The Canucks can still afford Chris Tanev, but not without ditching another defender first

Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
6 months ago
Earlier this week, news broke that the Vancouver Canucks were “out” on Ethan Bear after being outbid for the UFA defender’s services. The general reasoning given was that, following the acquisition of Nikita Zadorov, the Canucks could no longer fit Bear’s asking price — believed to be between $2 and 3 million — under the salary cap.
At the same time that Rick Dhaliwal was dropping the Bear news, however, he mentioned that the Canucks remained “in” on Chris Tanev, Zadorov’s former teammate in Calgary.
Tanev, a pending UFA, has the rest of this season left on the books at a cap hit of $4.5 million.
So, to summarize, the Canucks can’t afford to spend $2 to 3 million on Bear, but they’re still looking to add Tanev at nearly double that rate.
Surely, both things can’t be true.
Can they?
Here’s the thing.
By all reports, Bear is soon to be recovered from his offseason injury, and all indications are that he plans to sign within the next couple of weeks. There’s some immediacy to his situation, and thus signing him would require the Canucks to immediately make the requisite cap space available.
Barring a cap-cutting trade in the very near future, that’s an impossibility. The Canucks are tight up against the cap post-Zadorov trade, and currently have just enough room to squeeze Pius Suter and Carson Soucy back into the lineup when healthy.
No amount of demotions could garner them the space needed to fit Bear in on top of what they have.
So, it’s either make a trade to gain that space right here, right now, or give up on Bear.
It seems the Canucks have chosen the latter option.
We wrote earlier that, if it comes down to it, the Canucks are probably fine without another defence acquisition this season. The rumours, however, would suggest that GM Patrik Allvin and Co. feel differently.
Good thing, then, that the Tanev question operates on a much longer timescale than that of Bear.
Technically speaking, the Calgary Flames are only three points back of a wild card spot as of this writing. That said, they’re also below .500, 4-6-0 in their last ten, and going nowhere fast. The writing is on the wall that the Flames will sell off pieces this season, and Tanev will almost certainly be one of them.
But the Flames can afford the luxury of waiting until the right deal comes along. They felt a little pressure to get the Zadorov deal done as quickly as possible, what with the awkwardness of Zadorov’s public trade request. There’s no such impetus with Tanev, and so the Flames’ front office can wait right up until Trade Deadline 2024 if they want.
What are they waiting for?
Value, of course, and presumably in the form of future picks and prospects.
But also, perhaps, a team that is ready and willing to accommodate the acquisition of Tanev at full price, without retention.
“But wait,” you’re presumably saying. “That can’t be the Vancouver Canucks. They can’t even afford Ethan Bear. How could they possibly afford Tanev at full price?”
The answer is a little complicated. It’s also kind of simple.
It involves the trading of Tyler Myers.
On a roster basis, moving Myers out as Tanev (or Bear or Jalen Chatfield or whoever) comes in makes plenty of sense. A sextet of Quinn Hughes, Filip Hronek, Ian Cole, Carson Soucy, Zadorov, and the new person almost certainly leaves Myers outside of the lineup looking in. He’s definitely the worst-performing of the bunch.
The financials, however, make trading Myers a difficult endeavour. He’s still on the books for a $6 million cap hit for the rest of 2023/24, despite his signing bonus having been paid and his actual salary being low.
If they hope to add Tanev, the Canucks are going to have to find someone willing to take Myers without sending much (or any) salary back in return. That’s going to take some time and, as it seems, more time than Bear is willing to wait around on the free agent market.
But not more time, perhaps, than the Flames are willing to wait to close their own end of the deal.
All that said, trading Myers may not be the impossibility it once seemed to be. Especially not if the Canucks are willing to use a little retention to make it all work.
At a full 50% retention, reducing his cap hit to $3 million, there are teams out there that we can imagine taking a swing at Myers, so long as the asking price is low.
How about the Arizona Coyotes, holding down a wild card position with more than $3 million in open cap space on hand, all the while dressing RHD like Michael Kesselring and Josh Brown on a nightly basis?
Or how about the Buffalo Sabres, who had designs on a playoff berth but are struggling all over the lineup, including on their blueline, and have more than $27 million in projected deadline space to spend? Could a rookie homecoming be in the cards for Myers?
There’s even the possibility that a team with no designs on the postseason, but plenty of open cap space, like the Anaheim Ducks or Chicago Blackhawks, might look to acquire a $3 million Myers just to flip him again at $1.5 million closer to the deadline.
Whatever the destination, all the Canucks need to do is dump Myers for nothing to open up at least $3 million in cap space (and more, if they can talk the other team into accepting less-than-full retention).
And that extra $3 million could be all they need to fit Tanev into the picture.
Right now, just activating Soucy from LTIR and moving both he and Suter onto the active roster leaves the Canucks with 13 active forwards, 8 active defenders, and two active goaltenders (a full roster, in other words) with about $450,000 in functional cap space.
That’s not enough for a single call-up, but it is some workable wiggle room.
Drop $3 million worth of Myers, and that cap space shoots up to $3,450,000. Still not enough for Tanev. But if Tanev were to be acquired, the Canucks could justify demoting one of their extra RHDs in Mark Friedman or Noah Juulsen. Pop them down to the minors, and now the Canucks have about $4.2 million in available cap space.
Frustratingly close to Tanev’s $4.5 million cap hit. In fact, probably close enough for our purposes.
The Canucks could garner more cap space by running a reduced roster for a while. Or, they could ask the Flames for a minimal amount of retention to get this trade across the finish line.
Either way, the key here is to corner the market on Tanev by being one of the few (or the only) teams that could accommodate him at a mostly full cap hit.
Why is that so important?
Because Flames ownership is traditionally loathe to retain any salary.
The franchise has done so just once in the decade since salary retention has been a thing, retaining 50% of Dave Rittich’s contract back at the 2021 deadline. Other than that, they’ve outright refused the concept of retention. They’ve avoided buyouts, too. Calgary owners just don’t seem to like paying folks not to play for them, and it’s easy enough to understand that impulse.
Earlier in the year, the Flames accepted what felt like a small return from the Canucks for Zadorov because the Canucks were the only team ready and willing to take Zadorov without retention.
If the Canucks can position themselves similarly for Tanev, perhaps they can lower the asking price for him, too.
Should the Canucks be able to trade Myers at 50% (or less) retention, they could approach the Flames and offer to take Tanev with just about $300K worth of retention included. Looking around at the cap charts of the league, there’s not a single other contending team that would be able to make the same offer.
If the Canucks really want Tanev, this is probably the only way to go about it. It’s a more complicated process that would take a lot longer than simply signing Bear, but then this path doesn’t come with a two-week deadline.
Of course, while being able to take Tanev at a mostly full cap hit might reduce the asking price, there will still be an asking price, and it will still be hefty. The Canucks can, at a bare minimum, expect Tanev to cost more than Zadorov did. Tanev isn’t demanding a trade, and he is a significantly more effective defender than Zadorov.
The asking price probably starts at a second round pick and a decent prospect, and it probably goes up from there.
But the Canucks’ blueline would undoubtedly be a much strong unit with Tanev in the mix, and the fact that the possibility of that actually coming to pass at some point in the 2023/24 is not totally outlandish has to be considered at least a little bit exciting.
There’s opportunity in the air in Vancouver, and that’s something that hasn’t been true in quite some time.
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