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Is it worth the Canucks’ while to trade Tucker Poolman’s contract this summer?

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
6 days ago
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
When last we met to talk salary cap, we made the exciting realization that – for the first time in our working memory – the Vancouver Canucks were on track to start the 2024/25 season below the actual cap ceiling.
 
Of course, a lot can change between now and October. But for the time being, it’s an accomplishment for the Vancouver front office worth celebrating, especially given the fact that they’ve been able to duck under the cap even with Tucker Poolman and his $2.5 million cap hit stuck on permanent LTIR.
As it stands, the Canucks have about between about $250,000 and $0 in cap space, depending on what they sign Arturs Silovs for and if he beats out Jiri Patera and his $775K cap hit in camp.
That leaves the Canucks not needing any LTIR relief space, and with the distinct possibility of accruing cap space as the season progresses.
But here’s where we come back to that “the more they stay the same” piece. The days of the Canucks’ cap crisis are over. They finally have genuine cap space. There might not be a single ‘bad’ contract on the books anymore.
And that all does very little to change the fact that the Canucks could still always use more cap space.
Yes, GM Patrik Allvin and Co. have done the impossible and unraveled a veritable tapestry of bad Jim Benning decisions, putting together a well-balanced roster and a set of well-balanced books. But now the challenge turns to taking this team and making it even better, and in most cases, that costs money.
Under the Benning Regime, every dollar counted because so many of them were already tied up in junk contracts. Under the Allvin Regime, every dollar counts because the Canucks are lining up to compete with the best and brightest (and most tax-sheltered) that the NHL has to offer.
Which brings us to a fairly neat and tidy option that the Canucks can pursue during the 2024 summer to open up a not inconsiderable amount of space: trading the final year of Poolman’s contract.
Poolman’s $2.5 million hit isn’t exactly onerous, but it is a big chunk of change to be dedicated to someone from whom concussion-related symptoms have robbed the ability to play at this level. If the Canucks were able to shuffle the contract over to someone else, they would instantly open up that additional $2.5 million in space – without impacting their roster one iota.
Normally, when a contract gets ‘dumped,’ the savings aren’t quite what they appear, because that player still needs to be replaced on the roster with another player and their salary. Not so with Poolman, who hasn’t been on the active roster since October of 2022. The Canucks already have eight other defenders on their roster. If they move Poolman’s contract, it’s $2.5 million of pure space, no bones about it.
What could the Canucks do with $2.5 million in extra space? Quite a bit, actually.
The 23 maximum spots on the 2024/25 roster are already filled out, cap-wise. Any additions at this point would require the removal of someone else from the roster – which only adds to the cap space available.
Say, for example, that the Canucks got out of Poolman’s deal and wanted to use the new space to acquire that oft-mentioned puck-moving defender. Said puck-mover would probably boot Mark Friedman off the roster, so the Canucks could then budget up to a $3.275 million cap hit (Poolman’s $2.5 mil + Friedman’s $775K) for the new addition.
That’s not superstar money, but it’s not chump change, either.
Alternatively, the Canucks could always bank the money instead, and that would make for compounding benefits. Being $2.5 million under the cap from now until the Trade Deadline would result in approximately $11 million of accrued cap space. That’s not chump change, that’s champ change.
In reality, the Canucks probably wouldn’t be able to accrue that amount in its entirety, due to additional cap costs brought on by temporary injury coverage and the like. But then having the space to easily cover injuries and still accrue cap space is a major boon in and of itself, and something well worth targeting.
So, that covers the benefits of trading Poolman’s contract. The obvious lingering question is: why would anyone agree to help the Canucks out like that?
Here, the Canucks would have to be smart and target very specific teams. Namely, those teams that are already guaranteed to use LTIR relief space and thus be “in LTIR” all season long. Those teams can add Poolman to their effective relief pool with no real consequences – he’d arrive providing $2.5 million in relief space, covering his entire cap hit and thus not affecting the books one iota.
The only real cost to the team acquiring Poolman, then, is needing to pay out whatever of his $3 million base salary that is not covered by insurance (an amount that is not public knowledge.)
A fine team to target would be the Washington Capitals. They’ve got a working cap hit for 2024/25 of over $101 million, which already exceeds the cap by some $13 million. But they’re planning to put Nicklas Backstrom ($9.2 million) and probably TJ Oshie ($5.75 million) into LTIRetirement before the season begins, which opens up enough relief space to get them effectively under the cap.
Adding Poolman puts them another $2.5 million over the cap, and offers another $2.5 million in relief space. Again, cap-wise, it’s a total wash. Real dollars are the only concern.
The Capitals aren’t the only team in a similar boat. The Vegas Golden Knights are, of course, going to be over the cap, and are going to get under it via Robin Lehner’s ongoing LTIR. The odds of Golden Knights doing any favours to the Canucks, however, are pretty slim.
The Philadelphia Flyers would work, too, as they are already dedicated to Ryan Ellis’ LTIR space.
Or maybe the Montreal Canadiens. They’re some $10 million below the cap with Carey Price’s LTIRed $10.5 million cap hit currently counted against the books, so there’s every chance they start the season below the ceiling and not in LTIR. But if they add between now and then, they’ll need to put Price on LTIR, and then they become another candidate to add Poolman.
Between those teams, and any others that find themselves in the LTIR zone, the Canucks should be able to find a suitor.
The only questions left to answer, then, are ones that we cannot. We don’t know how much of Poolman’s remaining salary is covered by insurance, and how much is left over for the team to cover. And without knowing that number, we can only guess at what that amount might be worth to another NHL owner in terms of the expected return.
If Poolman were owed another, say, $1 million, what’s that worth to the Washington Capitals? A fifth round draft pick? A fourth?
The question we feel more comfortable answering is this: is a mid-round draft pick worth the extra space that would be garnered by trading Poolman’s contract?
To that, the answer is an unmitigated ‘yes.’ Which is why the Canucks should, and probably have already begun to, pursue this path this offseason.

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