The salmon-coloured bar representing the dead cap space on the far right of the chart is the third-largest total. 

12% of the Canucks’ salary cap space is taken by players who will no longer be on the team. This isn’t all on Benning, but the majority of it is and his short-term thinking early in his tenure is now coming back to bite him. If the Canucks continue to give up this much money off of the salary cap they will have a hard time becoming contenders.

Performance bonuses should also be a concern. Pettersson maxed out his bonuses last year, adding an additional $2.85 million to his $925,000 salary. Without any salary cap room, the bonus money earned by Pettersson and Hughes will carry into next season which will create even more problems.

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It’s possible that the estimates for Boeser and Goldobin are high. Boeser at $6 million and Goldobin at $1.2 million could fit everything in with $8,461 to spare.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how it all plays out at training camp. Finding a way to trade Sutter or Eriksson will essentially resolve any short-term cap issues that the Canucks might have, but without someone willing to take one of those contracts off his hands he has not left himself with a lot of flexibility going forward, and that will be the focus of my second article.

    • I agree that it’s high. And I said as much in the article. It is possible that they get Boeser signed for lower and they squeeze everyone in, but other players like Virtanen, Leivo, or Gaudette could have breakout seasons and command more next summer. Estimating high contracts for the star players gives more flexibility to sign the supporting cast. Thanks for reading!

      • JDMay101

        Honestly, if they signed him for 8×8, I wouldn’t really be complaining. However, the Timo Meier Special (4×6) seems more likely at this point, and that has to do with Benning having painted himself into a corner cap-wise, as your article clearly demonstrates.

        The key point here is that, contrary to the narrative on this site over the past month or so, the Canucks do not actually have to trade anyone in order to sign Brock Boeser and Nikolai Goldobin.

  • Cageyvet

    It doesn’t look like an insurmountable challenge, and there has been lots of commentary about that.

    One has to assume JB and staff have a plan to deal with this, as he’s publicly stated, and I would agree it should involve a trade or two to clear some extra space.

    The only thing I would say about the “dead” cap space is that it’s not all truly dead in your model. Yes, that space is not on the roster, but almost 5 million of it comes from Eriksson, and you either dump that or at least have a player you can call up for injuries so maybe not totally dead, although he’d have to be called up to replace a significant injury (high salary player) or you’d have to do further juggling.

    My point is that the true dead space comes from Luongo and buy-outs, anyone we take a hit on from burying them in the minors still has utility value for the club.

    • Good point. Eriksson could replace anyone on the roster with a cap hit of $1.075 million or more, assuming that there would be no more space. But in my view he would be providing the value of a replacement player worth less than $1 million, so you still have almost $5 million that would be better allocated elsewhere. Thanks for reading, hopefully this will generate some good discussion.

  • DJ_44

    Thanks for the article. Well researched.

    While I understand you logic for having Boeser at $8M, which is $450k less than an 83pt Aho playing center, it is unreasonable. I would suggest a figure between $6M and $7.2M depending on term. I am less concerned about Goldobin.

    The Canucks can make work. 13F, 7D, 2G – gives $6.9M in space, with the 23rd roster spot open for Boeser.

    • I wanted readers to come to their own conclusions, but there are multiple ways to make it work without making a trade.

      Based on the roster in my article, if Benning made use of injury reserve for Roussell and then sent Biega down when he came back, they would have around $8 million for Boeser and Goldobin. There are so many ways to look at it. Expecting Boeser at $7 million and Goldobin at $1 million is really tight and leaves no room to absorb entry level bonuses, meaning even more dead cap space next season.

  • J-Canuck

    His short term thinking is coming back to bite him?
    There was a reason for that short term thinking and that was the Sedin Twins. GMJB, Trev and Ownership owed it to the best players in franchise history to get some veteran talent to try and make the playoffs. Once the Twins retired the focus of management was develop the young players and add players to support them.

    • So Loui Eriksson was an example of a signing with the future in mind? Please. Without his contract on the books they would have zero cap issues right now. And this isn’t something that I’ve come to conclusion of with the benefit of hindsight. When his contract was signed there were universal concerns about his abilities to live up to the term.

      I know what Benning’s strategy was. I was generally supportive of it, but it didn’t work out. They could have accomplished what they did over the past three seasons without Eriksson in the lineup, and now they are paying for it for three more.

      • J-Canuck

        Loui wasn’t for the future, he was brought in to play with the Sedins. He had success with them internationally, though that was 2010, and had just scored 30 goals. The contract was a product of his time in FA, which is why Lucic got a very similar contract.
        It is a drag on today, but at the signing it was for him to play on the top line. My point was GMJB “short term” thinking was a organization being loyal to its greatest two players and wanting to try and win with them.

          • J-Canuck

            Thanks for reading comments and responses.

            We do agree on the contract, which is inanimate, but differ on context. History is about “Frame of reference” not just facts. GMJB wasn’t the sole decision maker so it wasn’t “his” short sightedness. Nothing happens in vacuum.
            As a writer, you seem like a good one that responds and cares, which is important.
            But agreement is not the ultimate goal, clarity is.
            Looking forward to other articles Adrian

  • Kanucked

    I don’t think there are significant short term cap implications. I think Benning and co are expecting the cap to increase over the next few years especially after Seattle joins.

    I don’t think it coincides with the expiry of Pettersson’s contract

  • Reme

    This is an interesting article for this years salary cap, but I think it is more important to examine the next 3 years with the Canucks. Of course, they could fit all this years players in the cap with some internal movements, but as the Canucks are expected to get better, salary flexibility becomes more important, especially with the Peterson and Hughes contracts. In addition, the Canucks are clearly trying to make the playoffs these next few seasons, which makes it more difficult to move out contracts, as they are needed for the post-season run. Also, the big salary cap drivers; new US TV deal and the Seattle team revenues are not expected to affect the cap until the 2022 season. That means, there might not be a significant increase in the salary cap for a while. I would also like to know how much of the entire leagues salary cap is being utilized. As more teams are closer to the cap than the floor, moving out salary becomes more expensive, as seen with the TO Marleau deal. That would mean that moving out someone like Eriksson may cost significant future assets. I don’t think it is impossible, but it will be interesting to see how Benning manages the cap while this team becomes significantly better.

      • Reme

        Thank you Adrian, I look forward to the next article. For me, like many, interest in the Canucks is a 12 month endeavour, and doesn’t wain during the off season. Articles like these are ideal for the dog days. Whether I agree or not with the articles and discussions, I do enjoy the content. I look forward to a time when CA is a daily read rather than just an occasional read.

  • speering major

    Good article

    I’ve pointed this out before but I believe there is a deal with Eriksson and the Senators to free up cap space if Benning needs it

    Eriksson owed 3 years $9M cash. Cap hit $6M
    Bobby Ryan. Owed 20.5M cash. Cap hit $7.25

    The wide gap in cash owed and cap hit between these two players who are very comparable in age and performance presents a clear trade opportunity. There is a wide of a gap with Ottawa having a budget with lots of cap space and the Canucks needing to free up space and the ability to spend, Those two players could be the core of a deal that gives Ottawa cash relief while Vancouver gets cap relief

    For example: Eriksson + Sutter for Ryan + Pageau

    Ottawa retains 500K on the Ryan contract. Ottawa spends $4 million less on Salary including having Sutter for 2 years while Pageau is only signed for 1. Vancouver saves $1 Million in cap space this season. Pageau’s contract expires at the end of the year to provide additional flexibility and cap space. And finally Ryan’s contract is structured so that you could even buy him out in the final year AFAIK. That’s just a sample with Ryan and Eriksson being the core pieces. You could substitute players like Baertschi, Beagle, etc and play around with salary retention. My point is that there definitely seems to be a fit and win-win for both teams given their current situation

  • Kanuckhotep

    I’m not a numbers guy and don’t really know the particulars of this present situation perhaps like a devoted Canuck fan should. I just shudder to think however about giving BB $8M per. The rest of the NHL is going the way of a salary caste system so to speak where 4 or 5 guys get half or more of the money and the remainder get scraps. How do you add great FAs if you’re about to fall into the cap abyss every year? Look at TOR. If they don’t win it this year that player group will be pretty much done and continue to be inundated with a plethora of very low payed players to offset the handful who get most of the money. I’m sure Benning will work around this but this cap scenario in Vancouver is discomforting IMHO.

    • I agree with everything you said. And it becomes even more difficult if a lot of money is invested in bottom-of-the-lineup players and dead cap space. My next article lays out the next three years. And if they are well received I have other ideas for analysis of teams with a lot of high end players on the roster vs teams with more balance. Look at the results in this year’s playoffs. Neither team in the Cup finals had a highly paid player or a lot of wasted cap space. Meanwhile the teams with the high-end guys like Tampa and Toronto were out in the first round (though Tampa has some great contracts). I’m fascinated with how it can all fit together and hope that I can bring some clarity to others that aren’t as adept at digging into the numbers.

    • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

      I agree with you, but also acknowledge that naysayers would simply point to the Penguins back to back cup wins as proof that paying 4-5 guys and filling out the rest of the roster with AHL Wilkes-Barre Scranton Scraps worked for them.

      It’s not ideal by any means, but there are many ways to win a cup…

        • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

          Agreed absolutely. I wasn’t making my own argument, but rather was just pointing out that there will always be people who point to the exception as proof that water can travel uphill (like magnetic hill) ha ha.

          The same type of people who argue that full scale teardowns and rebuilds don’t work because “look at EDM”.

          IMO they’re of the same breed as all the Benning apologists that despite 5 years of evidence to the contrary, still insist that he has the ability to think outside the box because he has time left, and not because of all the evidence to the contrary.

  • myshkin

    What a mess with the salary cap. It seems like yesterday that we had lots of cap room and were talking about “weaponizng” the cap space and now we’re in a cap crunch. Aquillini really needs a strong president of hockey operations to rein in old Jimbo. How can you have your pudding if you don’t eat yer meat? If things don’t work out, Jimbo will just be another brick in the wall.

  • Kootenaydude

    CA always seems to have something against proven veterans. The amount of veterans 26 and up is no higher than other NHL teams. This includes cup contenders. Is a 30 year old Logan Couture over the hill? Was Stevie Yzerman a better player when he was racking up points or when he was winning Stanley Cups? The Canucks really have one bad contract. That’s Eriksson. The other due to injuries is Sutter. There isn’t an NHL team that is happy with ALL its contracts. Benning just needs to move a couple pieces and the Canucks should be okay.

    • Just as an FYI, I have never so much as spoken to, direct messaged, or even tweeted at any other author on this site. I have some contacts with Oilers Nation and asked them if I could do this article to try and clear up some misconceptions about the cap and specifically the Canucks situation. I wanted to show that there are options, but numbers don’t lie and it is tight.

      I don’t have any issue with veterans on the roster, but it’s not wrong to point out that 3/4 of the salary cap space is taken up by players in this age range and they aren’t leaving a lot of room to sign the young stars.

  • Kanuckhotep

    There shall come a time not too far way that the NHL salary cap system will have to face a massive correction for itself. I say this because even lower level teams are now in danger of capping out and not even contenders. Vegas going into its 3rd year in existence are already in cap debacle land. This shouldn’t be happening. The system is failing if all 31 ( soon to be 32) teams can’t even sign anybody, dump crappy contracts no one will take and improve their rosters. This may happen sooner than you think. I don’t blame the players. This is on the ownerships of clubs and just overnight we’re seeing salary cap issues getting out of hand. Benning is hardly alone on this issue. It’ll have to correct itself at some point IMHO.

    • I couldn’t agree more and this is some of the stuff I would really like to dig into in the future. It amazes me how many teams are trying to unload bad contracts. There seems to be zero foresight within these organizations whose operating budgets exceed $100 million.

  • TheRealPB

    I don’t agree with the estimate on Boeser (I think even $7 million will be high given the internal cap structure of the team) or Goldobin (I think he’ll get less than Leivo) but overall this is a great article. I also like that you engaged with all the commenters in a constructive and respectful manner.

    Like you, I have serious concerns that most of the bottom end of the lineup commands way too much of the cap space, in particular the trio of Sutter, Beagle and Eriksson. One of them is a luxury on a team about to turn the corner; three are unaffordable. Put Motte and MacEwan on the wings and I’m fine with it. My bigger fear is that we’re trusting in the Canucks pro scouting/Benning’s eye in more big money contracts for middle-six forwards and top four D this year. We’ve had the luxury for really a couple of years as Kesler, Bieksa, Hamhuis, Luongo and a bunch of the big contracts from the old core were off-loaded and then the Sedins retired. But the big question will be how Benning (or whoever comes next) navigates the prime of the new core, especially if we are saddled with too many long-term deals. I’m less concerned with this year than I was before; the majority of teams in the NHL will be close to the cap, so the Canucks aren’t out of line with the league. But most of them don’t have the luxury of most of their top young players on ELCs and have lots invested in 2-3 high end guys, not in 4th liners. EP’s first year after ELC we have multiple deals come off the books, and QHs even more, Podkolzin too. It just makes me nervous with Benning’s past bad bets on Gudbranson, Sutter and Eriksson if Miller, Myers and Ferland turn out the same way.

  • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

    $5.36M over. Not a problem. Entire cap issue (all Bennings fault) can be fixed with one move and one move only.

    Eriksson to LTIR (Robidas, Lupul, ect…Island). You refuse all interviews from the media with him, send him home and get $6M back instantly. Will the league argue? Did they raise a stink when the Leafs did this to several players recently? Nope, not one word of criticism.

    Only problem is, this solution requires (as with all hard decisions)…..BALLS!

    I’ve said it a thousand times before, this GM has none and is the most ignorant, dinosaur of a moron who’s ability to think outside the box is the literal moon to him.

    • DJ_44

      Will the league argue? Did they raise a stink when the Leafs did this to several players recently? Nope, not one word of criticism.

      The league did have Lupul be examined by an independent(league) doctor to verify the injury. Unless a career ending injury is suffered (or chronic injury like the back in Lupul’s case) this idea is stupid.

      Not sure how you do your math ($5.36M over?) but the rest is crap.

      • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

        Put your glasses back on and reread the authors assessment of his projected cap value based on his extrapolations of what Boeser and Goldy will be getting. Sheesh.

        Were the Leafs penalized in any way?

        My point was that hard questions require hard solutions (ie: carefully thought out solutions, outside the box thinking, proactive thinking, ect…). There’s been zero evidence in 5 years that JB has any clue how to think this way (hence the balls comment).

        Christ, so many of you need to have your hand held one sentence at a time, completely unable to grasp an argument and how they are constructed, and how they are supported by premises. Pathetic.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    “The criticisms of other signings have been less warranted”…not to sound like a cliche here, but I skipped straight to the comment section after that sentence. Either the author has never heard of Loui Eriksson or that paragraph is so poorly constructed as to distort the meaning. Either way, I’ll pass on this one thanks.

    • Oh man. People like you almost aren’t even worth responding to, but you self-identify as a old, bad-tempered person and I just can’t help myself…

      Perhaps if you had clicked on the link in that sentence you would have realized that I was referring to Horvat’s deal. There’s nothing wrong with the way my sentence is structured. There is something wrong with your reading comprehension, especially when you admit that you couldn’t even make it through a 1300 word article to find out that I wrote extensively about the player you are ripping me for not bringing up, and identify him as one of the key problems. I’m thinking this article wasn’t aimed at readers with your ‘capacity’.

      It took me two emails to get this posted on here. With zero previous writing experience. I’m sure you could do the same. I’ll even get you started:

      Benning, BAD. Loui Eriksson’s contract. VERY BAD.

      I’m sure you’ve got it from here Chris…

      • Chris the Curmudgeon

        Hmm, not sure this writing gig’s for you if you can’t take a little criticism, love. They’re going to come in a lot harder than that down the road. I didn’t click the link (reading it on the phone means I can’t mouse over it to see what it’s about) and shouldn’t have to read something else in the middle of an article to be able to follow it. Welcome to the blog, love. Meow.

        • My sentence was “The criticisms of other signings have been less warranted and there are several contracts that have turned out well.” Other signings. That doesn’t mean all of them. Sorry I have to spell it out for you, but I’m not sure others had the troubles that you did, and you pretty much lose all credibility when you admit you didn’t even read past the second paragraph.

          As far as this ‘gig’, I would have to be getting paid to call it that. I wrote this series just for the fun of it, won’t be back on a regular basis, and am happy to put the whiners like you who frequent this site (hiding behind an anonymous name) in their place. I’ve been here for many years and know what you and many others are all about.

          Keep on clicking, pal, I have friends who really appreciate it.

  • harpdog

    Goldobin’s issues is not the money it a 2 way deal that he does not want to sign and for Boeser’s impending deal Benning wants 5 years and Brock want 5 or 6 years.
    Thes question that no one seems to have an answer for, me included is what happens if they do not sign. Do they sit?, no arbritaion for them so what do the players do if Benning refuseses to sign them for what they want.? If Brock sits will this not affect him more for being a disgruntled player who is hard to deal with. Many GM’s do not want players like this. Goldobin feels he is a roster guy and going to the AHL does nothing for his future and remember he is a unhappy russian, something the Canucks have had many issues with in the past. They do not have much in place to develop young Russians and they want out of Dodge. Can’t blame them. No Russian coaches, no Russian friends. Vancouvers supposed to develop young players not isolate them. This a , in my opinion, in the Canucks “rebuild” . The Term rebuild is a funny word for Benning who is now doing what Trevor wanted.