Within ten days of one another, the Vancouver Canucks announced the seven-year, $56 million extension of JT Miller and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly announced an expected large increase in the league’s salary cap ceiling.
Which might seem like mighty convenient timing, but it isn’t really. You see, the Miller extension kicks in at the start of the 2023/24 regular season, and Daly’s promised cap increase isn’t coming until the summer of 2024.
That leaves a one-season gap in which the Canucks can be expected to face a significant cap crunch (in addition to the less-significant one they’re currently facing for 2022/23). Will they be able to make it all the way to the 2024 offseason without having to trade away any more of their existing talent? Will they be able to do that and still make improvements to the roster?
CanucksArmy investigates below.
The Summer of 2023 and the outset of the 2023/24 season
Before the Canucks get to the higher salary cap ground of 2024, they’ll need to make it through both the 2022/23 and 2023/24 regular seasons. With the 2022/23 roster filled out (for now) and cap-compliant as soon as Micheal Ferland hits LTIR, we’re going to focus on everything salary-related that should occur between now and the 2024 offseason.
Still On The Books for 2023/24:
Tanner Pearson ($3.25 mil AAV)
JT Miller ($8 mil AAV)
Brock Boeser ($6.65 mil AAV)
Vasily Podkolzin ($925K AAV)
Elias Pettersson ($7.35 mil AAV)
Conor Garland ($4.95 mil AAV)
Jason Dickinson ($2.65 mil AAV)
Ilya Mikheyev ($4.75 mil AAV)
Curtis Lazar ($1 mil AAV)
Dakota Joshua ($825K AAV)
Total: ~$40.35 million for ten forwards
Quinn Hughes ($7.85 mil AAV)
Tyler Myers ($6 mil AAV)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($7.26 mil AAV)
Tucker Poolman ($2.5 mil AAV)
Jack Rathbone ($850K AAV)
Total: ~$24.46 million for five defenders
Thatcher Demko ($5 mil AAV)
Spencer Martin ($763K AAV)
Total: ~$5.76 million for two goalies
Overall Total: ~$70.57 million for 18 players
Coming Off The Books:
Some space is going to be opened up by a certain amount of dead cap coming off the books as of the 2023 offseason.
- Braden Holtby buyout: $1.9 million
- Jake Virtanen buyout: $500K
- Jaroslav Halak bonus overages: $1.25 million
- Micheal Ferland LTIR Contract: $3.5 million
Coming Onto The Books (Potentially):
With the Canucks very likely operating in LTIR for the entirety of the 2022/23 season, however, they can also look forward to some overages in 2023/24.
- Vasily Podkolzin bonus overage: Maximum of $850K
- Andrey Kuzmenko bonus overage: Maximum of $850K
- Nils Höglander bonus overage: Maximum of $300K
Total Space Leftover:
The salary cap ceiling is expected to be between its current limit of $82.5 million and a slight increase of $83.5 million for the 2023/24 season.
Without any bonus overages, the Canucks would be left with between $11.93 million and $12.93 million in cap space.
With maximum overages, the Canucks would be left with between $9.93 million and $10.93 million.
Unfortunately, much (or all) of that space is going to be taken up by necessary extensions.
Key Expiring RFAs:
Nils Höglander, Travis Dermott, Will Lockwood
Key Expiring UFAs:
Bo Horvat, Luke Schenn, Andrey Kuzmenko, Kyle Burroughs
Estimated Extensions and the 2023/24 Crunch:
Somewhere in that $10-12 million or so gap, the Canucks are going to have to fit in extensions for some key players before or during the summer of 2023, and that is where the cap crunch comes into play.
Bo Horvat can probably be counted on to take up between $6.5 million and $7 million of that space alone.
All three of Travis Dermott, Will Lockwood, and Kyle Burroughs can be safely assumed to either extend at $1 million or less, or be discarded.
The rest are more up in the air, but clearly, some sacrifices will have to be made.
Nils Höglander’s next salary will be highly dependent on his next season, but shouldn’t crack more than about $2 million.
As a pending UFA, Andrey Kuzmenko has more bargaining power, but is also a total mystery box at this point. His ask could be another $950K, or it might be $5 million.
One hopes that Luke Schenn is willing to stick around at a similar AAV to his current $850K, but he may attract more attention on the UFA market after his success alongside Quinn Hughes, resulting in a slight raise.
So, just to keep everyone around and maintain a roster of 23 NHL players, the Canucks are looking at extensions totalling at least $11 million, and probably a bit more than that, in reality.
It’s also worth repeating that this math does not account for any additional acquisitions or improvements.
It’s not the crunchiest crunch that the Canucks have ever experienced, but it is a crunch.
What can be done to survive the crunch?
First and foremost on the option board is the trading of one or more superfluous roster members.
The two most obvious names for the chopping block are Tanner Pearson and Jason Dickinson, but it might not be quite as simple as dealing them away to the highest bidder. With cap space tight all around the league, moving Pearson and/or Dickinson without taking any salary back might prove to be costly, or downright impossible.
As well, each player would have to be replaced on the roster by someone making at least league minimum. Dump both Pearson and Dickinson without taking back salary, and the Canucks are still earning about $3 million in cap space, max.
In other words, this would only solve the crunch if everything else had gone as well as possible (bargain extensions, no bonuses, etc).
Failing that, the Canucks will have to make a significantly more difficult decision to get through to the summer of 2024.
The idea of trading Tyler Myers has been floated, and should be possible. Clearing out his $6 million AAV would solve the crunch in one fell swoop, but it would also leave the Canucks down a top-four defender. Replacing Myers in the lineup is going to cost a lot more than a league-minimum contract. So, trading him might help the finances, but it could also move the Canucks further away from contention.
The same can be said for the dealing of Conor Garland, though his contributions are significantly more replaceable than Myers. Still, Garland was the Canucks’ best 5v5 player last season, and his loss would be felt.
The “nuclear option” would be to trade Horvat before his contract expires. With Horvat playing a unique role both on and off the ice, this option would negatively affect the Canucks more than any other on the table, but it would also grant them years of salary cap flexibility.
At this point, with so much still up in the air and to-be-determined, we’re not going to recommend any one path in particular. All we’re really trying to do here is illuminate the path ahead, and warn of the crunch-induced tough decisions to come in the next calendar year.
As we alluded to already, this is not unfamiliar territory for the Canucks, or even the worst cap crunch they’ve experienced of late.
But it still is, as Jim Rutherford says, something that will need to be figured out.