It’s just sort of assumed by now that the Vancouver Canucks are perpetually in some form of salary cap-related trouble or another, and that’s not an entirely baseless assumption.
Even after a relatively restrained offseason, the Canucks are still experiencing roster maneuverability issues due to some bloated contracts and misallocated assets, but they’re also in a lot better financial shape than they have been in years past.
For one, their cap issues are not immediate, and the same cannot be said of every other team in the NHL. In a summer where players as talented as Max Pacioretty, Brent Burns, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Dmitry Kulikov have been literally given away by teams in order to duck under the salary ceiling, at least the Canucks can say that they’re not desperate enough to be throwing away assets.
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In fact, with a few clever transactions toward the end of Training Camp 2022, the Canucks could find themselves in a situation where they are actually and actively accruing cap space throughout the 2022/23 season.
That’s not something they could pull off very often in recent seasons — and it could wind up being a pretty big deal.
WARNING: MATH AHEAD.
The key to all this is the acronym of ACSL, which stands for “accruable cap space limit.” In short, it’s a different sort of cap ceiling, and all that it really determines is whether teams can “accrue” or bank daily cap space throughout the regular season.
If a team’s salary expenditures fall below their ACSL on any given day, they’re banking cap space. If it exceeds the ACSL, they’ll need to borrow from their LTIR and bonus “relief pools” and will be unable to accrue cap space (though they’ll still be able to operate their roster legally, until they exceed those relief pools, too).
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As if that weren’t already complicated enough, there are also two different ACSL equations that can be used, depending on the time of the season.
If a team places a player on LTIR during the regular season, the equation is “ACSL = Salary cap upper limit – Team’s remaining cap space at time of LTIR placement.” In other words, however close a team can get to the actual salary ceiling before placing that player on LTIR is their new ACSL moving forward.
If a team needs to put a player on LTIR prior to the season, during Training Camp, in order to become cap compliant, then a different equation is used. That equation is simply: “ACSL = Team cap hit – LTIR player’s cap hit.”
We’ll use the Canucks as our illustrative example.
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Right now, the Canucks have an on-the-books cap hit of about $85.25 million, which is $2.75 million dollars above the NHL’s cap ceiling for the 2022/23 season. That total represents 24 players, of which at least one will need to be dropped before a final, 23-player opening night roster can be set. If we take Justin Dowling and his $750K out of the mix for now, that still leaves the Canucks at $2 million over the cap at $84.5 million and change.
If the Canucks wanted to get under the ceiling with no further roster adjustments, they’d just need to place Micheal Ferland on LTIR during Training Camp. Doing so, however, sets their ACSL at a lower number. In this case, it would be the $84.5 million, minus Ferland’s $3.5 million, for an ACSL of $81 million.
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In such a situation, the Canucks would somehow have to hit the cap at less than $81 million total, including their LTIR player(s), in order to accrue cap space. In other words, it wouldn’t really be possible, unless they were able to trade away someone making at least $4 million and replace them with a league-minimum player.
That’s probably not happening.
The situation would only be slightly better if the Canucks were able to wait until the start of the regular season to place Ferland on LTIR, but that slight improvement could make all the difference.
Here’s how it might work:
Prior to setting their opening night roster, the Canucks will need to “paper” a few waivers-exempt players down to Abbotsford.
If the 23-player roster, including Ferland, leaves them $2 million over the cap ceiling, they’ll need to paper down at least three ELC players to get underneath it.
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Leave Dowling (or an equivalent, league-minimum extra) on the roster, and drop all three of Nils Höglander, Vasily Podkolzin, and Andrey Kuzmenko down to Abbotsford for a day. That would give the Canucks an opening night somewhere in the neighbourhood of $82.48 million — which you might recognize as about as close as you can get to the cap ceiling of $82.5 million without hitting it.
From there, the Canucks simply place Ferland on LTIR, and see their ACSL become that same $82.48 million, an increase of nearly $1.5 million over the ACSL they’d achieve by LTIRing Ferland during Training Camp.
But, again, that $1.5 million difference could make all the difference.
In this scenario, the Canucks would still need to make it under their ACSL in order to actually accrue daily cap space. But whereas that was an impossibility under the other scenario, it’s suddenly a lot more doable.
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All the Canucks would need to do to start accruing would be to get rid of someone making an AAV $2.5 million and replace them on the roster with someone making less than $1 million.
That could mean any of Jason Dickinson or Tanner Pearson or Tucker Poolman, depending on who is most tradeable. The sub-$1 million replacements are already available, whether it be Dakota Joshua or Will Lockwood or Jack Rathbone or whomever.
Do all that, and the Canucks will start banking cap space on Day One of the 2022/23 regular season and continue to do so until their circumstances change.
Now, nothing is ever quite that easy, and complications could arise. If the aforementioned Poolman, for example, is not fully recovered to start the season and must also be placed on LTIR, his cap hit will continue to count against the ACSL, but so will the cap hit of his replacement on the roster, which would more-or-less wipe out any accruable cap space for the Canucks.
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But if they can afford that, and they’re willing to manoeuvre themselves into the right spot prior to opening night, season-long accruals are definitely on the table.
Which brings us naturally to the benefits that could be gleaned from said accrual of cap space. It’s important to reiterate here that accrued cap space adds up over time. If the Canucks are able to accrue just $50K of cap space per day throughout the regular season, they would wind up with millions in extra space by the NHL Trade Deadline.
That, of course, allows them extra space with which to acquire additional players at the deadline. That helps the Canucks if they find themselves in a playoff spot and want to take out some rentals, but that’s not a very realistic scenario, nor is it the only way in which accrued cap space can pay off — just the most direct.
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The Canucks could use their accrued cap space to take on cap dumps at or near the 2023 Trade Deadline, helping other teams adjust their rosters pre-postseason in exchange for future assets. This is something that the team probably should have been doing throughout their rebuild, but was never quite able to pull off due to a lack of accrual.
Another compelling benefit to accruing cap space is leaving a cushion with which to pay performance bonuses. Even if Höglander, Podkolzin, and Kuzmenko are papered down to Abbotsford, they’ll be called up immediately afterward, and each is eligible for a handful of performance bonuses on their ELC contracts. If the Canucks don’t have the space available under their cap to cover these bonuses (or in their bonus relief pool), then it has to be placed onto next year’s salary cap, which is far from ideal.
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Any way you slice it, there’s no real downside to accruing cap space, and potentially a lot of upside. It won’t be easy or automatic to pull off, and still requires at least one cap-dump transaction, but the path to ending up under the ACSL is there if the Canucks want to take it.
And that alone is more than could be said heading into each of the last few regular seasons.