The Canucks officially open training camp on Thursday, September 12th at Rogers Arena.
While Vancouver’s 2019-20 roster is starting to take shape, there are still three burning questions that remain heading into training camp.
When will Brock Boeser sign?
Training camp is just a day away and top RFA forward Brock Boeser is still without a contract. According to Rick Dhaliwal of Sportsnet 650, the Canucks and Boeser are not close to a deal. Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy reports that the two side have had discussions as late as Tuesday evening, but no deal is imminent. It definitely sounds like the two side are engaging in meaningful dialogue, but it certainly isn’t ideal that they are not close on a deal.
The #Canucks cap issues are causing problems, the Boeser camp knows they can not get long term deal, they are willing to do a short term deal (even 1-2 years) but the gap remains even on that. Things can change quick but it does not look good right now.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) September 10, 2019
Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine are among other high-profile RFA’s who are yet to sign. It was believed the Canucks would have the cap space for Boeser when they acquired J.T. Miller ($5.25 million cap hit) from the Lightning at the draft and signed UFA blueliner Tyler Myers to a five-year deal ($6M AAV) and UFA forward Michael Ferland to a four-year deal ($3.5M AAV) in free agency. The Canucks were then hit with Roberto Luongo’s cap recapture bill ($3M for next three years) when the veteran netminder retired.
Boeser is very likely to remain a Canuck, but it might take longer than we expected to get him signed. It was reported in late-August that Boeser’s agent Ben Hankinson was seeking a four-year extension at $7 million annually for his client. A bridge deal seems very likely at this point.
Where will Loui Eriksson end up?
Loui Eriksson remains on the Canucks roster entering training camp. The veteran was the subject of trade rumours this offseason, but the Canucks are in tough trying to unload his $6M cap hit without retaining salary. With the Canucks re-signing RFA forward Nikolay Goldobin, it’s even a bigger logjam up front. Despite Eriksson’s 921 games of NHL experience and expensive cap hit, he may end up starting the season in AHL Utica.
"When you send a guy to the minors making millions it's a big F you. The Canucks have to do what they have to do. If you send him to Utica, you're hoping he quits and heads to Sweden.
Hirschy on Loui Eriksson
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) September 3, 2019
The league has rules in place that prevent a team from burying a contract in the minors, so this wouldn’t necessarily be a move to free up cap space. The demotion would occur if the team felt their best possible roster for the season didn’t include Eriksson. Placing Eriksson on waivers would still result in around a $4.9M cap hit against the Canucks and Eriksson would still collect his $6M. GM Jim Benning has said that he sees value with Eriksson on the penalty kill and in a matchup role, but is he better than the other options? There are a plethora of players in the bottom-six, so a forward such as Tim Schaller or Tyler Motte could be placed on waivers to free up cap space. Even if Eriksson makes the team out of camp, he’s looking at potentially being carried as an extra forward. Adam Gaudette may start in Utica due to the logjam and because he doesn’t require waivers.
Where do the new guys slot in?
Speaking of roster spots, it remains unclear where newcomers J.T.Miller, Tyler Myers, Michael Ferland and Jordie Benn will fit in on the 2019-20 Canucks roster. Unlike Eriksson, however, we know all four players will be in the lineup when the Canucks open the season in Calgary on October 5th. J.T. Miller and Michael Ferland are both expected to slot into the top-six, while Myers is expected to land on the second or third defensive pairing. Jordie Benn is projected to provide steady defensive play and a physical presence on the third pairing.
Chris Faber wrote a good piece explaining why Miller should be on the top line with Boeser and Elias Pettersson. Goldobin has also expressed his desire to play with Pettersson and he may also be a fit on that top line. Miller has hit 20 goals in three of his last four seasons and should get a long look in the top-six. He’s in line to see his 14:40 average ice time from his final year with the Lightning increase in Vancouver. He’s also expected to get a look on a projected first power-play unit that also includes Boeser, Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Quinn Hughes. It’s also possible Miller gets bumped down to the third-line center role, which means Ferland could land on the top line.
It will be interesting to see if the Canucks deploy new defenseman Myers on the power play. The 6’8″ rearguard wasn’t deployed much with the man advantage last season (1:09 on average), but has been a staple on the first power-play unit throughout his career. He racked up 17 power-play points while averaging 2:04 of man advantage time in 2017-18 with the Jets. If Myers were to play the right side on the second unit, that would likely mean minimal power-play time for Troy Stecher. Ferland should also get a look on the second unit after potting six power-play tallies for Carolina last season.
There are plenty of possible combinations this season, and it’ll be interesting to see who lands where. A healthy Sven Baertschi and Brandon Sutter makes this training camp one to watch.