The 2022 NHL Trade Deadline came and went with a whimper, not a bang, for the Vancouver Canucks.
Any early excitement garnered by GM Patrik Allvin and Co. actually getting genuine value for Travis Hamonic was tempered by a lacklustre return for Tyler Motte and not much action elsewhere, save for the low-cost acquisitions of Travis Dermott and Brad Richardson.
Still, if there was any sort of stated goal in mind for the Canucks’ front office — awkwardly trapped between chasing the playoffs and retooling the roster — at this particular deadline, it was the opening up of some cap space beyond this season. And, in dealing away Hamonic and presumably choosing not to re-sign Motte, they’ve done so.
But did they clear enough cap to allow for legitimate improvements to the roster in the 2022 offseason? Is there enough space available to result in the 2022/23 Canucks being better than the 2021/22 edition?
That’s what we’re here to sort out with this early look ahead at next year’s depth chart.
Who’s still on the books and the roster for 2022/23?
Forwards (8, totalling $30.767 mil)
Elias Pettersson, $7.35 mil AAV until 2024
Bo Horvat, $5.5 mil AAV until 2023
JT Miller, $5.25 mil AAV until 2023
Conor Garland, $4.95 mil AAV until 2026
Micheal Ferland, $3.5 mil AAV until 2023 (permanent LTIR)
Tanner Pearson, $3.25 mil AAV until 2024
Jason Dickinson, $2.65 mil AAV until 2024
Vasily Podkolzin, $925K AAV until 2024
Nils Höglander, $892K AAV until 2023
The Canucks will be bringing back the vast majority of their top-six, and probably the entirety of it once all is said and done (more on that in a minute). Whether you count Höglander or Podkolzin in that bunch, everyone is paid appropriately or better. Beyond that, they retain a little bit of bottom-six depth, along with a little unfortunate contract bloat in Dickinson and — to a lesser extent — Pearson.
Defence (7, totalling $26.71 million)
Quinn Hughes, $7.85 mil AAV until 2027
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, $7.26 mil AAV until 2027
Tyler Myers, $6 mil AAV until 2024
Tucker Poolman, $2.5 mil AAV until 2025
Travis Dermott, $1.5 mil AAV until 2023
Luke Schenn, $850K AAV until 2023
Kyle Burroughs, $750K AAV until 2023
For better or for worse, the Canucks’ blueline remains relatively set heading into 2022/23. Removing Hamonic from the equation goes a long way toward making the unit more cost-effective, but no one would call it ‘efficient’ quite yet, and room will need to be cleared before true improvements can be made. Nearly a fifth of the team’s available cap going to OEL, Myers, and Poolman hurts, no matter how you slice it.
Goaltenders (1, totalling $5 million)
Thatcher Demko, $5 mil AAV until 2026
Nothing to complain about here. Demko’s $5 million AAV currently ranks 13th overall among NHL goaltenders, and we all know that Demko rates somewhere in the top-five, talent-wise. He’s singlehandedly making the Canucks’ roster more cost-efficient.
Dead Cap (3, totalling $3.65 million)
Jaroslav Halak performance bonuses, $1.25 mil
Braden Holtby buyout penalty, $1.9 mil
Jake Virtanen buyout penalty, $500 K
With the option of trading away Halak and/or his bonus now firmly off the table, there’s nothing the Canucks can do about these various penalties except eat them for another season and then move on. The Roberto Luongo cap recapture penalty is finally off the books, but these hits more than make up for it.
Total cost so far= $66.127 million for 16 players, leaving approximately $15 million and change for seven additional players, including five forwards, one defender, and a goalie.
Which RFAs will be re-signed, and for about how much?
Brock Boeser, estimated AAV between $6.5 million and 7.25 million
Boeser could still be traded, but the fact that he wasn’t dealt at the deadline could be seen as an encouraging sign toward positive negotiations. At this point, the smart money is on him landing an extension somewhere south of his $7.5 million qualifying offer.
Juho Lammikko, estimated AAV between $1 million and 1.25 million
Lammikko has absolutely earned the right to continue being the Canucks’ fourth line center, so long as he’s willing to sign an extension at an appropriate amount for a fourth line center.
Matthew Highmore, estimated AAV between $1 million and 1.25 million
Like Lammikko, Highmore has earned his spot moving forward. Expect their contracts to look pretty simpler, with Lammikko perhaps getting a hair more on account of his more valuable position.
Which UFAs will be re-signed, and for about how much?
Brad Hunt, estimated AAV between $750K and 900K
Hunt’s solid play ever since Bruce Boudreau took over is probably enough to get him at least another one-year contract offer, and we’d expect the hometown product to take it. He’ll be battling it out with fellow hometowner Kyle Burroughs for the eighth and final spot on the Canucks’ blueline.
Spencer Martin, estimated AAV between $750K and 1 million
The Canucks can explore other backup options, but the best combination of talent and cheapness might already be in the system in the form of Martin. So long as he isn’t enticed elsewhere with offers over and above $1 million, it’s a good bet that he’ll be backing up Demko in 2022/23.
Several other UFAs from within the system, like Phil Di Giuseppe, Noah Juulsen, and Sheldon Dries, will likely re-sign and challenge for spots, but their salaries will all be roughly interchangeable and all at around league minimum.
Who will join the roster from within the system?
Will Lockwood, RFA, estimated AAV between $750K and 850K
Of all the forwards currently employed by the Abbotsford Canucks, Lockwood is the only one who seems a virtual shoe-in to play for the Adult Canucks next season. He’s auditioning for the role right now, and it’s hard to see Allvin and Co. passing up the opportunity to add his physicality to the fourth line at a low cap hit. This is the most obvious Motte replacement.
Jack Rathbone, RFA, estimated AAV between $850K and 1 million
There’s just no way that Rathbone doesn’t wind up on the opening night roster next season, barring injuries. He’s tearing up the AHL and more than ready for the next step. He cracks the blueline on the left side behind Hughes and OEL, and the Canucks worry about balancing the right side from there.
Your approximated 2022/23 Vancouver Canucks’ depth chart
Nils Höglander ($892K)
Elias Pettersson ($7.35 mil)
Brock Boeser ($6.5 -7.25 mil)
Tanner Pearson ($3.25 mil)
JT Miller ($5.25 mil)
Conor Garland ($4.95 mil)
Jason Dickinson ($2.65 mil)
Bo Horvat ($5.5 mil)
Vasily Podkolzin ($925K)
Will Lockwood ($850-900K)
Juho Lammikko ($1-1.25 mil)
Matthew Highmore ($1-1.25 mil)
Quinn Hughes ($7.85 mil)
Tyler Myers ($6 mil)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($7.26 mil)
Luke Schenn ($850K)
Travis Dermott ($1.5 mil)
Tucker Poolman ($2.5 mil)
Jack Rathbone ($850K-1 mil)
Kyle Burroughs or Brad Hunt ($750K)
Thatcher Demko ($5 mil)
Spencer Martin ($850K-1 mil)
Total estimated cost= $76.98 million to 78.73 million for 22 players, with one extra forward required
Quality-wise, this roster is more or less equivalent to the 2021/22 edition of the Canucks. Swapping out Hamonic for Dermott is a win, swapping out Motte for whoever replaces him is a loss, and the rest stays about the same. There’s some hope for improvement from within, via increased contributions from Höglander, Podkolzin, Rathbone, and Lockwood, along with further development from the likes of Pettersson and Hughes.
Improvement from without, however, will be decidedly trickier to achieve. As it stands, the Canucks will have between $3 and 4 million to chuck at an additional forward, which is good enough to fill out their top-nine, but not enough to “move the needle” significantly on the team’s overall performance.
Making upgrades to the blueline, in particular, is going to require some parts being moved out ahead of time, and that’s going to require some difficult decision-making in the near-future.
Can more space be created?
The short answer is “yes,” but the full answer is a bit more complicated than that.
The Canucks easily can create space by trading some of their tradeable assets for returns based primarily around future assets. Offseason trades of Miller, Boeser, Garland, and others are still very much possible, and doing so obviously creates room for talent to be brought in elsewhere on the roster.
Actually improving the roster from its current iteration, however — as in, creating the cap space necessary for upgrades without taking away from the existing talent pool — is another kettle of fish. There’s deadwood on the roster, to be sure, but moving it is going to be a challenge.
Dickinson and Poolman can be ditched without harming the quality of the roster, but will anyone want them without significant incentives attached?
The Canucks could probably find buyers for Myers, but can they afford to lose Myers from their already beleaguered right side? Who replaces him? If there’s a cost attached to trading Myers and replacing him, is it a price the Canucks can bear?
Pearson looks like the best and most immediate bet at clearing cap, but he’s performed quite well in 2021/22, and the Canucks would definitely miss his contributions and struggle to adequately replace him at the same salary.
In summation, it does look as though the days of the Vancouver Canucks facing a true “cap crunch” are — finally — over. But that certainly doesn’t mean that the salary cap is no longer an issue. As the team attempts to transition into genuine contention over the next couple of years, the cap is still going to be the greatest challenge that Allvin and Co. face.
That’s partly due to the mistakes of the past, and partly the everyday reality of running a professional sports team in a salary-capped league.
Regardless, it’s going to take some careful navigation and negotiation from here on out.