With less cap space than any NHL club, the Canucks’ salary cap situation is daunting
By Faber9 months ago
As they say on the popular TV show Pawn Stars — cash is king.
We are in the worst cap crunch in NHL history and the Canucks are at the bottom of the barrel in terms of navigating their way through the salary cap era.
A tweet from PuckPedia saw a lot of reaction as they released the team pages and the cap picture for the upcoming 2023-24 season with a projected $83,500,000 salary cap.
A lot can change before next year’s season and the Canucks will be able to gain some space with Tucker Poolman and Tanner Pearson expected to begin the season on long-term injury reserve.
Micheal Ferland’s contract will be gone and there will be no LTIR cap savings there. We also see the Canucks gain some space after Jake Virtanen and Braden Holtby’s combined buyout money of $2,400,000 comes off the books as well. Bo Horvat’s $1,375,000 retained salary is now off the books.
So, a safe question to ask is, ‘How are the Canucks in an even worse salary cap situation next season?‘
Andrei Kuzmenko and J.T. Miller are seeing significant raises — we can start there.
Last season, Kuzmenko and Miller’s combined cap hit was $6,200,000. The 2023-24 season will see Kuzmenko and Miller combine for a cap hit of $14,350,000 — more than doubling what they cost this past season. Kuzmenko hit all of his “A” level bonuses on his entry-level contract and because the Canucks were in LTIR this past season, his entire $850,000 bonus will be on the Canucks’ cap for the 2023-24 season.
The team also has restricted free agents in Ethan Bear, Nils Höglander, Travis Dermott, Akito Hirose, Jett Woo, and Vitali Kravtsov — as well as unrestricted free agents in Kyle Burroughs, Collin Delia and depth defenceman Noah Juulsen.
We’ve heard general manager Patrik Allvin talk about the team looking to upgrade the third-line centre position and we all know that the defence needs help. We do believe that Spencer Martin will be the backup to Thatcher Demko in net but many hope there’s an upgrade in the backup position as well.
It just seems extremely difficult for the Canucks to be able to make upgrades to their team without giving up assets.
The route of attaching young players, prospects or draft picks in a trade to free up money feels inevitable at this point. And those who follow the Canucks’ prospect pipeline (and maybe miss the weekly Blackfish reports) know that the prospect pool has a limited amount of valuable assets.
The general vibe we get from the Canucks’ recent roster moves as well as comments from the management group is that this team is not interested in taking a step back. They want to continue to build for the future but next season’s cap situation makes it extremely hard to upgrade the team while staying cap compliment and building toward the future.
It’s almost like those silly games on your phone à la ‘Clash of Clans’ or ‘Boom Beach’ where you have a lot of fun at the start but then get to a point where you have to pay for gems to get upgrades done.
Unfortunately for the Canucks, they can’t buy any gems.
The Canucks aren’t at a crossroads for their future. They are tiptoeing down both the competitive road and the building road. They’ve taken a few steps down each road but then backtracked to the crossroad and are now inching a foot down each road.
Try to compete
For the record, this is what we think the Canucks are going to do. We don’t think their main focus is to build for the 2024-2030 seasons. It more looks like they want to be competitive as of next season.
And hey, that’s totally fine. They want to be competitive and we all want to see the Canucks in the playoffs. That would be great and we are coming up on 3000 consecutive days without a playoff game at Rogers Arena.
The problem we see with trying to compete next season is that it’s going to cost you. To get back to our crossroads reference, the Canucks are at a point now where they can’t just pick a road and walk down it. They will need to cut off a leg that is going down the other road after they make their selection of being competitive or building for the future.
To be competitive next season, the team will need some cap space to be able to improve.
Buying out OEL is the quickest way to gain cap space for the 2023-24 season. It would give the Canucks an added $8,083,333 of cap space.
That is more than enough to find a solid third-line centre as well as a backup goalie and even leaves space for a swing at a depth defenceman.
It sounds fine for now but the cap hit that we will see in the following seven seasons is the exact opposite of what a team who is building wants to have on their books.
There’s always the option to trade away some of the players who have higher cap hits.
Anthony Beauvillier, Conor Garland and Brock Boeser are all wingers who are making between $4,150,000-$6,650,000 next season. That type of cap space would certainly help the team upgrade their weaker positions and even if you have to retain one of those players, you can free up some space and potentially even get a draft pick or prospect in return. This is a move that has the potential to make you less competitive but helps build for the future. It also has the potential to upgrade your team with the ability to add a defenceman or a centre. Overall, this is the best way for the Canucks to go down the competitive road while also sort of building for the future.
Try to build
If the Canucks want to focus on building for the future, they will need to continue to get younger and probably need to take a few calculated risks.
Retaining heavily on a trade involving Garland, Beauvillier, Boeser, or Tyler Myers would hopefully get you an asset back and though your team would be worse in the meantime, the Canucks would create cap flexibility as well as add an asset for the future. This would be good and certainly helps build for the future.
The worry here is that Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Thatcher Demko, and whoever else you want to include in the core are all about to be hitting the expected peak of their NHL careers and if this team was managed better over the past four or five years, the Canucks would be in a very strong spot to be a competitive team in the league with a young and exciting core.
Instead, the Canucks are a team with a young and exciting core that is surrounded by overpaid defencemen and investing more than 25% of their cap space into four wingers.
The addition of Filip Hronek is an interesting move by this team. He certainly helps the team become more competitive and he could also be looked at as a building piece. The problem is that the team once again traded away high draft picks on a player who is likely to see a big raise after the 2023-24 season.
It’s difficult to comprehend when you take a broad view of the Canucks’ cap situation but with all the balls in the air, you can see that the Canucks need to execute the perfect plan to get the best out of this young group. The Canucks are on a tightrope and every step needs to be straight ahead with their plan leading the way.
There’s just one huge problem.
We have no idea what the Canucks’ plan actually is.
They clearly want to be in the playoffs next season but also don’t want to limit what they can do in the future by making extremely near-sighted roster moves. We’re not likely to see the Canucks trade Jonathan Lekkerimäki or Aatu Räty, but they might, and it wouldn’t shock us because we don’t know the true direction that this team is looking to go in. The management group can tell us that they want to build, and build, and build but as Lego enthusiast David Quadrelli can tell you, not all builds are good.
It is certainly possible that the Canucks can upgrade their team for the future this offseason, it’s also very possible that the Canucks can upgrade their team for next season.
It’s just very possible that they have to sacrifice one to get the other on both counts. The sacrifice cost is so extremely high in the NHL due to the current cap situation of the league and the Canucks don’t have a ton of easily-moveable assets under contract.
We might see Tyler Myers traded this summer. But does that cost you Nils Höglander?
The Canucks may move Conor Garland, but does that cost you in dead cap space during the 2024-25 and 2025-26 seasons due to retention?
Now that we are going in circles about the future of the team, it feels like a good time to end this article. This is how the future feels for the Canucks, a lot of the hope ends up being overshadowed by poor decisions made in the past and it feels like patience has been the biggest culprit that has gotten them into the position that they are in.
If the Canucks want to be competitive, they will need to be patient or perfect.
As much as it pains me and I assume a lot of fans, patience feels like it may be required instead of taking huge swings in search of perfection. There’s nothing wrong with taking a few pitches and getting on base.
A good step in the right direction would be not hurting their current cap situation anymore this offseason.
Let’s see what this management group can get done this offseason because they didn’t accomplish a lot of what they wanted last summer and it’s not like the league-wide cap situation got any easier to navigate.
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