How the offseason salary cap works, and how it will affect the Vancouver Canucks this summer

Photo credit:© Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
11 months ago
You may have heard the news that the Vancouver Canucks are already over next season’s upper salary cap limit, and that’s true enough, from a certain perspective.
And, no doubt about it, that will eventually prove at least somewhat of a challenge for GM Patrik Allvin and Co. to overcome.
But it’s not quite as bad a situation as the headlines make it sound, and not quite yet, either.
Here’s the thing about next season…it’s not next season yet.
With the Stanley Cup Playoffs ongoing, it’s still 2022/23, and there’s not really a cap in the postseason, anyway.
And when the playoffs are over, it still won’t be 2023/24 yet. It’ll be the 2023 offseason, and the salary cap works a little bit differently in the summer.
As of this writing, and barring any last minute negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA, the cap ceiling for 2023/24 will be set at $83.5 million, a minimal raise from the $82.5 million of 2022/23.
Heading into the offseason, the Canucks’ roster has $50.459 million committed to 15 forwards, $28.785 million committed to six defenders, and $5 million committed to Thatcher Demko, for grand total of $85.094 million on the books for 2023/24.
That does put the Canucks, as our friends at PuckPedia pointed out, about $1.594 million over the $83.5 million limit for next year. And that’s only for a roster of 21 players, and it does not include salaries for RFAs Ethan Bear or Vitali Kravtsov, nor does it include a backup goaltender.
So why is that not quite a problem, or at least not a problem quite yet?
For one, because the offseason cap ceiling is not $83.5 million, nor is it the $82.5 million of the season prior. The offseason salary cap is always next season’s ceiling plus an extra 10%. This is something that is intended to give teams some summer wiggle room, and wiggle room is exactly what the Canucks need.
For each NHL team, then, the offseason cap is really set at $91.85 million. That gives the Canucks another $6 million in space (for the time being) above what they’ve already spent, and that should be plenty to get Bear and Kravtsov under contract and add a goalie to the roster, as well as whatever other minor roster shuffling is required. But it sure doesn’t leave much room for many improvements on top of the existing roster.
If they want to spend even $2 million on a free agent addition and fit them in under the offseason cap, the Canucks are going to have to carve out a little more room first. Fortunately, they’ll be able to do so with little issue and without any trades, if they so wish.
It’s a common misconception that players cannot be placed on LTIR during the offseason, but that’s not true.
A player can be placed on LTIR during the offseason, so long as the team provides a doctor’s note that states said player will still be injured at the start of the next season and for at least 10 regular season games and 24 calendar days. And if that happens, the Canucks can gain a little bit of an offseason salary relief pool, just like they had in the 2022/23 regular season.
Getting a doctor to agree that Tanner Pearson will not be healthy to start next season should not be a problem. At this point, it’s questionable whether or not Pearson will ever be able to play again.
The same can probably be said for Tucker Poolman, although we’ve heard a lot less about his condition, and he was skating back in March.
If both hit the offseason LTIR, the Canucks gain effective cap space, but not as much as they might hope. The basic formula works like this:
Take your current amount of cap space ($6.756 million for the Canucks under the offseason cap) and minus it from the upper limit ($91.85 million) to get your Accruable Cap Space Limit, which for the Canucks would be $85.094 million.
Add the salary going on LTIR (a maximum of $5.75 million) to that ACSL, and then take away the actual salary ceiling ($91.85), and that will leave you with the amount your team can exceed the offseason cap by.
If you’ve kept up with the math, you’ll find that the Canucks have…-$1.006 million in offseason salary relief available. Yes, negative a million. That can’t be right, can it?
It can, because LTIR relief space is not really practical for teams that already have cap space to burn, and as we noted at the outset, the Canucks still have more than $6 million on hand.
But that can change.
What the Canucks are going to want to do is add salary to the roster before putting anyone on LTIR. Maybe they extend Bear and Kravtsov, maybe they re-sign Kyle Burroughs, maybe they add from free agency when July 1 hits. When they get as close as possible to that $91.85 offseason cap ceiling (without crossing it), that’s the point at which they’ll want to put Pearson and/or Poolman on offseason LTIR. And then they’ll maximize their offseason salary relief, perhaps not to the full $5.25 million, but as close as possible. They can’t do that until they’re at least within Pearson+Poolman of the offseason ceiling, and they’re not there yet.
Of course, this is all only a temporary fix, and the Canucks will still need to get under the actual salary cap by opening day of 2023/24, and that cap is still $83.5 million. They should be able to exceed that ceiling by a certain amount through again placing Pearson and/or Poolman on LTIR, but that will still ultimately leave them with some serious cutting to do, especially if they make use of any extra relief space during the offseason.
But what this grant the Canucks is some flexibility. They could, for example, use offseason LTIR relief to add players to the roster, all the while having a deal in place to trade Tyler Myers once his September signing bonus is paid. That would mean room for the additions and Myers throughout the summer, and leave plenty of time to get Myers out of the way before opening day rosters were set.
Make no bones about it, the situation is still exceptionally tight, and Allvin and Co. will still have to manoeuvre exceptionally carefully this summer. But they’re not in quite as bad a situation as “already over next year’s cap” might suggest, and they do have (a little bit of) time and (a little bit of) flexibility on their side.
And, hey, that’s something.

Check out these posts...