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Photo Credit: © Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Analyzing the Canucks’ salary cap situation for the next two offseasons

After signing Elias Pettersson to a three-year, $22.05 million extension last month ($7.35 million AAV), general manager Jim Benning has essentially locked the Vancouver Canucks into a competitive window that spans the same amount of time.

But even with Pettersson and Quinn Hughes on relatively team-friendly deals, the club still has a number of crucial pending free agents coming within the next few seasons, and how they choose to navigate those negotiations will have a massive impact on the Canucks’ future outlook.

So today, we’re going to look at the team’s two upcoming offseasons and see what decisions need to be made in order to ensure that the franchise can ice a competitive roster.

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2022 offseason

Notable UFAs: Jaroslav Halak, Brandon Sutter, and Tyler Motte

Notable RFAs: Brock Boeser and Jack Rathbone

Projected cap space: ~$17.7 million (assuming the cap goes up to $82.5 million and Halak’s $1.5 million performance bonus is rolled over)

The Canucks are set to have close to $20 million in cap space next summer assuming Travis Hamonic won’t be returning. Boeser is the obvious big-ticket among that group of names, and with a qualifying offer of $7.5 million, he’s going to take up a large chunk of that cap space.

The most interesting aspect surrounding Boeser’s third contract is whether or not he’ll make more than his QO. At this moment, I think it’s rather unlikely since a $7.5 million contract will already make him one of the 20 highest-paid wingers in the league. Is Boeser that calibre of player? Not yet, but he can certainly get there, so the more crucial point of contention will likely be the term, and not value of the deal.

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After Boeser is locked up, the Canucks will still have about $10.2 million to play with on a roster that has 16 players signed. Rathbone’s probably next on the team’s priority list, and with Hughes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson ahead of the rookie on the depth charts, it’s hard to see him making more than roughly $1.7 million given that he’s a bottom-pair defenceman who can’t accept an offer sheet (Rathbone will be a 10.2 (c) RFA next summer).

Using those estimates, the team will then have roughly $8.5 million left to sign five more players. Michael DiPietro seems destined to take up one of those spots, and it’s fair to expect a deal around $1 million for him — exactly what Thatcher Demko signed for on his second contract.

That leaves $7.5 million for five players, and the club would be wise to let both Sutter and Motte (sorry, Canucks Twitter) walk considering their extensive injury histories. If that happens, the Canucks could choose to fill four of those spots with players on roughly minimum contracts and have close to $4 million to spend on a RHD to play alongside Hughes. An intriguing name would be Josh Manson, but the club might also decide to go with a cheaper option to preserve more flexibility for the 2023 offseason.

Miller ($5.25 million) Pettersson ($7.35 million) Boeser ($7.5 million)
Pearson ($3.25 million) Horvat ($5.5 million) Garland ($4.95 million)
Hoglander ($891, 667) Dickinson ($2.65 million) Podkolzin ($925,000)
4LW Dowling ($750,000) 4RW
Extra Extra
Hughes ($7.85 million) 1RD
OEL ($7.26 million) Poolman ($2.5 million)
Rathbone ($1.7 million) Myers ($6 million)
Schenn ($850,000)
Demko ($5 million) DiPietro ($1 million)

Cap forecast: The Canucks should strongly consider letting Sutter and especially Motte (who would be a hot commodity) walk next offseason in favour of signing cheaper and more durable depth forwards. The end result could be a team that has over $2 million in cap space or pressed right up against the upper limit depending on how much they pay a potential RHD and other depth pieces. The likelihood of Nils Höglander or Vasili Podkolzin hitting their performance bonuses (which could add as much as $1.15 million to the cap) need to be factored into the equation as well.

2023 offseason

Pending UFAs: Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, and Travis Hamonic

Pending RFAs: Nils Höglander

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Projected cap space: ~$24.6 million (assuming the cap goes up to $82.5 million and Boeser, Rathbone and DiPietro are signed to the previously estimated amounts)

Over $24 million in cap space seems like a lot but it’ll dry up fast considering that it only accounts for 13 roster players. This iteration of the team will be missing half of its top six, the entire fourth line, and is still without a reliable RHD to play with Hughes. Horvat will likely be prioritized first due to his status as captain, and given the type of deals that similar 2Cs have signed in recent years, there’s a very real possibility that he’ll need to be overpaid in order to stay.

Horvat’s camp could point to Brayden Schenn ($6.5 million x 8 years), Kevin Hayes ($7.14 million x 7 years), and Brock Nelson ($6 million x 6 years) as comparables, and given that he’s the captain, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Horvat demand a premium that sees him make over $7 million per season long-term. For a player whose game is predicated on power, that’s a risky deal considering it’ll expire in his mid-30s.

Even if he gets extended for just $7 million, that still only leaves about $17.6 million left to sign nine players. This is why it’s crucial that the team uses Höglander’s RFA status to its advantage and try to save as much money as possible. It’s far too early to project how much the young Swede might command but a player such as Anthony Beauvillier could be seen as a comparable.

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The Islander just signed his third contract and has produced at a 48 point pace in the two seasons prior to his current deal, which is a realistic projection for Höglander over the next few seasons. Beauvillier was extended for three years at an AAV of $4.15 million that buys one UFA season, so Höglander should come in slightly less given that he could still be a RFA at the end of a potential bridge deal. With that in mind, let’s pencil him down at $3.75 million for now.

If Horvat and Höglander combine to make close to $11 million, the Canucks will still have less than $14 million with eight more players to sign. Miller, the club’s remaining key UFA, could ask for $7 million per season too, but he’ll likely earn less than Horvat considering the latter is younger, plays the more premium position and is also the team captain. 

Taking everything into consideration, Miller could come in at around $6.5 million, which means that the Canucks will essentially be filling out the rest of the roster with close to minimum salary players. That probably won’t be much of an upgrade over the current team (which isn’t close to contending), so it would be prudent for the club to consider fielding calls on the veteran.

If that comes to fruition, the Canucks could target a RHD who makes less than what Miller might command and still have more money left over to fill other holes in the lineup.

Hoglander ($3.75 million) Pettersson ($7.35 million) Boeser ($7.5 million)
Garland ($4.95 million) Horvat ($7 million) Podkolzin ($925,000)
Pearson ($3.25 million) Dickinson ($2.65 million) 3RW
4LW 4C 4RW
Extra Extra
Hughes ($7.85 million) 1RD
OEL ($7.26 million) Poolman ($2.5 million)
Rathbone ($1.7 million) Myers ($6 million)
Extra
Demko ($5 million) DiPietro ($1 million)

Cap forecast: If the Canucks decide to retain all three of Horvat, Höglander, and Miller, they’ll be left with a similar roster to the current one and risk having two players (Horvat and Miller) make over $6.5 million each into their mid-30s. The smarter move would be trading Miller, which would give the club roughly $13.8 million left to sign eight players.

Assuming the fourth line and extras make less than $1 million each, that would leave $8 million remaining for a RHD and a third-line winger, one (or both) of whom could be the return in a hypothetical Miller deal. Acquiring smaller contracts would make them easier to move as well, in case more cap space needs to be created when Pettersson is set to sign his third contract. The team could also consider not spending to the limit to save some extra space for future seasons, which is why moving on from Miller seems like the most logical scenario at this juncture.