Photo credit:© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
The Canucks’ lack of long-term contracts and growing prospect cupboard are a great match for future success
7 months ago
Folks, we’ve got to come clean here.
About halfway through writing this article, we realized it was yet another variation of a theme we’ve already expressed more than a few times this offseason, which is something along the lines of “gee whiz, isn’t it nice to not be saddled by terrible long-term contracts?”
But some things are worth repeating, and this new status quo is one worth appreciating a couple times over.
It’s true that “not having albatross contracts” is a pretty low bar for a professional sports franchise, but that’s the bar that the last decade of Vancouver Canucks hockey has set. We don’t need to go into the gory details, but just rattling off a rapid-fire list of bad deals works wonders.
Loui Eriksson, six years at a $6 million AAV. Antoine Roussel, four years at a $3 million AAV. Jay Beagle, four years at a $3 million AAV. Tyler Myers, five years at a $6 million AAV. Micheal Ferland, four years at a $3.5 million AAV. Tucker Poolman, four years at a $2.5 million AAV.
And, of course, the grand finale of acquiring Oliver Ekman-Larsson and his six remaining years at a reduced $7.26 million AAV.
That’s an awful lot of negative value on the books, but at least we’re talking past tense. Not only have the majority of these contracts expired by now, the new regime of GM Patrik Allvin and Co. have avoided the pitfall of simply replacing the old bad contracts with new ones.
Of the above list, only Myers (one year remaining) and Poolman (firmly ensconced on LTIR) remain.
At this point, the only contracts on the Canucks’ books that go any longer than the next three seasons are the four years left on Quinn Hughes’ deal and the seven left on JT Miller’s fresh extension. Both are easily counted as two of the team’s top-four players at a bare minimum.
Soon enough, core pieces Elias Pettersson and Filip Hronek will join them.
Beyond that set, the only players signed longer than two additional years are Thatcher Demko, Carson Soucy, Ilya Mikheyev, and Conor Garland. Of that bunch, only Garland’s can be considered not good value.
The rest of the Canucks’ roster, and cap structure, is wide open in the long-term. And that’s a very good thing, and potentially a great thing, timing-wise.
When talk has been made of the Canucks’ contractual issues in the past, the focus has always been on the ways in which they held the team back in the present — which, fair enough. They definitely did.
But bad deals on the books also hurt a team’s future. It often costs picks and prospects to get out of onerous contracts, sure, but having them around in the first place can really gum up a prospect pipeline. When the sorts of bottom-end players that would normally be naturally replaced by incoming youth are instead signed to long-term, expensive deals, the circumstances of their salary pretty much demand they remain on the roster.
Oftentimes, then, teams feel the need for “fresh starts,” and so they swap out their existing bad contracts for more (see the OEL deal) and the process starts anew. Along the way, prospects get blocked out, they get stalled out, and they do not break out.
Now, we can’t honestly say that this has been an actual, practical problem for the Canucks in the past decade. But that’s only because, at the same time as they had all those questionable contracts on hand, they were also failing to maintain a reasonable prospect system. Young players didn’t really get blocked by the likes of Eriksson and Beagle and Ekman-Larsson because there weren’t any young players to block.
But times have changed, and the timing couldn’t be better.
As the Canucks have turned around their reputation for signing bad deals, they’ve also slowly-but-surely built their prospect cupboard back up. Thus, the Canucks aren’t just set up for future success, they’re set up for future succession.
Our own Chris Faber just completed his hotly-anticipated top-ten ranking of Canucks’ prospects, and while some might quibble with the placements on the list, none can deny that it’s a better collection of young talent than has been present in any recent organizational memory.
In fact, that there’s even chatter about someone like Arturs Silovs being too low at fifth overall in the rankings is a really good sign of the pipeline’s health. Previously, the only debates being held around the fifth-ranked Canucks prospect were “who the hell is that guy?”
Now, not only is the prospect crop bursting again, the Canucks are also set up to have plenty of room in their organizational refrigerator when all their hockey vegetables are fit for harvest.
Tom Willander is the Canucks’ top prospect overall. He’s already being talked about as a future partner for Hughes, in part because of his talent, but also because there’s no pre-existing veteran contract in the way.
Same goes for second-ranked prospect Elias Pettersson II. He’s a left-hander with designs on a top-four job one day, and could pair beautifully with Hronek on a shutdown set. Good news, then, that incoming LHD Soucy and Ian Cole were only signed to three- and one-year deals, respectively, and will be way out of the way by the time Pettersson re-arrives.
On and on it goes down the list. Aatu Raty is going to have to leapfrog Nils Åman at some point to become the 3C or more, but he won’t find Teddy Blueger blocking his way for long. Jonathan Lekkerimäki can take comfort in knowing that Brock Boeser and Anthony Beauvillier are just keeping wing spots warm for him.
Even the crease is set up nicely for succession. Demko’s signed for three more years, which is about exactly how much time the Canucks are going to need to see what they have in Silovs. If all works out well, the timing will be perfect to not re-sign Demko to an expensive veteran deal and to instead transition over to Silovs, just as Jacob Markstrom handed things off to Demko a few years ago.
Of course, when we’re talking prospects, nothing is certain. Of the five prospects we just named, the odds of all of them making long-term careers happen are astronomical, and that’s just the top-five we’re talking about.
But whereas, in the past, the way in which the Canucks had structured their organization left little room for long-term growth, the current Canucks have at least left that possibility wide open.
Like we said, it’s still a pretty low bar to clear.
But at least it’s better to have cleared it then to keep tripping over it, right?
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