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Sizing up the Canucks’ best options for creating cap space between now and the NHL Trade Deadline

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
4 months ago
Sometimes, the rumours really write themselves.
We’ve known for a while that the Vancouver Canucks are looking to make some noise as they approach the 2024 Trade Deadline on March 8. We’ve also known since early October that the Canucks had virtually zero functional cap space, even with the ditching of Tanner Pearson and Anthony Beauvillier and the use of LTIR relief space.
Thus, it should really come as no surprise that the latest round of deadline-related speculation essentially amounts to “the Canucks are looking to cut cap from the roster so as to create space for a major acquisition or two.”
It almost goes without saying, but it’s also a lot easier said than done.
The Canucks used to have problems cutting cap because they had an abundance of high-priced players that nobody wanted. Your Loui Erikssons, your Jay Beagles, your Oliver Ekman-Larssons. Nowadays, the issue is almost exactly the opposite.
The Canucks are probably having a tough time cutting cap because they don’t really want to give up anyone on the roster that has carried them to first place in the NHL, a position they still hold almost two-thirds of the way into the 2023/24 season.
It’s what they call a good problem to have. But if the Canucks really want to be buyers at the 2024 Trade Deadline, it’s a problem they’ll need to solve all the same.
Below, we’ll take a look at what we feel are the handful of realistic “departures” available to the Canucks as they look to cut cap, and debate the merits of moving on from each one.
 
Andrei Kuzmenko
Contract: $5.5 million cap hit expiring in 2025 [12-team NTC]
It’s no surprise that Kuzmenko comes in at the top of our list, nor that he is the current Canuck most speculated to be traded within the season. On a team that is gelling this well, Kuzmenko sticks out like a sore thumb, and although he’s seen some improvement of late, he still has the appearance of a piece that just doesn’t quite fit.
He’s also got the convenient combination of a large enough cap hit to make a major difference for the Canucks if it were converted into cap space, and enough theoretical value around the league to not count as a cap dump.
As you saw above, the Chicago Blackhawks are already attached to Kuzmenko in rumours, and it’s hard not to see the fairly obvious fit. The basic idea seems to be that the Blackhawks (or someone else) take on Kuzmenko for the price of a mid-round pick or B- prospect, and then the Canucks turn around and transform that new space into an upgrade at forward, like an Elias Lindholm or a Jake Guentzel.
It’s the option that takes the least away from the current team, and it creates ample space for an acquisition or even two. As such, trading Kuzmenko will remain the Canucks’ number one option for clearing cap space.
 
 
Nikita Zadorov
Contract: $3.75 million cap hit expiring in 2024
Hearing Zadorov’s name crop up in cost-cutting rumours was significantly more surprising than hearing Kuzmenko’s. After all, Zadorov has only been a Canuck for a few months, and while he hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire since arriving, he does seem to fit the roster well and has been a positive contributor. He’s playing 18 minutes a night and starting to throw devastating checks again, and those are two things that should never be sneezed at.
That said, Zadorov is a pending UFA, and one who the Canucks cannot afford to give much of a raise after this season. He’s also, technically-speaking, the fourth LHD on the depth chart behind Quinn Hughes, Ian Cole, and a healthy Carson Soucy.
That’s not currently an issue, what with Cole’s ability to play on the right. But should the Canucks acquire another defender, like Chris Tanev for example, we can imagine a scenario in which Zadorov becomes an occasional healthy scratch. At that point, parting with him starts to make more sense.
Then again, when one thinks about Canucks they are excited to see unleashed under the increased physicality of the playoffs, Zadorov has to be number one on the list. Do the Canucks really want to part with their most intimidating player right before the postseason? It’s a question worth asking.
Earlier in the year, the Calgary Flames struggled to trade Zadorov at full price, leading to the Canucks swooping in and picking him up for cheap. We think he’ll be easier to move now, thanks to the strong possibility of a seller team trading for him and then flipping him with retention at a profit. At half-price, Zadorov would be a mighty attractive depth addition for any contending team.
 
Tyler Myers
Contract: $6 million cap hit expiring in 2024 [10-team NTC]
Myers has fully completed the transition from “player nobody would trade for” to “player the Canucks would really rather keep.”
It’s still true that Myers is not playing up to his $6 million cap hit, something he’s arguably never done throughout the length of his contract. But he is playing his best hockey as a Canuck, and he is playing more than 19 minutes a night with mostly positive results. Myers is the second-ranking RHD on the depth chart, and after him it’s Noah Juulsen.
Trading Myers now leaves the Canucks way too short on genuine right-handers, and especially those that can realistically skate anywhere near the top-four. Should the Canucks pick up someone like Tanev, then Myers obviously Myers becomes more expendable, but even then they’d probably rather keep him on hand as injury insurance.
Like Zadorov, we believe Myers is now moveable, even if only as a piece to be retained on and then flipped at the deadline. But as strange as it may sound to say, Myers is currently a less replaceable piece on this roster than Zadorov, and as such will probably be held on to – even if his cap hit would open up all the room the Canucks might need to operate.
 
Ilya Mikheyev
Contract: $4.75 million cap hit expiring in 2026 [12-team NTC]
Offensively-speaking, Mikheyev is having almost as difficult a year as Kuzmenko. He finished the month of January with just three points in 13 games, and is on pace to finish the season with fewer than 20 goals and 40 points.
But unlike Kuzmenko, Mikheyev can contribute in ways other than putting up points. He remains one of the Canucks’ most capable two-way forwards, and he still possesses that game-breaking speed.
His versatility probably makes him someone the Canucks want to hang on to, especially as they seek to reconfigure their forward roster via the addition of at least one top-six player. Depending on who they pick up, Mikheyev could be a potential linemate. Or, he could be a candidate to drop down a line and form a defensively-oriented unit with someone like Pius Suter. Or perhaps he takes a turn with JT Miller and Brock Boeser.
The point is that having Mikheyev around gives the Canucks options, and those options are probably worth enough to not trade Mikheyev for cap space unless they absolutely have to.
Would Mikheyev even be moveable? Two extra years of term on his contract complicates the issue, but only a little. He’s got enough scoring history and obvious skill to ensure that somebody would be willing to pay for him. It’s just that “somebody” probably also includes the Canucks for the time being.
 
Tucker Poolman???
Contract: $2.5 million cap hit expiring in 2025
We know what many of you are screaming at their keyboards right now, but injured players can be traded in the NHL. In fact, it happens all the time.
Trading Poolman would cut $2.5 million off the Canucks cap both this year and next. However, it wouldn’t give them much in the way of functional cap space, as they’ve been able to access the majority of Poolman’s cap hit as LTIR relief space thanks to some clever cap management.
All trading Poolman would do is give the Canucks some additional flexibility, and that’s something that probably becomes more useful in the offseason than it does at the Trade Deadline.
We can imagine a scenario in which the Canucks flip a mid-round pick to a team with plenty of space during the summer in order for them to take on Poolman’s last year, allowing them access to their full cap amount and giving them the ability to accrue cap space, but we don’t think it will be anywhere near a priority within the season.
 
Anything Else?
Yeah, not really.
None of the All-Stars are going anywhere. Nor is Conor Garland after becoming the centrepiece of the Canucks’ most effective and consistent line.
Filip Hronek and Cole play far too important a role. Casey DeSmith needs to be held onto for goaltending insurance and to rest Thatcher Demko down the stretch.
Nobody else, save for the players we’ve mentioned, makes enough money for their departure to make a difference.
The one exception we can maybe think of is Soucy, who has been in and out of the lineup with injury and has thus been effectively replaced by a few of the other blueliners. But with Soucy signed for two more years and incredibly effective when in the lineup, we just don’t see him as a realistic trade piece at this time, not with other options on the table.

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