Tyler Toffoli has been a point-per-game thus far in Vancouver, which is just about the best outcome imaginable for a near-Trade Deadline acquisition, and yet even that unmitigated success is cause for concern in Canucks central. Toffoli’s a perfect fit with the team and its best players, which means Jim Benning and Co. can’t afford to not re-sign him.
Unfortunately, as it stands now, they also can’t actually afford to re-sign him.
It’s no secret that the Canucks are headed toward a cap crunch of sorts this offseason – not the sort of catastrophe that would necessitate selling off valuable assets, but more a series of tough decisions.
The Canucks need to re-sign Toffoli and Jacob Markstrom. They’d love to re-sign Chris Tanev. But in order to do so, they’re going to have to cut some major salary. Certain chunks of the cap, like Roberto Luongo’s recapture penalty, aren’t going anywhere.
Moveable assets like Brandon Sutter or Troy Stecher may be shipped out to make some space, and there’s going to be an increase to the salary cap itself, but that won’t be enough to accommodate contracts for those three aforementioned talents – especially not with new deals on the way for Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson next year.
Remember, a higher cap means more negotiating power for any and all free agents, including the Canucks’ big three.
No, if the Canucks want to keep their current stable of talent intact – and perhaps even add to it – they’re going to have to do the undoable.
They’re going to have to find a way to get out of the last two years of Loui Eriksson’s contract.
As you’re no doubt already painfully aware of, there have been countless potential methods of doing exactly that floated through the fanbase over the past few seasons. Below, we’ll break down all the ones that actually have a chance of happening – and rank them by their plausibility.
Trading Loui Eriksson Without Retention
There’s been plenty of talk that Eriksson’s contract will be more amenable to certain teams once his July 2020 bonus is paid, after which he’ll be owed just $4 million in real money over two seasons. The idea is that teams like the Ottawa Senators who struggle to reach the cap floor might jump at the opportunity to take on Eriksson’s full cap hit without actually having to pay his full salary.
The problem is the “teams like Ottawa” part. With Thomas Chabot’s new deal kicking in next season and Bobby Ryan still on the books, the Senators are going to have no issues hitting the cap floor anytime soon. And aside from them, there aren’t really any other teams out there looking to literally waste cap space. Unfortunately, this method is more of a myth-od.
Buying Loui Eriksson Out
Using the annual buyout window to terminate Eriksson’s contract sounds ideal, until one looks at the actual numbers – as provided by CapFriendly:
That’s less than half-a-million in cap relief for the 2020/21 season, which isn’t much in the way of wiggle room for Toffoli, Markstrom, and Tanev. It helps a little bit with extending Pettersson and Hughes, but not that much – less than a quarter of Pettersson’s projected salary, in fact.
The middling cap hit from 2022 to 2024 is negligible. But it’s those first two years that make this option more-or-less a nonstarter.
A Mutual Contract Termination
With this method, Eriksson and the Canucks just agree to part ways peaceably, his cap hit disappears, and he skates off to Sweden – or even to another team in the NHL, if he so chooses. The issue here is that Eriksson would have to agree to give up all of his remaining salary under this scenario, and $4 million is $4 million.
Could Eriksson feasibly earn at least that much money over the rest of his career if he walked away from this contract? Sure! But that’s not really much incentive – it’s money he might get versus money he’s legally obligated to receive.
The mutual part of the mutual contract termination just isn’t going to happen, unless Eriksson suddenly decides that he desperately wants to leave the most beautiful city on Earth – bad enough to give up $4 million. Good luck with that.
Trading Loui Eriksson With Retention, Or Accepting A Cap Dump
Rumours have flown around somewhat recently about Eriksson being dealt with retention or for a cap dump – with Dallas being cited as a specific destination.
I’m still keeping an eye on the Stars as a potential destination for Loui Eriksson.
Could see something involving Cogliano who has 2 years at $3.25M per left and/or Comeau who also has 2 years remaining at $2.4M per
— Satiar Shah (@SatiarShah) July 14, 2019
It certainly seems like something that could be made to work for another franchise, depending on how much the Canucks are willing to retain, or how big of a dump they’re willing to accept. But that’s just it – trading one cap issue in Eriksson for another doesn’t do much to help Vancouver’s overall picture.
At least any cap dump taken on could feasibly be flipped to another team further down the road, but then that’s not much of a permanent solution. Cap retention, on the other hand, would be there for good and hamper the Canucks’ flexibility for the next two seasons.
The “Zach Bogosian” Method
This is the potential escape route from Eriksson’s contract that everyone is talking about right now. Right before the 2020 Trade Deadline, the Buffalo Sabres waived Zach Bogosian and assigned him to the Rochester Americans – only for him to refuse the assignment. The Sabres then set a deadline of their own for Bogosian to report to Rochester, and when he no-showed they terminated his contract and wiped his cap hit from their books.
Bogosian signed in Tampa Bay shortly thereafter.
For the cold-hearted, this is an ideal method to deal with Eriksson. Stick him on a bus in Utica until he gets sick of it – or rejects the assignment right off the bat – and then his contract magically disappears. But it’s not something that’s easy to imagine the notoriously kind Jim Benning pulling off.
Even if Benning can muster up the meanness to do it, the Canucks might not have as easy a time with it as the Sabres did. For one, Bogosian only had a few months left on his deal, so he wasn’t sacrificing much salary – and knew he’d probably recoup it with another prorated NHL deal anyway, as he did with the Lightning.
There’s also something that Rick Dhaliwal recently mentioned in The Athletic, which is that Eriksson’s agent is J.P. Barry, who has clients like Karl Alzner and Andrew Ladd earning big bucks in the minors without complaint – and doesn’t seem to like the idea of his clients being strong-armed into giving up their contracts.
The Canucks can certainly try this method, and they’d get at least a nominal bit of cap relief by doing so – but they run the risk of having Eriksson happily bide his time in Utica for two more years while still taking up almost $5 million in space. Unless there’s some sort of backdoor handshake agreement in play, that’s tricky.
Keeping Loui Eriksson For Another Season (At Least)
At last we arrive to by far the most likely outcome of Loui Eriksson’s Summer 2020 – and it’s the one you knew was coming, but tried to ignore. The odds are that Eriksson will still be a Vancouver Canuck when training camp opens next September, and that Jim Benning and Co. will have to kick the can down the road another year before trying to ditch him all over again.
It’s certainly not a perfect situation. With Eriksson still on the books past this July – even if he’s assigned to Utica – there simply won’t be enough space to seriously consider re-signing Chris Tanev, even if Brandon Sutter and Troy Stecher are gone. It would also make new contracts for Jacob Markstrom and Tyler Toffoli all the more difficult to navigate, and perhaps necessitate the loss of a valuable asset. It could put Vancouver in a position where they have to choose between trading a valuable young asset like Adam Gaudette or extending Toffoli – or picking between Markstrom and Jake Virtanen. That would be painful, but it’s a pain that Canucks fans should be bracing themselves for, because it’s quite plausible.
True, Eriksson’s contract would be a lot easier to get out of in the 2021 offseason, though not without difficulty. In theory, that would still give the Canucks plenty of time to extend Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes without worrying about the last year of his contract – but a more likely outcome would be that the Canucks extend Pettersson and Hughes in-season and then desperately try to flip Eriksson in July. That’s a bad spot to be in.
There are no easy answers when it comes to Loui Eriksson. And, unfortunately, it’s starting to look like the probable outcome is also going to be the toughest to swallow.