Photo credit:© Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
For the first time in years, the Canucks might be able to actually accrue cap space in 2023/24
8 months ago
It might be tempting to think of the Vancouver Canucks as the proverbial ‘dog who caught the car.’ As an organization, they’ve been chasing cap space for so long, and now that they’ve finally got their teeth around some via the Oliver Ekman-Larsson buyout, are they going to know what to do with it?
Fortunately, a key difference in dogs and cars versus Canucks and cap space is that the Canucks are actually blessed with a bevy of great options from here on out. And one of those options is, for the first time in years, an opportunity to turn that cap space into even more cap space via the act of accrual.
First, a brief refresher on what it means to accrue cap space.
It’s important in this discussion to remember that cap space is calculated on a daily basis while in-season in the NHL, which is why teams must be compliant at all times.
On those instances in which a team finds themselves under the salary cap ceiling on a particular day, a portion of that amount functionally accumulates throughout the year, and teams that spend the whole season under the cap tend to accrue quite a bit of it.
That’s why every year we’ll see teams hit the Trade Deadline with dozens of millions of dollars in cap space. The math is a bit complicated, but as our friends at PuckPedia explain it, “A team’s cap hit is calculated based on each day of the season (186 days)… A team with $500K cap room to start the year can add a player with a $1,000,000 Cap Hit halfway through season (Day 93). Due to the way the cap is calculated, a player worth $1M annually will only count for $500,000 in actual cap charge through the remainder of the year.”
In other words, teams don’t really gain cap space through accrual so much as purchasing power, but the end result is much the same: teams that accrue cap space throughout a season wind up with more spending room by the Trade Deadline.
Which is something that the Vancouver Canucks haven’t been able to achieve in quite some time. In order to accrue cap space, a team has to be legitimately under the salary cap ceiling, which in this case means “not via long-term injured reserve relief space.” Vancouver fans know well that teams are able to exceed the salary cap via placing players on LTIR and gaining relief space, but ‘over the cap’ is still ‘over the cap,’ and teams that are ‘in LTIR’ are unable to accrue cap space.
So, essentially, ever since Micheal Ferland and his $3.5 million cap hit have been on perma-LTIR circa the 2019/20 season, accrual has basically been a nonstarter. And heading into 2023/24, they’re already expecting Tanner Pearson’s $3.25 million and Tucker Poolman’s $2.5 million to be headed to LTIR, so one might think that accrual is still off the table.
But post-OEL buyout, the numbers might finally line up to get the Canucks into the accrual zone once again.
As of this writing, the Canucks are approximately $6.44 million under the 2023/24 upper cap limit of $83.5 million. That includes both Pearson and Poolman at their full hits with no LTIR shenanigans as of yet.
Now, that total is derived from 19 active players (assuming Ilya Mikheyev is good to go); 13 forwards, four defenders, and one goaltender.
Put differently, the Canucks have $6.44 million in room to fill out their roster with four additional D and a backup goalie. Spend an average of less than $1.29 million on those players, and the Canucks will stay under the cap ceiling even with Pearson and Poolman on the books, and they will accrue cap space.
Of course, spending an average of $1.29 million on four defenders is probably not the way that the Canucks want to retool their blueline. Chances are very good that Patrik Allvin and Co. will be looking to spend more than that $6.44 million this offseason, and that will be where cap management comes into play.
As we mentioned, the simplest way to get more functional cap room is to just place Pearson and Poolman on LTIR, preferably after getting the roster as close to the cap as possible, a la last preseason’s expert manoeuvring.
But doing that removes the Canucks’ ability to accrue cap.
To accrue cap and spend more than $6.44 million, they’re going to have to cut some cap from the roster. But, suddenly, the math on that front is a lot more team-friendly.
Basically, to stay under the cap and enter 2023/24 in the accrual zone, the Canucks will need to bring in contracts that are no more than $6.44 million more expensive than what they send out. And that sounds a lot more doable.
For example, if the Canucks are able to flip Tyler Myers to another destination after his September signing bonus is paid without taking back another contract, suddenly the spending limit rises to $12.44 million.
Or trade, say, Brock Boeser and take back a $2.65 million contract in return, and you’re still all the way up to $10.44 million.
The point here is that, for once, improving the roster and putting the team in a position to accrue cap space are not mutually exclusive objectives for the Canucks. And accruing cap space is absolutely something that they should shoot for in a flat-cap world where financial flexibility is paramount.
No matter how the 2023/24 campaign shakes out, accrued cap space would come in handy. Should the Canucks find themselves back on a path to the playoffs, accrued cap space can then be freely spent on a deadline rental or two.
Should they find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, that accrued cap space could instead be turned toward taking cap dumps and facilitating rental retention in exchange for draft picks and prospects.
Either way, it’s nice to have options again. And all it cost was the most expensive non-compliance buyout in NHL history.
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