How much cap space will it cost to retool the Canucks’ blueline?

Photo credit:© James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 year ago
Welcome back to our latest and final (for now) edition of Retooling the Blueline, where we intend to cap things off for the time being…with the pun fully intended.
Thus far, we’ve taken a good, deep dive into what exactly the Vancouver Canucks need to accomplish in order to refurbish their defence corps into a more competitive shape, and found it to be a mighty undertaking. We’ve already looked at the 2023 and 2024 UFA classes, we’ve taken a couple of looks at potential trade targets for the summer, and we’ve identified more than two dozen defenders who could be part of a possible long-term solution.
But just identifying those defenders isn’t even half the battle. A much greater challenge will be picking from the list and then actually getting those players on the Vancouver blueline. And that’s going to cost cap space, at the very least, and it’s probably going to cost some assets, too.
Those are both things that the Canucks are a little short on at the moment.
Below, we’ll break down the Canucks’ current cap structure, prognosticate a few additional signings, and come to a conclusion about how much space the Canucks actually have to operate…or, to be more accurate, how much space they’re going to need to clear before they can do any operating at all!

The Current Cap Structure

Before we get too into the nitty-gritty, let’s take a look at the cap commitments currently on the books for the Canucks.
Andrei Kuzmenko ($5.5 mil)Elias Pettersson ($7.35 mil)Anthony Beauvillier ($4.15 mil)
Ilya Mikheyev ($4.75 mil)JT Miller ($8 mil)Brock Boeser ($6.65 mil)
Vasily Podkolzin ($925K)Nils Åman ($884K)Conor Garland ($4.95 mil)
Dakota Joshua ($825K)Sheldon Dries ($763K)Phil di Giuseppe ($775K)
Vitali Kravtsov (RFA)Jack Studnicka ($763K)Nils Höglander (RFA)
Presumed LTIR: Tanner Pearson ($3.25 mil)
Forward Total: $46.285 mil
Quinn Hughes ($7.85 mil)Filip Hronek ($4.4 mil)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($7.26 mil)Tyler Myers ($6 mil)
Akito Hirose (RFA)Ethan Bear (RFA)
Jack Rathbone ($850K)Christian Wolanin ($775K)
Presumed LTIR: Tucker Poolman ($2.5 mil)
Defence Total: $27.135 mil
Thatcher Demko ($5 mil)
Spencer Martin ($763K)
Goaltending Total: $5.763 mil
Roster Total: $79.183 mil
So, just to return the same basic roster that the Canucks ended the season with for another year, the Canucks will find themselves within about $3.5-5.5 million of the expected (but still unannounced) salary cap for 2023/24.
And that’s without any improvements or additions.
It’s actually a little more tight than we’re portraying here, too. One, because there’s currently no salary being counted for any of Ethan Bear, Akito Hirose, Vitaly Kravtsov, or Nils Höglander, each a pending RFA who will almost certainly be qualified and handed a new extension.
Two, because we’re totally discounting the existence of Tanner Pearson and Tucker Poolman.
As of now, it’s expected that both will start, and probably finish, the 2023/24 season on the LTIR. But that doesn’t mean that their cap hits disappear. Instead, they remain on the books, and the Canucks are given a certain amount of LTIR relief space with which to exceed the cap ceiling.
But being “in LTIR” means that the Canucks cannot accrue any daily cap space throughout the entire season, leaving them at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to roster movement.
In order to get “out of LTIR,” the Canucks would either need to ditch those contracts, or start out the year with a roster that is at least Pearson and Poolman’s combined $5.75 million under the cap.
That ain’t happening.
So, another season of using LTIR space is almost a certainty at this point, and there’s thus even less flexibility available for additions.
But before we worry about adding anyone, let’s talk about getting those few remaining unsigned players under contract.

Predicting a Few Key Re-Signings

We can’t really prognosticate next season’s cap without predicting a few signings yet to come. Honestly, such a topic should probably make up its own article entirely, but we’re going to do the quick and dirty version here for practicality’s sake.
The key piece here is obviously Bear, who the Canucks are counting on to play a role on their right side for at least another season, if not more. Bear will be looking for term, and the Canucks will be looking to keep the cost down.
Let’s say that they meet in the middle at a three-year, $3 million AAV extension.
Next up is Hirose, who showed extremely well at the end of this season, but is still an entirely new quantity. The Canucks will try to get at least a two-year “bridge” out of Hirose, and the cost should remain relatively low. Let’s say two years at about $900K AAV, which is going to be sort of a going rate for us today.
We’re going to hand the exact same contract to Höglander, who definitely showed enough to be back in the picture for the big leagues next year, but now has to “prove it” at the NHL level. Two years, $900K AAV for him, too, although we’ll understand if he pushes for just a single-year deal.
Last comes Kravtsov, who honestly didn’t impress much after his acquisition from the Rangers, and could very well end up unqualified if his commitment to North American hockey wavers. Assuming he’s all the way in, Kravtsov probably didn’t do anything to earn anything more than a one-year extension at his current AAV of $875K. No $900K for him.
But we will hand another $900K to Kyle Burroughs. He’s a pending UFA, and doesn’t really fit into our discussion here, but we do think he’s earned another contract, and we’re still fairly confident that he’ll ultimately boot one of Jack Rathbone or Christian Wolanin off the opening night roster for 2023/24. We’ll give him another two years, too.

The Assumed Roster at the Outset of the 2023 Offseason

With that, we can update our roster and its associated cap costs.
Andrei Kuzmenko ($5.5 mil)Elias Pettersson ($7.35 mil)Anthony Beauvillier ($4.15 mil)
Ilya Mikheyev ($4.75 mil)JT Miller ($8 mil)Brock Boeser ($6.65 mil)
Vasily Podkolzin ($925K)Nils Åman ($884K)Conor Garland ($4.95 mil)
Dakota Joshua ($825K)Sheldon Dries ($763K)Phil di Giuseppe ($775K)
Vitali Kravtsov ($875K)Nils Höglander ($900K)
Presumed LTIR: Tanner Pearson ($3.25 mil)
Forward Total: $47.297 mil
Quinn Hughes ($7.85 mil)Filip Hronek ($4.4 mil)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($7.26 mil)Tyler Myers ($6 mil)
Akito Hirose ($900K)Ethan Bear ($3 mil)
Jack Rathbone ($850K)Kyle Burroughs ($900K)
Presumed LTIR: Tucker Poolman ($2.5 mil)
Defence Total: $31.16 mil
Thatcher Demko ($5 mil)
Spencer Martin ($763K)
Goaltending Total: $5.763 mil
Roster Total: $84.22 mil ($89.97 mil without LTIR relief)
Apologies to Wolanin and Jack Studnicka, who we’ve cut from our theoretical team due to roster constraints.
The cap constraints remain.
Though negotiations are still underway between the NHL and NHLPA, the 2023/24 cap ceiling is expected to rise to at least $83.5 million, and perhaps as high as $85.5 million.
What this means is that the Canucks might already be functionally over the cap, and if not, they’re close.
Now, this won’t truly be a problem. All it takes is the demotion of a couple waiver-exempt players at the start of the season to get around a $1 million or so cap overage.
If the Canucks want to stick with the status quo, they can find a way to make it work.
But this is Retooling the Blueline, a series of articles premised on the idea that the Canucks are going to spend this upcoming summer at least getting a start on the reshaping of their defence corps.
How the heck are they going to do that, when just bringing back the entirely unimproved roster will have them bumping up against the cap?
Well, by cutting salary, of course.

How Much Space Will They Need?

Let’s try to figure out how much additional space the Canucks will need to come up with.
The kinds of defenders that Vancouver should be targeting, as outlined in previous articles, will not come cheap. If they’re adding two more top-four D, they can expect those defenders to carry a combined cap hit of at least $10 million, if not more. Obviously, they’ll replace someone on the roster and save on the cap through that alone, but a lot of space needs to be carved out for them, all the same.
Then there are any necessary upgrades to the forward corps. That’s probably a whole ‘nother article, but we do know that the Canucks are interested in a 3C of some sort. Let’s allocate an extra $2.5 million for that, at least.
Then there’s something that’s not coming quite yet, but needs to be planned for all the same: Elias Pettersson’s extension. He’ll be picking up a raise of at least $3 million, if not more. We’ll stick with the conservative estimate for now. They could wait until next summer to clear that space, but it still needs to be accounted for now, and contracts that will get in the way of it need to be avoided.
All in all, it’s looking as though the Canucks will need to find $15 million or more in cap space to make the improvements to their team that most would deem necessary.
Again, they don’t have to accomplish this all at once…but there’s no time like the present.

How Can They Get It?

Fortunately, the Canucks have a handful of avenues to explore when it comes to cutting cap.
The easiest, and most certain, of those paths is the trading of Tyler Myers. He’s got a $5 million signing bonus due soon and is only on the books for $1 million of salary thereafter. Even if it’s for free, someone will take him at that point.
Just swapping Myers out for another $6 million defender has to be a net gain, and it’s something that is probably inevitable in the long run.
There’s also the potential buyout of Oliver Ekman-Larsson to consider. It’s not as clean a cut, but it does grant the Canucks almost $7 million in immediate cap relief for the 2023/24 season. That amount of relief dwindles over the years to come, until it starts costing the Canucks a $2.13 million penalty for four years after OEL’s contract would have otherwise ended, but the cap should be higher by that point, anyway.
Just ditching one of Myers and Ekman-Larsson and replacing them with a higher-quality blueliner goes a long way toward improving team defence. Replacing both of them goes even farther…but it still leaves the Canucks a little short on cap space.
Any additional cuts will have to come from the forward corps, and that probably means the winger trio of Brock Boeser, Conor Garland, and Anthony Beauvillier.
Here, the salaries probably work in the inverse of potential trade interest. Boeser, the most expensive of the three, will draw the least interest on the trade market, Beauvillier will draw the most, and Garland should come somewhere in between (though the length of his contract could be a deterrent). Ideally, little or no salary returns, and any of the three that are traded are replaced by prospects from within or cheap signings, either way at a rate of less than $1 million per.
Trade Myers, buyout OEL, and trade one of these wingers, and the Canucks might have effectively gained their $15 million in cap space right there.
If ownership is unwilling to buyout Ekman-Larsson, then the $15 million is still attainable via trading Myers and any two of the three wingers. Again, so long as no or little salary comes back in the exchange. Easier said than done.
Another important factor here will be the avoidance of any further undesirable contracts in the interim. Overpay on a UFA or two, and the Canucks are right back where they started. Restraint will be key here, and any spending should be focused on the sorts of blueline assets we’ve already highlighted.
And another cost worth considering is the non-salary cost the Canucks might incur in the acquisition of said blueliners. If trading Boeser, for example, gains more cap space, but trading Beauvillier yields a draft pick or two that can subsequently be packaged in exchange for a defender, maybe trading Beauvillier is ultimately the wiser move. The Canucks will need to strike a delicate balance in all decision-making moving forward.
Unfortunately, the errors of the past have removed all margin for further errors. Retooling the Blueline won’t be easy, and it’s definitely going to be tight, one way or another…but that doesn’t mean it’s not doable.

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