Photo credit:© Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
It’s starting to look more and more like the Canucks will make minimal changes this offseason
9 months ago
It’s only May, and yet a multitude of factors have already combined to make it more difficult for the Vancouver Canucks to make changes in the summer of 2023.
We’ve already written at length about what we think the Canucks should do this offseason, but there’s always a gap between “should” and “could,” and those various factors have now widened that gap into a gulf.
Times are tight, and it could very well result in GM Patrik Allvin and Co. being unable to make anything more than minimal changes this summer, with the end result being the 2023/24 Canucks looking an awful lot like the Canucks that closed out 2022/23.
Many have already noted that just re-signing some key RFAs like Ethan Bear, Akito Hirose, and Nils Höglander — even to relatively cheap contracts — will bring the Canucks all the way up the $83.5 million projected cap for next season.
In fact, at this point, the Canucks are relying on both Tanner Pearson and Tucker Poolman remaining on LTIR to start the year just to stay under the cap. If either returns to health and the lineup, the team would have to cut cap just to ice a legal opening night roster.
In other words, making any real changes to this team is going to require the shipping out of cap space. And as we said at the outset, that’s starting to look more and more like a difficult undertaking.
There were initially some hopes that the NHL and NHLPA would be able to negotiate a higher cap ceiling for next season, even though the remaining escrow from the pandemic-truncated seasons has yet to be paid off.
But there’s been no real word on this since March, and talks seem to have died off after new NHLPA head Marty Walsh took over. Any hope of an extra increase now seems like a real longshot with free agency just 50 or so days away.
So, the cap is most likely remaining at $83.5 million for 2023/24, just one million more than it was last season.
For the Canucks, the majority of that increase is, unfortunately, already spoken for. They’ll be carrying $850,000 of bonus overages into next season — mostly thanks to Andrei Kuzmenko and his electric debut campaign — and that’s not something they can reduce or trade away.
Therefore, the actual, functional amount of extra cap space the Canucks will be receiving is $150,000. That won’t buy much.
The Canucks are, at least, ditching the Braden Holtby and Jake Virtanen buyout penalties and the Bo Horvat retention as of this offseason, but that extra cap is already spoken for through already-signed extensions.
As of right now, the Canucks have no cap space to work with, and no simple way to get more.
Which brings us back to cutting cap.
Many assumed, or perhaps hoped, that the Canucks would consider buying out Oliver Ekman-Larsson this offseason. But Allvin has already signalled quite clearly that a buyout is not in the plans, and so we can assume that Ekman-Larsson will be on the books and in the lineup next season at his (retained) $7.26 million cap hit — because nobody is trading for that contract anytime soon.
OEL’s frequent partner-in-crime, Tyler Myers, is next on the list of obvious cap casualties, but there’s a wrench in that plan, too. Previously, it was thought that Myers’ remaining $5 million signing bonus was due in July, as most signing bonuses typically are. It’s recently come to light, however, that the bonus is scheduled to be paid around September 15.
This was probably something written into the contract to make Myers more difficult to trade in the final year of the deal, and it’s definitely going to have that effect. By September, training camps have begun and rosters are largely set. Any team trading for Myers before then would be on the hook for his full $6 million bill. Any team trading for Myers after the bonus is paid would still need to fit his $6 million cap hit into their lineup. Neither prospect sounds particularly enticing.
There have been some rumours that the Canucks might be able to pay out that bonus early, so long as Myers and his camp agree to it. But it’s as of yet unconfirmed whether that would even be possible, and if it happened, it would be a first. As of now, we have to assume that the bonus will be paid in September, and that Myers is thus a lot less tradeable than previously assumed.
If it’s not OEL or Myers, the next cap casualty has to be Brock Boeser, right? Except Boeser has now come out and both publicly rescinded his trade request and spoken openly and passionately about his desire to stay in Vancouver. So that becomes a complicated decision, too.
Never mind the inherent difficulty of moving Boeser’s contract in the first place. The lack of a significant cap increase effects all teams, not just the Canucks, and makes Boeser’s $6.65 million cap hit tough to swallow for just about anyone.
There’s not much cap space to go around in the league as a whole, and that puts those few teams that have it at a distinct advantage. They’ll be able to spend their cap space on players they want, not players that other teams want to dump on them, or they’ll be able to demand ludicrous payment for taking on said dumps.
That means it will be expensive, and possibly onerously so, to trade Boeser — if the Canucks even want to do so in the first place.
The same can be said, to a lesser extent, about Conor Garland and his $4.95 million cap hit, which is definitely a little overpriced for his current level of production. Teams looking to add offence this summer will have an abundance of better, cheaper options available, and that will make moving Boeser and/or Garland exceedingly tricky.
There are other, more minor opportunities available to cut cap. Anthony Beauvillier is almost certainly tradeable at a profit, with just one year remaining on his contract at a $4.15 million cap hit. But trading Beauvillier doesn’t open up nearly enough space to make significant changes to the roster.
Beyond that, we’re just talking nickels and dimes.
All of which combines to make the likeliest outcome of the Canucks’ 2023 offseason…not much. The circumstances at play have combined to severely limit the team’s already limited opportunities for change, and the odds are now on more substantial alterations having to wait until the summer of 2024, or later.
Which is, ultimately, perfectly fine.
Look, nobody expected the Canucks to turn things around in a single offseason. In fact, most hope that they won’t even attempt to, because such short-term planning has rarely gone well in the past.
Retools take time, and they do not need to be completed in one fell swoop. Going into 2023/24 with largely the same roster, and hoping for the best, doesn’t move the plan off-track. So long as the Canucks keep an eye forward to 2024, and avoid taking on any further complicating contracts in the interim, more cap space will open up by then.
The cap ceiling should increase. Myers’ contract will be at an end. Boeser and Garland will be more tradeable.
And, really, the 2024 offseason is a much more important one to have space in than 2023. Elias Pettersson’s next contract comes due then, there is a much better crop of UFAs available, and the Canucks will (hopefully) be one year closer to contention by that point, too.
Change is coming to the Canucks. It just might not be yet.
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