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Exactly how much functional cap space do the Canucks have for the 2024 Trade Deadline?

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Photo credit:© Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
2 months ago
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The Vancouver Canucks rocket ever closer to the 2024 Trade Deadline, set for March 8 and now just a little more than three weeks away.
We’ve known for a while that GM Patrik Allvin and Co. are pushing hard for further acquisitions to put their team over the top, even after beating the rest of the league to the punch in trading for Elias Lindholm prior to the All-Star Break.
But every time a new trade target is mentioned or a proposal is made, there’s a certain segment of the fanbase that likes to respond with something along the lines of “with what cap space?!”
It’s true on a technical level that the Canucks have been out of cap space since the season began. But on a functional level, the answer is a little different, and today we’re going to lay it out for you in exact detail. Because the Canucks do have a little cap space to work with heading into the Trade Deadline, you’ve just got to squint a bit to see it.
To be clear here, we’re only talking about the situation as it currently exists. We’ve discussed a few potential cap-cutting moves before, including the moving of names like Tyler Myers and Ilya Mikheyev. But in the Lindholm deal, the Canucks already moved their most obvious big-ticket item in Andrei Kuzmenko.
They even managed to pick up $650,000 in additional cap space by doing so.
If they can pull it off, we’d have to imagine they’d prefer to make any subsequent additions without having to subtract any further from the roster.
And, as it turns out, that might just be possible.
As of this writing, the Canucks are incurring a cap hit of $86,549,174. Eagle-eyed readers will note that total is already over the NHL’s cap ceiling of $83.5 million. That total includes 23 players on the active roster, Carson Soucy on the injured reserve, Kuzmenko’s bonus overages from last year, Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s buyout penalty, and the full salaries of both Tucker Poolman and Guillaume Brisebois, who have spent the entire season on LTIR.
Those LTIR placements are the reason why the Canucks are able to operate in excess of the ceiling. Combined, Poolman and Brisebois give them a maximum of $3.275 million in relief space.
The math from here on out is complicated, and whether one does it themselves, or just checks one of the popular cap websites like PuckPedia or CapFriendly, one is going to end up with the same total: the Canucks have a functional cap space of $316,250 as of this writing.
It doesn’t take much of a mathematician to surmise that, with the NHL’s minimum salary being $775K, that amount doesn’t really count for anything.
But we can squeeze a little more cap space out of the situation if we try.
As we mentioned earlier, Soucy is on IR, not LTIR, meaning his full salary is counting against the cap right now with no relief space offered. His full cap hit, we should say, and also that of his current replacement on the roster, Jett Woo.
One assumes that, as soon as Soucy were to return to the roster or a new NHL-level player were to be acquired, Woo would be sent back down to Abbotsford. That means that his $775K is just a placeholder right now, and can effectively be counted as part of the available cap space.
That gives the Canucks a functional total of about $1,091,250.
And that’s enough cap space to fit in a whole additional player. Not much of one, true, unless we factor salary retention into the picture, but more on that later.
Of course, in the scenario in which Soucy comes back into the lineup AND a new player is brought in via trade, two current players on the active roster would need to be sent down. Depending on who that additional re-assignee is, you can safely carve another $775K out of the available cap space, meaning the true amount of functional cap space is about $1,866,250.
Now, that’s enough room to work with.
Soucy’s injury should not be considered a barrier here. If he’s healthy by the time of the new acquisition, his replacement on the roster gets sent down, and the space opens up. If he’s not, he could be placed on retroactive LTIR in order to keep space open for his replacement until he returns.
In the end, the numbers remain the same. The Canucks can add a little under $1.9 million in salary to their current roster while only needing to demote Woo and one other extra player, like perhaps a Mark Friedman or a Phil di Giuseppe.
So, what can they do with $1.9 million?
There are basically two answers to that question. One is to go shopping in the bargain bin. The other is to explore salary retention.
NHL players can have their contracts retained up to 50% by one team, and then by up to 50% of that reduced total by another team, for a total of up to 75% retention. It’s a tactic that is becoming common around trade deadlines, for obvious reasons. It’s not a cheap course of action, because it involves paying the cost of acquisition for the player, compensation for the original retention, and then compensation to a third-party team for their part in the retention, but it does allow contenders to add high-priced rentals for relatively little, cap-wise.
So, the Canucks can think of themselves as having $1,866,250 in cap space, or they can think of themselves as having enough space to add a player with a full cap hit of up to four times that: $7,465,000. Which is pretty much anyone they could realistically be looking to acquire.
Or a player at half that amount without involving a third team. Or just a player that fits within that $1,866,250 they’ve got on hand without any sort of retention needed.
Or, they could potentially split any of those amounts across multiple acquisitions. At that point, though, the concern is actually roster subtractions. There just aren’t that many players the Canucks are going to be willing to part with at this point.
Again, so long as they’re willing to pay up for both the player and the retention they’re seeking when it comes to the assets asked in return.
Finding the right player to trade for, and up to two other franchises willing to play ball on the retention game, is easier said than done. But if the cap space weren’t there, it wouldn’t just be difficult to add to this roster without subtracting, it would be outright impossible.
The cap space is there, and thus so are the possibilities.
LATE BREAKING STORY: The details of the Phil Kessel situation are currently unfolding, and the cap-related implications thereof are unable to be calculated at this time. As a preliminary guess, Kessel’s cap hit will be at the league minimum if he does end up signing a contract, and as his joining the roster would require someone else to leave it, he should not impact the amount of cap space available in any way.
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