The NHL is a copycat league. When one organization finds success, others around the league will take note and attempt to recreate it, hoping to find some of that magic. In a league ruled by the salary cap, allocating your money efficiently is the name of the game. The Canucks have done a terrible job at this in recent memory and it’s shown in their results on the ice.
The Florida Panthers have had one of the most successful rebuilds in recent memory as they’ve gone from basement dweller to Stanley Cup contender in the span of a few years. While a large part of their newfound success can be attributed to star players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, they’ve also received significant contributions from a variety of reclamation projects.
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The Panthers have been the model NHL franchise at finding gems that can contribute on a cheap contract. Key players like Carter Verhaeghe and Mason Marchment were acquired for next to nothing and have played well above their cheap contracts. Getting value from these players has allowed the Panthers to create a great roster even with some less than ideal contacts on their team — goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky at $10 million a year is a great example.
Not every contract in the NHL is going to provide surplus value, but something the best teams around the league do well is overpay their top players. Many of the Canucks’ worst contracts are being spent on mediocre players who could be replaced without a second thought. Overpaying $2 million dollars on a player worth $5 million, something similar to the Ekman-Larsson situation, for example, is a much easier pill to swallow than overpaying $2 million on a player worth the league minimum.
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Eliminating the middle class is the best way to build a competitive NHL roster that will contend for multiple Stanley Cups. The Canucks currently have far too many players stuck in that mid-tier salary range that aren’t making an impact and they need to go. Once gone, the team needs to make sure that they aren’t signing players like that anymore, either handing out big dollars to elite players or bargain hunting for depth pieces.

What this means for the Vancouver Canucks

As the Canucks go ahead and start their retool under Jim Rutherford, changing their approach to the salary cap will be near the top of the list of priorities. There are many poor contracts on the Canucks where players are being paid more than they’re worth, from the top to the bottom of the lineup. One of the biggest issues is a glut of overpaid, mediocre players in the middle of the lineup.
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Jason Dickinson, Travis Hamonic, and Tucker Poolman can all fit into this category. These are all players that are getting more than $2.5 million per year yet aren’t producing significantly more than a replacement-level player. Tanner Pearson is another player that has more of an on-ice impact, yet could also be included in this group.
This season, the Canucks have found a few players that are making near the league minimum yet have outperformed their contract. Luke Schenn and Kyle Burroughs have both been very solid on the blueline, arguably better than Poolman and Hamonic regardless of salary. Juho Lammiko has been a similar player in the forward group.
The Canucks need to figure out a way to get rid of the players in the first group and replace them with players similar to the second group. This will allow them to worry less about overpaying for the big difference-makers atop the lineup. They need to be giving auditions to tons of depth players and beefing up their professional scouting so that they can identify the next Verhaeghe.
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Why the Tyler Myers (and Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a lesser degree) contract is fine

The Tyler Myers contract is one of the most criticized contracts in Vancouver. From the moment he signed his deal, people cried out about how he isn’t worth the $6 million he makes every year. However, while Myers has been far from spectacular, he has been solid and is a legitimate top-four defenceman for the Canucks. While probably not worth $6 million a year, it’s fair to say that at $4 million he would be a great deal.
The Myers contract is an overpay, but at least he plays an important role for the Canucks. He’s a net positive player while on the ice and the fact that he’s getting a few million more than he should isn’t great, but isn’t the core issue for the Canucks cap issues. It’s the players like Poolman, Hamonic, and Dickinson that are taking up valuable cap space while not making a difference on the ice that need to go.
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Overpaying for quality players, while far from ideal, isn’t what sends a team into cap hell. Blowing the budget on players that are getting caved in while on the ice does. While this is a bit of a generalization, the concept can be used to help the Canucks figure out the direction of their franchise.

How the Canucks should navigate the next few months

The Canucks have many big decisions to make in the coming months. They’re expected to be sellers at the trade deadline and will have to start making moves to create cap space for important extensions that will need to be signed over the next few years. One of the more intriguing decisions that they need to make is what to do with Tyler Motte.
Motte has established himself as a fan-favourite during his time in Vancouver and many fans would be disappointed to see him go. However, he’s also the exact type of player that many contenders will be looking to add for their playoff push. The Canucks will need to decide if they deal him at this deadline for assets or try to extend him this offseason.
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If Motte is demanding a raise into that $2.5-$3 million range, the Canucks need to seriously consider trading him. While he’s a great person and has stepped up in big moments, he can be replaced by a cheaper contract that won’t be too much of a noticeable drop-off.
Another decision the Canucks need to make is what to do with Brock Boeser. The young sniper has a qualifying offer worth $7.5 million this summer, yet his shaky play this season has led many to believe that number might be a slight overpayment. The Canucks need to feel comfortable with overpaying Boeser by $1-2 million instead of allocating that money to players that don’t move the needle.
How do you feel the Canucks should approach their salary cap situation? How would you handle the big decisions coming up?
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