Buyouts are back on the table for the Vancouver Canucks.
That was one of many things Jim Benning revealed during today’s end-of-season press conference, as the Canucks general manager tried to explain his plan going forward after the team missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons under his watch.
While some inefficient contracts will be coming off the books this offseason — notably those belonging to Alex Edler ($6M), Brandon Sutter ($4.375M), and Sven Baertschi ($3.37M), as well as the $1.03M cap hit remaining from the Ryan Spooner buyout — the team will still be in a cap crunch.
That’s because new contracts are needed for Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, not to mention the fact that Thatcher Demko’s new $5M deal kicks in beginning next season.
“Ownership has given us the resources to do whatever we need to do to get back to where we want to be next season, and that’s a playoff team,” Benning said. “Buyouts are going to be part of our strategy this summer to save cap space. We’re going to be aggressive on the trade front and free agency. We want to add speed and depth to our forward group.”
Benning didn’t seem to have the ability to use buyout last offseason, as ownership appeared to be more reluctant to spend freely due to the pandemic. Consequently, the team held onto some overpaid players while letting Tyler Toffoli walk in free agency.
There are a couple of buyout candidates on the Canucks, most notably Loui Eriksson. Nobody on the team comes with a larger cap hit than the 35-year-old, who is entering the last year of a six-year contract.
If the #Canucks decide to buy out Loui Eriksson's contract, there is some benefit ahead of the final year of his deal.
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) May 21, 2021
The Canucks could save $1M in real dollars by buying out Eriksson, reducing his $6M cap hit to $4M next season, but adding an extra $1M in 2022-23. Eriksson is no longer a useful player to the Canucks, appearing in just seven games this season, so walking away from him makes some sense.
Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel are entering the last years of their respective $3M contracts, but the Canucks don’t stand to save much on their cap by buying out their deals at two-third of their salaries.
Buying out Beagle would reduce his cap hit next season by $800,000, which is less than the $1.075M the team would save by simply burying him in the minors. A Roussel buyout would only offer marginal savings next season, as his cap hit would be reduced by just $1.27M.
Because he’s under 26 years old, Jake Virtanen can be bought out at just one-third of his salary. The Canucks could save $2.5M on the cap next season by buying him out, while having just an extra $500,000 added to their cap in 2022-23.
Depending on what happens regarding his legal battle — Virtanen is currently being sued for sexual assault — terminating his contract entirely is also within the realm of possibility.
Speed and skill in the bottom six
As for what Benning would like to add, it’s clear that improving his bottom-six forward group is a priority.
Benning said that he expects Vasily Podkolzin to make an instant impact, just as Nils Hoglander did this season. After that, it’s about surrounding players like Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and J.T. Miller with a better supporting cast.
“We still need to add some players with speed, some veteran leadership, speed and depth scoring to our forward group. I think that’s going to be important for our team to get to where we need to be,” said Benning. “We want to be a three-line scoring team and we need to add more players to get there.”
Benning admitted he misjudged the capability of some young players that he expected to improve — possibly referring to players like Virtanen (24), Adam Gaudette (24), and Olli Juolevi (23).
“Some 23-24 year-old guys we thought would be able to keep moving forward and taking more responsibility on. That didn’t happen. That’s on me.
“Going forward, we’re going to make sure that [with] these good young core pieces that we surround them with some veteran guys and some guys in that age group that can help them keep getting better. We need more scoring depth. So we’re going to work on all those things in the offseason.”
After seven years on the job, the pressure is on Benning to not only get the Canucks back into the playoffs, but turn them into a Stanley Cup contender in quick order.
That should make for an interesting offseason.