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Are the Canucks better off without another big contract like Jake Guentzel’s making them too top-heavy?

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Photo credit:© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
11 days ago
This article is brought to you by bet365!
Alright, alright. Hands up. Mea culpa. You got us.
Writing an article about how the Vancouver Canucks are better off without Jake Guentzel on the very morning that the Tampa Bay Lightning secured his rights via trade – and presumably began negotiations on a major contract extension immediately thereafter – is downright cowardly. But what’s a little yellow-bellied hindsight between friends?
Many of us here at CanucksArmy, like many of you in our readership, were hyped up on the possibility of the Canucks adding another superstar to their preestablished stable of talent. And, as far as genuine superstars available on the free market this summer, it pretty much came down to Sam Reinhart, who seems destined to remain in Florida, and Guentzel, who reportedly had some serious interest in coming to Vancouver.
In the quest to find a high-quality linemate for Elias Pettersson, Guentzel was clearly the premium option.
Now, for the time being anyway, that dream appears to be dead. Tampa traded a third round pick for a mere 24 hours of exclusive negotiating time with Guentzel before he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1. One has to think they were quite confident that they’d be able to sign Guentzel before committing to such a hefty rights-swap, and that confidence makes sense, given Tampa’s tax-related advantages.
We don’t yet know what Guentzel will sign for in Tampa, but we can all-but-guarantee it will be extremely lucrative.
And, so, the Canucks will have to look elsewhere in their search for more offensive potency.
But is missing out on Guentzel actually a…good thing in the long run?
Today, as we examine the potential financials at play, it’s hard not to reach that conclusion.
Guentzel reportedly turned down an eight-year, $8 million AAV offer from the Carolina Hurricanes. There were concrete reports that he believed he could earn more on the open market, and that several teams – including the Canucks – were prepared to give it to him. The number being floated around most frequently was a $9 million AAV at seven years of term, so that’s the number we will use in our estimates.
The Canucks are already heading into 2024/25 with a fairly high-priced roster. The danger in adding more premium talent to such a roster is the danger of becoming too top-heavy. In a hockey mediasphere that is often clustered around Toronto, “top-heavy” has become a dirty word when it comes to roster-building.
As it stands, the Canucks’ top-five cap hits for 2024/25 will be Elias Pettersson ($11.6 million), JT Miller ($8 mil), Quinn Hughes ($7.85 mil), Filip Hronek ($7.25 mil), and Brock Boeser ($6.65 mil). That’s a top-five total of $41.25 million, or an average of $8.25 million.
Add a $9 million Guentzel to the mix, booting Boeser out of the top-five, and the Canucks would be up to a total of $43.6 million, or just under half the total cap space available, or average of $8.72 million.
It’s worth noting that, under this scenario, Boeser’s salary doesn’t disappear. Keep him in the tabulations to make it a top-six count, and the Canucks are up to $50.25 million for six players.
Without Guentzel, the Canucks top-six count would include Thatcher Demko ($5 mil) and be up to $46.25 million for six players.
So how would these real and potential numbers compare around the league?
The Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers are two convenient standards by which to measure current NHL clubs.
Last season, the Oilers spent a total of $42 million on their top-five, made up of Connor McDavid ($12.5 million), Darnell Nurse ($9.5 mil), Leon Draisaitl ($8.5 mil), Mattias Ekholm ($6 million), and Zach Hyman ($5.5 million). For a top-six, we add Evander Kane ($5.125 million) to the tally for a total of $47.125 million.
That’s barely ahead of where the Canucks currently stand without having added Guentzel.
The Florida Panthers are in a similar spot. Last year, they spent a total of $43.5 million on their top-five, made up of Aleksander Barkov ($10 million), Sergei Bobrovsky ($10 mil), Matthew Tkachuk ($9.5 mil), Aaron Ekblad ($7.5 mil), and Sam Reinhart ($6.5 mil). To make it a top-six gets a little complicated, because the next highest hit is technically Spencer Knight ($4.5 mil) who didn’t participate in the Panthers’ Cup run. So let’s take Sam Bennett ($4.25 mil) instead for a top-six total of $47.75 million.
We thus find that the Stanley Cup runner-up Edmonton Oilers and the Stanley Cup Champion Florida Panthers are, in their most recent iteration, built about exactly as top-heavy as the Canucks currently are, without having signed Guentzel (or any other big-ticket contracts). The Canucks with Guentzel, then, would come in as significantly more top-heavy than the Oilers or Panthers.
But the gold standard for top-heaviness in the NHL right now is not the Panthers or the Oilers, but instead the aforementioned Maple Leafs.
The Maple Leafs have a top-five total, heading into 2024/25, of $54.153 million , made up of Auston Matthews  ($13.25 million), William Nylander ($11.5 mil), John Tavares ($11 mil), Mitch Marner ($10.903 mil), and Morgan Rielly ($7.5 mil). Their sixth-highest contract probably hasn’t been signed yet, but for now it’s David Kampf ($2.4 million) for a top-six total of $56.553 million.
EDIT: As we were writing this, the Leafs’ six-highest contract became Max Domi at a reported $3.75 million AAV, adding $1.35 million to the above total.
That is, to be fair, a level of top-heaviness the Canucks don’t have to worry about achieving.
We had the Canucks’ top-six, including Guentzel at $9 million, at about a $50.25 million cap hit. It’s a total that nestles in neatly between that of the best teams in the league, and that of the most top-heavy.
Would that make the Canucks with Guentzel too top-heavy to compete? That’s hard to say based on salaries alone, but it certainly looks like a possibility.
Does that mean that the Canucks are better off with Guentzel having gone to Tampa?
Probably. But a more certain answer won’t be available for years to come.
 

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