The Canucks should weaponize the cap space from OEL’s buyout this season, not spend it

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
10 months ago
All it took was the most expensive non-compliance buyout in NHL history, and suddenly the Vancouver Canucks have something on hand that they have not for a good, long while: cap space.
Due to the structure of his former contract, the Oliver Ekman-Larsson buyout yields its greatest savings for the 2023/24 season, with OEL hitting the Canucks’ books for a hit of just $147K and thus creating an extra $7.113 million in spending room.
Prior to the buyout, the Canucks were technically already over the cap ceiling for next year. Now, they’re nearly $6.5 million below it, with a roster of 18 players already and four or five yet to be added.
It’s not a ton of space, but it’s enough to make them a lot more comfortable than they were before, and it’s a number that can expand in a couple of ways.
The current salary total does include both Tanner Pearson and Tucker Poolman, neither of whom is expected to return to the lineup anytime soon. Should they be placed on long-term injured reserve to start the season, the Canucks would gain up to $5.75 million in extra LTIR relief space.
Their replacements would then probably put the Canucks over the original cap, negating their ability to accrue any cap room throughout the season, but bringing their functional spending space all the way up to $12 million might make that more than worthwhile in a season in which financial flexibility is in short supply.
And then there’s Tyler Myers. The strong belief in both the media and fanbase is that Myers will be traded eventually, and most likely sometime after his September signing bonus has been paid, bringing his actual cost down to a cool $1 million while his cap hit stays at $6 million.
Dump Myers and the Canucks still have to replace him on the roster, but now they’ve got potentially up to $18 million to do so.
Or, to not do so.
Sure, it’s quite possible that the Canucks use whatever extra cap space they find to attempt to make improvements to their roster in the hopes of making it back to the playoffs as quickly as possible. Some might even go as far as to call this their probable approach.
And, in future years, it might be the right approach.
But it’s not right now. Right now, the Canucks should be planning to weaponize their excess cap space, not spend it.
The 2023/24 season is going to be a unique one, economically-speaking. We’re at the tail-end of the flat-cap era, and several years of no major increases to the ceiling have put a financial squeeze on just about everyone.
We know that the cap is going to start going up by leaps and bounds as soon as next year. But for some teams, that’s too long to wait. Those organizations that have their sights set on competing in the here and now are, consequently, as desperate to cut costs and eke out cap space as they’ve ever been. And those rare teams in possession of cap space are in a fleeting position to sell off what has quickly become the most prized commodity in the NHL to the highest bidder through a variety of methods.
That’s what it means to weaponize cap space, and that’s exactly what the Canucks should be doing. Try as they might, the odds of them putting together a contending roster in an offseason with little talent on the market are long. But the odds of them sustaining future contending rosters with cap-weaponizing moves made now are high if that’s the approach they choose to take.
The best, simplest, and most direct method of weaponizing cap space is the taking on of cap dumps. For the Canucks, this would mean one-year dumps in particular, as they’re probably not looking to eat up any space from a 2024 offseason in which they’ll need to re-sign Elias Pettersson.
Ideally, this method can result in two windfalls of future assets. The first comes to the Canucks as payment for their taking on of the cap dump, and the second comes when they retain on and flip the cap dump again closer to the Trade Deadline.
The list of contending teams with one-year contracts getting in the way of their roster-building is a long one this deep into the escrow period. There’s Matt Murray in Toronto, Anthony Mantha in Washington, and Jakub Vrana in St. Louis, just to name a trio on the more expensive side of things.
If such players can hold down a roster spot throughout the season, that’s just gravy. The real goal here is to accrue draft picks and prospects in exchange for cap space.
A second method involves the signing of UFAs on one-year deals, with the ultimate aim of building up their value throughout the season and then flipping them at the Trade Deadline for more picks and prospects.
This is pretty much what we had in mind when we published our list of 11 low-key, low-cost UFAs for the Vancouver Canucks to consider in 2023.
It’s been well-documented that the flat cap has created a bit of an economic disparity in the NHL, with top-tier players still making as much as ever and bottom-end role players thus needing to take a reduced chunk of what’s left. For this summer and this summer only, UFA role-players should be as cheap as they’ve ever been.
The Canucks could fill out their remaining roster spots with a handful of free agents, keep the ones they really like, and sell off the rest at the deadline for assets. Once again, with the cap not moving up until the offseason, cheap deadline rentals will be at a premium. Wise signings now can easily turn into draft pick surpluses later.
Which brings us back to Tyler Myers. True, we mentioned that the Canucks could deal him away sometime in September and gain an extra $6 million in cap space (minus the cost of his replacement), but if they’re able to make due with the space gleaned from the OEL buyout and Pearson and Poolman’s LTIR, perhaps holding on to him is the wiser move.
The Canucks are going to need someone to eat up minutes at RHD anyway, with Ethan Bear potentially out until late December. Myers could become an in-house version of a one-year cap dump rental, and the Canucks could use 2023/24 to rebuild his value as much as possible before dealing him at the Trade Deadline with serious retention.
If patience results in the Canucks getting a draft pick back for Myers, as opposed to giving one up to dump him, how could that be called anything other than a long-term win?
Yes, the Canucks could use their newfound cap space to sign UFAs…but there aren’t many, or any, on the open market that would truly make a difference for the franchise.
Yes, they could use that space to trade for more useful players than are available on the free agent market, but then the Canucks’ cupboard of future assets is still threadbare, and there’s not a lot they can afford to give up in return.
Instead, the best use of that cap space available in the present moment is to weaponize it, taking advantage of this unique time in NHL history by positioning themselves as a team selling the one thing that everyone else wants.
It won’t get the Canucks any closer to the playoffs in 2023/24, but it could go a long way toward ensuring that they get back there on a more consistent basis in the years to come.

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