The Vancouver Canucks have a lot of cap space right now.
Even after signing their RFAs (Virtanen, Granlund, Baertschi, Stecher, and Pouliot need new deals), they will likely have north of $15 million left to spend.
Linden says it is 'very likely' that they will be several million under the salary cap next year. #Canucks
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) April 9, 2018
Just like draft picks and players, salary cap space is an asset. It has been ever since the salary cap was first introduced after the 2005 lockout.
It’s for this reason that the Canucks need to be cautious and patient come July 1st.
It may be wise to go for a few of the smaller fish on short-term deals in free agency, but clearly the Canucks need to avoid signing another Loui Eriksson type of albatross contract.
In other words, stay away from guys like James van Reimsdyk and Tyler Bozak.
Unless the Canucks can somehow magically convince John Tavares to come to Vancouver, there is no player in free agency that can significantly change the fortunes of this team.
Here’s how can the Canucks use their cap space as an asset, without spending it in free agency.
Trading for bad contracts
At face value, this seems idiotic.
Who would want players with bad contracts on their team?
The Canucks should, for a price.
If Jim Benning can get a good asset (draft pick or prospect) to go along with a bad contract – provided it’s not a long term one – then why not?
We’ll get into some examples of who exactly the Canucks could target in these kind of deals, but first let’s look at how it’s already been done.
David Clarkson example
The circumstances surrounding the Vegas Golden Knights last season were a bit different with player protections involved, so this isn’t completely an apples-to-apples comparison, but the principles are the same.
The David Clarkson trade, which involved Vegas receiving a first and second round pick, was a steal of a deal. To make matters worse for the Columbus Blue Jackets, it involved their insistence that the Golden Knights take William Karlsson in the expansion draft.
The main theme here is that teams in cap crunches are desperate, and often make short-sighted moves because of it. If the Canucks can be a team that preys on those kinds of situations, they’ll be better off in the long run.
Bryan Bickell example
Look at this trade between Chicago and Carolina two years ago:
With the Blackhawks in a major cap crunch, Carolina cashed in on their desperation by giving up only a second and third round pick to get Teuvo Teravainen, who nearly led their team in scoring last year with 64 points.
The catch, other than giving up a pair of draft picks, was taking on Bryan Bickell’s $4 million contract, which was no big deal to Carolina with only one year remaining on it.
The Arizona Coyotes acquired 2015 first round pick Lawson Crouse from Florida for a pair of conditional picks as a reward for taking on Dave Bolland’s $5.5 million contract in 2016.
Teams can also simply get an extra pick for taking on an unwanted contract. Two years ago, New Jersey got a second-rounder for picking up the final year of Marc Savard’s contract.
Potential trade targets
As for players the Canucks could target, the first that comes to mind is 37-year-old defenceman Brooks Orpik from the Washington Capitals.
Fresh off a Stanley Cup win, the Capitals are facing a cap crunch; John Carlson is a UFA and signing him is their top priority.
Orpik is not a bad player, but the Capitals will probably want more for the $5.5 million he’s receiving for one more season.
That’s where the Canucks come in.
They could take the final year of Orpik’s contract, and in return get a pick or perhaps another player back from Washington.
The Tampa Bay Lightning won’t really face the cap crunch until next offseason when Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point will be among the double-digit list of players on expiring deals
Still, they have to sign J.T. Miller this summer and moving Ryan Callahan’s $5.8 million cap hit off the books would allow them more financial flexibility for one more cup run before Kucherov gets a hefty raise.
Callahan still has two years on his contract, but the Canucks should be fine to take that on – for a nice reward of course.
The Lightning have a number of intriguing prospects, including Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk up front, and 2017 1st-round pick Cal Foote on defence. Outside of this year’s first-rounder and next year’s second-rounder, they have all their draft picks too.
Callahan does have a modified no-trade clause, so that’s something that would need to be ironed out before any potential deal could be made.
Plenty of other options
With the amount of cap flexibility the Canucks have, there’s plenty of other potentially unwanted contracts they could trade for to acquire more assets.
If Vegas is indeed looking to make a run at Erik Karlsson, would they need to move David Clarkson?
Are the Boston Bruins desperate to get the last three years of David Backes’ $6 million deal off the books?
How much would Minnesota pay to get Tyler Ennis’ final year at $4.6 million off the payroll?
These are discussions that should be taking place amongst Canucks management this summer.
Because if this team can use its biggest expendable asset right now to speed up the rebuild, why wouldn’t they?