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Cap Update: After the Pius Suter signing, something has to give with the Canucks’ salary structure

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
8 months ago
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What was already complicated has only grown…more complicated
You won’t find many people criticizing the cost-effectiveness of the Vancouver Canucks’ most recent signing. Landing a center like Pius Suter for two years at an AAV of $1.6 million is tidy business any way you slice it. It’s almost the sort of contract a team like the Canucks can’t afford not to make.
But while $1.6 million is hardly break-the-bank money, it is still more than double the league minimum salary, and that makes it difficult to fit into a Canucks’ cap structure that was already feeling the squeeze, especially when it comes to the team’s forwards.
At this point, we can state this outright: there is no scenario in which the Canucks can fit all of their currently signed forwards on the same, fully-staffed roster. It’s just not possible.
Below, we’ll explain why that is, and speculate about a few of the ways in which the Canucks can manage to get under the cap before opening night all the same.

The “Everyone Healthy” Conundrum

If Tanner Pearson really is as healthy as GM Patrik Allvin says he is, and will be with the team come Training Camp, that’s when we start to rapidly approach “something has to give” territory.
Everyone has accepted at this point that Tucker Poolman will be spending the year on long-term injured reserve, and that will give the Canucks up to* $2.5 million in additional relief space.
But $2.5 million is not enough for all these forwards, not with Pearson in the mix.
Let’s just add them all together, quickly.
Up front, you’ve got, in descending order of salary, JT Miller ($8 mil), Elias Pettersson ($7.35 mil), Brock Boeser ($6.65 mil), Andrei Kuzmenko ($5.5 mil), Conor Garland ($4.95 mil), Ilya Mikheyev ($4.75 mil), Anthony Beauvillier ($4.15 mil), Teddy Blueger ($1.9 mil), Pius Suter ($1.6 mil), Nils Höglander ($1.1 mil), and Dakota Joshua ($825K), all of whom are virtually guaranteed to make the team this year. Each would require waivers to demote, and none seem particularly likely to be cut.
That’s 11 forwards at a total of $46.775 million. For the time being, we’ll add Pearson and his $3.25 million cap hit to the pile for a total of 12 forwards and $50.025 million.
Now, let’s say that, from there, the Canucks want to run as small a roster as possible, at least for opening night of the 2023/24 season.
We’ve got to add at least six defenders to the roster. That’ll be Quinn Hughes ($7.85 mil), Tyler Myers ($6 mil), Filip Hronek ($4.4 mil), Carson Soucy ($3.25 mil), and Ian Cole ($3 mil) for sure. They can be joined by really anyone as the sixth defender, but for now let’s say it’s Matt Irwin and his $775K contract.
That’s six defenders at a total of $25.275 million.
Next we add two goalies. That’s Thatcher Demko ($5 mil) and his cheapest available backup, Spencer Martin ($762.5K) for a total of $5.7625 million.
But wait, there’s more.
On top of that, we have to add in $146, 667 for the Oliver Ekman-Larsson buyout penalty, and $850,000 in Andrei Kuzmenko bonus overages.
That’s a total of 20 players and $82.059167 million, to be exact.
Then there’s Poolman’s contract to worry about. The simplest explanation is that, with Poolman on LTIR, the Canucks can functionally spend up to* $86 million, which is the actual $83.5 million salary ceiling plus Poolman’s maximum $2.5 million in LTIR relief.
Throw Poolman’s $2.5 milly on top of that previous total, and we’re at roughly $84.56 million.
That’s technically under the adjusted cap, right, so what’s the problem?
The problem is that such a roster, while legal, contains no extra players whatsoever, and it only leaves enough cap space to call up one, singular player for a total of 21.
The Canucks would thus be unable to promote anyone else until one of their existing players suffered an injury bad enough to require their own stint on LTIR. And because they’d be “in LTIR” the whole time and unable to accrue cap space, there’s no possibility of sending someone down to Abbotsford to bank space during homestands or anything like that.
For a team that travels as much and as far as the Canucks do, this is simply not workable. Forget 21 players, the Canucks have almost always travelled with the full complement of 23, and they will aim to do so again in 2022/23. A 22-player roster might be workable, but it’d be the first time in a long time.
A 21-player roster is probably a non-starter, and it’s literally the only way in which Pearson’s salary can be accommodated into the forward depth chart. It could also mean waiving some players like Phil di Giuseppe or Christian Wolanin that the team would rather not, and it definitely would mean the waiver-exempt Vasily Podkolzin starting on the farm.
Which means they’ll have to go another route. Let’s take a look at the options.

Option #1: Everyone is NOT Healthy

There’s little doubt that Pearson is going to do everything that he can to return to a level of health that allows him to continue his NHL career. Still, after as many surgeries as he’s endured, the realism of his return remains in doubt, and there are some who simply believe that, despite his best efforts, he will remain on LTIR for the 2022/23 campaign.
While this would be a devastating outcome for Pearson, it would virtually eliminate any cap concerns. Pearson on LTIR creates a maximum relief space of $5.75 million, instead of $2.5 million. At that point, the game becomes creating an opening night roster as close to the maximum relief-boosted ceiling of $89.25 million ($83.5 million plus $5.75 million), which is plenty doable. (Remember the “perfect roster” shenanigans of last season?)
Another option here may be another player becoming injured during Training Camp or the preseason schedule and also being placed on LTIR as the season begins. However, while quite possible, this is hardly an outcome that the team can rely on or plan around.

Option #2: A Trade is Happening

The Canucks would not need to open up very much space at all in order to gain the flexibility needed to roster 23 players. Even with everyone (but Poolman) healthy and on the roster, the amount of extra space needed is somewhere between $1 and 2 million.
So, if the Canucks could orchestrate a trade in which they gained about $2 million in cap space, they’d be just fine.
Maybe that’s swapping Myers out for a $4 million defender somehow, or trading him with retention. Maybe that’s selling Beauvillier for draft picks.
Whatever it is, the amount of space gained would have to be roughly equivalent to the amount of space needed to add two more call-ups to that roster of 21 we described a few paragraphs up.

Option #3: Someone (Probably Pearson) is Getting Demoted

If everyone is healthy and competing for a roster spot, and nobody gets traded, there’s still one option available to ice a roster of 22 or 23 and still make it under the cap, but it would have to involve the demotion of an NHL veteran.
Teams are no longer able to “bury” all contracts in the minors, but they can partially bury them. Any contract under the threshold of $1.15 million can be demoted without penalty, but that’s also the maximum amount of any contract that can be taken off the books via reassignment.
So, for example, if the Canucks were to send Pearson down to Abbotsford after Training Camp (for real, and not as a conditioning stint), he’d still incur a cap hit of $2.1 million ($3.25 mil – $1.15 mil).
Replace him on the roster with, say, Di Giuseppe, who is making $775K, and you’ve opened up a scant $375K.
Which doesn’t sound like much, but it is something, and it would be enough for the Canucks to potentially squeeze someone else onto the roster.
That 20-player roster with a $84.56 million cap hit mentioned in our first section becomes a $84.185 million roster with Di Giuseppe on it instead of Pearson. That leaves $1.815 in cap space, which is enough to call up two additional extras for a roster total of 22.
It’s not much wiggle room, but it is a whole extra player’s worth, and that’s not for nothing.
There are no certainties in hockey, but the cap ceiling is about as concrete a circumstance as one can find in the sport, so we feel confident in stating that one of the outcomes we have described above will come to pass.
There’s really no other way around it. The only thing left to determine is which path the Canucks will take.

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