Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
How the NHL salary cap increasing to $87.675 million will affect the Vancouver Canucks
2 months ago
The good news keeps on coming for the Vancouver Canucks, and not all of it is directly related to what is happening on the ice.
The trades are great. The wins are better. But it’s the recently-promised increase to the NHL’s salary cap that just might make the most positive impact on the franchise long-term, because it couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Canucks.
At this week’s Board of Governors meetings, the NHL announced an estimated salary cap increase for the 2024/25 season, moving from the current $83.5 million up to $87.675. That’s a difference of $4.175 million, which might not sound like a lot, but is for a couple of different reasons.
The math heads in the audience will have no doubt already noticed that $4.175 million is exactly 5% of $83.5 million, and that’s not a coincidence. Back when the NHL and NHLPA achieved a memorandum of understanding on how the post-COVID financial recovery was going to work, they agreed to no more than a 5% increase to the salary cap at any one time.
Thus, in announcing an estimated increase of that amount, what the NHL is really telling us is that the players’ escrow debt is finally paid off in full, that league financials have returned to a point of stability, and that the owners are once again ready to open their pocketbooks to the fullest extent possible.
In other words, $4.175 million might not sound like a lot, but it’s actually the most possible, and the best possible sign of the league’s pandemic recovery.
It’s also great news in particular for the Vancouver Canucks, who will take every scrap of extra cap space they can get at this point.
Assuming that $87.675 million number remains true, here’s what the Canucks can expect this summer. A full $30.95 million is already coming off the books in the form of expiring contracts for all of Elias Pettersson, Filip Hronek, Ian Cole, Nikita Zadorov, Casey DeSmith, Tyler Myers, Teddy Blueger, Sam Lafferty, Dakota Joshua, and Mark Friedman.
Throw that extra $4.175 million on top, and that’s a grand total of $35.125 million in spending room for the 2024 offseason.
But don’t get too excited quite yet. Most of that money is already earmarked.
We’ll start with the automatics. Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s buyout penalty rises from $146,667 to $2,346,667, so there’s a good chunk gone right off the bat.
The Canucks don’t currently project to carry over any performance bonuses, so that helps. The remaining $33 million-ish can then be spent on player contracts.
One has to imagine, however, that Pettersson is taking home at least a third of that money, if not more. The franchise centre has had an up-and-down season, but is still very much on pace for another 100 points or so, and could wind up with a lot more than that. An early estimate of about $11 million feels on the safe side, but also highlights how much of that new cap space is gone the second Pettersson puts ink to paper.
The same could be said, to a lesser extent, for Hronek. He’s an RFA this summer, too, and is currently the third-highest scoring defender in the league with 25 points, to say nothing of his mondo minutes.
Previous estimates coming into the season had Hronek somewhere in the range of $6-6.5 million. This newfound success has to have increased the bill at least a little. By how much will be heavily dependent on how well Hronek maintains his level of play from here on out, but for now we’ll call it a nice even $7.5 million and hope for the best.
Therefore, in just two RFA signings, the Canucks will find themselves down by more than half of their available cap space.
That will leave them with nine NHL forwards signed (Pettersson, JT Miller, Brock Boeser, Andrei Kuzmenko, Conor Garland, Ilya Mikheyev, Nils Höglander, Pius Suter, and Phil di Giuseppe), four defenders (Hronek, Quinn Hughes, Carson Soucy, and Noah Juulsen), and one goalie (Thatcher Demko).
For those keeping track at home, that leaves about four forwards, four defenders, and a backup goalie left to sign or acquire or promote, and with about $14 or so million on hand with which to do it. That’s an average of just over $1.5 million per player.
Some of that will be accomplished by elevating prospects from within. Folks like Nils Åman, Arshdeep Bains, and Akito Hirose are all signed at less than $1 million and can all join the active roster full-time next year, increasing the spendable amount on each other player.
It’s those spots higher up the depth chart that will be the hardest to fill, however. Especially when it comes to maintaining that recently-refurbished blueline. One has to imagine that Zadorov is sticking around (for more money), but between he, Hronek, Hughes, and Soucy, the Canucks remain in desperate need of at least one additional top-four defender, and those don’t come cheap.
Maybe Cole or Myers are re-signed for additional stop-gap years, but that’s far from a perfect solution. What the Canucks could really use is someone who fits in as the 3D behind Hughes and Hronek, and such a player will almost certainly cost in excess of $6 million against the cap.
Bring that player in, and now the Canucks are down to $8 million to spend on another eight players, minus whatever raises they had already given to Zadorov or whomever. That’s not a lot of cash on hand.
So, it’s not hard to see why fans and media members who pay attention to the financial side of things would be celebrating that extra $4.175 million. Even with a maximum 5% increase to the cap, the situation will remain tight in Vancouver. But nowhere near as crunchy as it has been in the past, and nowhere near impossible territory.
In fact, one could take solace in the fact that the Canucks’ upcoming cap manoeuvring will largely come as a result of their attempting to manage the multitude of talents they have brought into the fold, and trying to balance their contracts toward maximum competitiveness.
That’s a lot easier to swallow than having to carefully navigate the cap due to one’s own contractual mismanagement.
Things get a little easier past the summer of ’24, too.
The 2025 offseason has just Boeser, Kuzmenko, Höglander, and Di Giuseppe coming off the books, and another predictable 5% increase to the cap should yield more than enough to cover any required raises (though it’s worth noting that OEL also gets a $2.5 million ‘raise’ this offseason). Demko comes due in 2026, but by then the cap should be getting pretty close to an even $100 million, and thus there will be ample room.
So long as they don’t bog themselves down with any unfortunate contracts between now and then, the 2024 offseason is shaping up to be the last financially-difficult one for the Canucks as a result of the pandemic, but not excessively difficult and nothing they can’t manage.
With the cap expected to rise to $87.675 million, they received all the help they’re going to get from the league.
The rest in in GM Patrik Allvin and Co.’s increasingly capable hands.
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