On Monday morning, Jim Rutherford delivered the most honest Canucks press conference in a long time. He was frank about the team’s issues and his performance since being appointed as President of Hockey Operations.
The press conference was very revealing as to how upper management views the current state of the team. While there were many interesting quotes, perhaps some of the most crucial when it pertains to the Canucks’ future were those made on the team’s salary cap situation.
The organization’s handling of the salary cap has been a hot topic over the last decade. In a league where cap space has become one of the most valuable assets, the Canucks have repeatedly handicapped themselves by signing aging players to long-term deals. This was a calling card of the previous management group and something that the fanbase was hopeful would change with the hiring of Rutherford.
The Canucks making the decision to sign a long-term extension with J.T. Miller proved that while the people in charge may have changed, the philosophy might have not. Yesterday’s press conference contained several concerning quotes that show maybe the Canucks haven’t learned their lesson.
“The cap is going to keep going up and up. The cap is going to be $90 or $95 million,” Rutherford said when asked about bloated contracts like Miller’s. “The [Miller] contract isn’t going to affect what the Canucks do down the road.”
Rutherford’s assumption that the cap will only go up is also a dangerous one. It wasn’t too long ago that the Canucks were burned by that same assumption and found themselves letting Tyler Toffoli walk for nothing. While seemingly unlikely, it’s not inconceivable that we could enter a flat cap situation again for a variety of reasons.
His mentality also points to a continued refusal to accept the harsh reality of the situation. It seems as if everyone but management can see that a comprehensive rebuild is the best way out of this mess, and Rutherford’s confidence in contracts like Miller’s not being an issue is yet another sign that he does not feel the same way.
What is the future outlook for the NHL salary cap?
Earlier this year, Twitter exploded with headlines that the NHL salary cap could be increasing by four million as soon as next season. Gary Bettman gave reporters a rosy view of the NHL’s finances and explained that the players were close to paying up the escrow that accumulated during the season paused by COVID-19.
“Revenue is pretty vibrant,” Bettman said earlier this year. “We probably did $5.4 billion in [hockey-related revenue] this past season, which is actually about a half a billion more than we projected a year ago when we were starting things up [after COVID-19 pauses]. Things are good.”
That original projection would have seen the salary cap rising to around $86.5 million for the 2023-24 NHL season. However, just a few months later Bettman came out to the media again and tempered expectations.
As it stands, the most likely scenario is that we get another increase of $1 million next season. That’s the same jump that we got this past year as the player’s escrow balance is paid off. Once that happens, we could see more significant cap increases in the following season, perhaps similar to that original $4 million number that Bettman quoted, just a year behind the timeline he originally suggested.
Why Rutherford’s comments should make any Canucks fan concerned
Relying on the salary cap to increase in your team-building plan is never a good idea.
Every contract negotiation these days is focused more on the percentage of the salary cap rather than the pure dollar value. When the cap goes up, player contracts increase alongside it. The cap going up four million isn’t going to do that much for the Canucks when it also makes Pettersson’s upcoming monster extension 5% more expensive.
Rutheford’s confidence that bloated contracts such as Miller’s (or OEL and to a lesser degree Tyler Myers) won’t affect his team-building abilities is ironic considering other comments he made.
“We’re stuck with contracts we can’t move,” was something he also said during the same press conference. “Until we move those out or they expire, it’s going to be hard to take those steps.”
The hypocrisy in blaming bloated contracts for restricting his team-building process while claiming that similar contracts the team signed under his watch will have no such issue is insane.
No matter how much the salary cap increases, the Canucks have $15.26 million allocated to Ekman-Larsson and Miller. That’s a significant chunk of change, no matter if the salary cap jumps four million or not. It’s great that Rutherford publicly recognized that bloated contracts are making his job very difficult, but Canucks fans better hope that the organization applies that lesson to future deals instead of repeating the mistakes of the past.