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Is it better for the Canucks to buy out Ilya Mikheyev, or to attempt to trade him with retention?

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Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
16 days ago
With more than a dozen free agents throughout the franchise to deal with, it’s already understood and accepted that not everyone will be returning to the Vancouver Canucks organization next year.
 
 
But if there’s one player under contract that the fans and media alike seem to agree is on the way out, it’s embattled winger Ilya Mikheyev.
As of now, Mikheyev is halfway through a four-year contract with a cap hit of $4.75 million per season. The first year of the deal saw Mikheyev post 13 goals and 15 assists for 28 points in 46 games before bowing out for ACL surgery. He also demonstrated some serious chemistry with Elias Pettersson. Few, at the time, had any complaints about his performance or his salary.
But the Mikheyev who came back from surgery a few games into the 2023/24 season was not the same player who went under the knife so many months before.
This past campaign, Mikheyev only managed 11 goals and 20 assists for 31 points in a full 78 games. And that was with ample prime-time in the Canucks’ top-six. Mikheyev’s play had deteriorated so much that, by the playoffs, he’d come the proverbial overdue healthy scratch – the kind of player who exits the lineup to a chorus of “Finally!”
Combine that performance with an impending cap crunch brought on by all those aforementioned free agents, and it’s not too hard to understand why most have decided that the Canucks are better off without Mikheyev on the roster for 2024/25.
But removing Mikheyev from the roster may prove easier said than done.
At this point, Mikheyev is the fifth-highest-paid forward on the books for next year, and the seventh-highest-paid Canuck overall. At well below a 0.5 point-per-game rate, he’s firmly in cap dump territory, and that’s made even truer by the Canucks’ own circumstances. We know that no one is going to take Mikheyev for free, and we can assume that, with two years left on his deal, no one is taking him at full salary for anything less than a considerable sweetener.
That has, naturally, led to speculation about a Mikheyev buyout.
In this case, the buyout penalties are not especially onerous. This is not an Oliver Ekman-Larsson situation. A Mikheyev buyout performed this summer incurs a cap penalty of $1.15 million (savings of $3.6 million) in 2024/25, of $2.15 million in 2025/26 (savings of $2.6 million), and then of $1.55 million in both 2026/27 and 2027/28, both of which are straight penalties with no savings.
But those don’t seem like especially excessive penalties, especially with the cap ceiling expected to go up in each and every one of those years. A $1.55 million hit should seem like chump change by 2027.
The buyout window opens up on either June 15 or 48 hours after the Stanley Cup Finals ends, whichever comes later. That gives the Canucks roughly two weeks to decide on whether or not to buyout Mikheyev, and they’ll no doubt be using that time to explore all other options. Buyouts, even relatively inexpensive ones like this one, are never ideal.
Assuming that the Canucks are not particularly interested in dealing away their limited future assets as sweeteners, that really only leaves one other option on the table, and that’s a trade with retention.
Mikheyev is only one year removed from a pretty good campaign, and there are those who say that the expected recovery from his surgery is closer to 18 months than anything, a period of time that Mikheyev is just approaching now. You won’t find anyone willing to bet on $4.75 million Mikheyev, but on $2.75 million Mikheyev? That’s much more possible.
Let’s roll with that estimate of $2 million in retention for now, and imagine that there is someone out there willing to trade for Mikheyev at that price, perhaps for future considerations.
The cap hit, in this case, would be just that $2 million in retained dollars for both 2024/25 and 2025/26, and an effective savings on Mikheyev’s full cap hit of $2.75 million in each season.
The immediate and obvious downside is that there is a lesser amount saved for this upcoming season than would be obtained from a buyout ($3.6 million), and as we’ve mentioned many times, this upcoming season is when the Canucks need the savings the most.
But the upside is slightly more savings the next year, and then no penalties whatsoever in the two seasons thereafter.
A less obvious downside, and perhaps not really much of a downside at all, is the loss of a retention slot. Teams can only have three retained salaries on their books at any one time. If the Canucks trade Mikheyev with retention, that’s one of three slots accounted for for the next two seasons running.
There’s also the risk that Mikheyev doesn’t bounce back and is subsequently bought out next summer, which would in turn tie up the Canucks’ retention slot for an additional season until the buyout penalties end.
But the Canucks are ideally not doing much retaining over the next couple of years, so this is a minor factor at best.
In the end, either option is workable, and comes with its own benefits. If we had to guess which path the Canucks prefer, it’s probably that of a buyout, just on the next year savings alone. But we would still expect the Canucks to float around the idea of a retained salary trade in the meantime leading up to the buyout window, because maybe someone is actually willing to pay for a retained Mikheyev, and then that’s a whole ‘nother thing to consider.
In any case, it’s always worth reflecting in moments like these how far the Canucks have come as a franchise. The worst contract on their books has two years left on it and a $4.75 million cap hit. And the Canucks have options when it comes to dealing with it.
The times have changed in Vancouver, and definitely for the better.

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