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News and Notes: The Salary Cap, Jakob Markstrom, Taylor Hall Interest, and more

The Canucks are in the third and final day of their rest stretch and will look to carry the momentum from their commanding win over the Ottawa Senators into their game against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon. Here are some news and notes from the week.

On the salary cap…

Elliotte Friedman provided an interesting note in regards to the 2020-21 NHL salary cap in his weekly 31 Thoughts column on Wednesday, suggesting that the NHLPA could use more of their inflator to have a higher salary cap ceiling next season.

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There is an interesting development regarding the 2020–21 salary cap. Because players and agents were trying to avoid putting too much salary into what could have been a lockout/strike season, there is less cash scheduled to be paid out next year. There are some big contracts on the way (Torey Krug, Alex Pietrangelo, etc.), but the overall amount of cash is still going to be lower. That’s good news for escrow haters, because (very early) predictions from both the NHL and NHLPA indicate that number will be very low. It’s too early to know for sure, but that opens the possibility the players add some breathing room by using more of their “inflator” on the cap. They can raise it up to five per cent, but have been going considerably lower the last couple of seasons. Cap-strapped clubs would love that news.

Given that there was worry of a work stoppage for the 2020-21 season, a bunch of big contracts that were signed in the past few years to be lockout proof, with players opting to take a significantly lower salary in the 2020-21 season than in other seasons. As a result of having a lower case payout to players, escrow (the amount of money withheld from players to ensure a 50/50 split on hockey-related revenue) will also be very low. Escrow generally results in small salary cap increases, so we could see a bigger-than-usual rise in the salary cap next year.

That would obviously be a big boon for a team like the Canucks, who already have $64 million committed to their roster next season.

On Jakob Markstrom…

On the topic of the cap, Friedman also had a note on Canucks goaltender Jakob Markstrom and his next contract…

It’s been a difficult time for Jacob Markstrom, who missed Tuesday’s game against Ottawa to attend his father’s service. Through that, he has continued to play at a high level. He’s an unrestricted free agent, and contract talks are expected to begin in the next little while. As big as term and dollars always are, the Seattle expansion draft looms large over this, too.

Despite the tragic passing of his father earlier in the season, Markstrom has continued to put up good performances for the Canucks. He has a .913 save percentage so far this year, which is pretty much perfectly in-line with the .912 save percentage he’s posted in each of the past two seasons.

But with rookie goaltender Thatcher Demko enjoying what appears to be a breakout season, it’s difficult to predict Markstrom’s future in Vancouver as he’s eligible to hit the open market on July 1. He’ll be hitting free agency in a pretty deep goaltender market along with Braden Holtby, Thomas Greiss, Robin Lehner, Jaroslav Halak, Anton Khudobin, and a few others, which could drive his value down.

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Keeping a tandem of Markstrom and Demko for the next few years might be in the Canucks’ best interests, but, as Friedman suggests, the impending Seattle expansion draft will be a key factor in negotiations. Would Markstrom take a deal to stick around in Vancouver if he wasn’t protected from being grabbed in the expansion draft? Surely the Canucks wouldn’t opt to put themselves in a situation in which they’re protecting Markstrom, who’s now in his 30s, over Demko.

On Taylor Hall interest…

One of the biggest stories this season is where former MVP Taylor Hall is going to end up. The Devils went all-in this off-season, acquiring P.K. Subban Nikita Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds to help build a competitive team in the final year of Hall’s contract, but it’s fallen completely flat. It seems inevitable at this point the Devils will trade their star player rather than risk losing him in free agency.

Back in November, the Canucks were listed as one of eight teams who could be a fit for Hall…

Right now, Canada’s western-most team looks ahead of schedule. They have an elite offence, a top 10 defence, and their goalies have both been rock solid. Sure, they may not win the Western Conference this season, but they sure seem to be exiting a rebuild quickly.

Now, the most important contract Vancouver is going to have to deal with is Elias Pettersson’s in 2021 — and he seems to be in line to go over an $11 million AAV. Anything that puts that at risk cannot be considered. Beyond that, the Canucks have some inflated contracts on the books given to complementary pieces that could ultimately scuttle any dream of attempting to woo Hall.

Loui Eriksson is making $6 million through 2022. Tanner Pearson, Sven Baertschi, Micheal Ferland and Jay Beagle come in at over $13 million combined. Some, or all, of those would have to be shed to have any hope at snagging a fish this big from the UFA market.

But, especially if the Canucks make the playoffs this season, they’ll have to be feeling very confident that someone like Hall could really ignite this thing.

The Devils are apparently looking for first-round picks in exchange for Hall and/or prospects who are ready to play. Could this still work for the Canucks?

They traded away their first-round pick in 2020 for J.T. Miller, but Vancouver has a wealth of prospects in their cupboard who could be used in a potential Hall trade. Tyler Madden, the son of former New Jersey Devil John Madden, is ripping it up in college and doesn’t seem far from being an NHL regular. Olli Juolevi might not have the same status he did when drafted fourth overall, but he’s still an interesting prospect for a team devoid of talent on the blueline. There’s also Michael DiPietro, who could be attractive to the Devils, given their ugly goaltending situation.

The difficulty for Vancouver is the idea of giving up so many assets for a player who might not stick around beyond this year. It’s no secret Jim Benning wants to make some noise while Elias Pettersson is on his entry-level deal, and acquiring Hall would help do that, but the Canucks likely won’t be able to afford to keep around Hall at the ~$10 million annual salary he’ll be able to command as a free agent. Would a deep playoff run make it all worth it?

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Other stuff…