Analyzing the Vancouver Canucks' salary cap crunch

Jul 5 2019, 9:14 pm

It’s been a while since Canucks fans really had to concern themselves with doing math regarding the team’s salary cap.

Such is life with a rebuilding team that had lots of cap space, but needed to give young players chances to succeed rather than chasing high-priced free agents.

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Under Jim Benning, the Canucks have tried to do a bit of both, of course, but generally they have had enough room to manoeuvre.

Well, times have changed.

This offseason, the Canucks were able to spend money on defencemen Tyler Myers, Jordie Benn, and Oscar Fantenberg in free agency, and traded for JT Miller.

But Benning has admitted that the team’s lack of remaining cap space has limited their ability to add another top-six winger in free agency, as planned. He’s reportedly shopping both Chris Tanev and Brandon Sutter in order to clear space.

A look at the cap for next season

Here’s a look at our projected opening night lineup for the Canucks, with accompanying salaries courtesy of CapFriendly:

Miller, J.T. Pettersson, Elias Boeser, Brock
$5,250,000 $925,000 RFA
Pearson, Tanner Horvat, Bo Baertschi, Sven
$3,750,000 $5,500,000 $3,366,666
Leivo, Josh Gaudette, Adam Virtanen, Jake
$1,500,000 $916,666 $1,250,000
Eriksson, Loui Beagle, Jay Sutter, Brandon
$6,000,000 $3,000,000 $4,375,000
Motte, Tyler
$975,000
Goldobin, Nikolay
RFA
Edler, Alexander Tanev, Chris
$6,000,000 $4,450,000
Hughes, Quinn Myers, Tyler
$916,666 $6,000,000
Benn, Jordie Stecher, Troy
$2,000,000 $2,325,000
Fantenberg, Oscar
$850,000
Markstrom, Jacob
$3,666,667
Demko, Thatcher
$1,050,000

The above lineup adds up to about $64 million, with new contracts still to come for Brock Boeser and Nikolay Goldobin. Those two players will likely add up to an extra $9 million.

But wait, there’s more.

The Canucks will likely have Antoine Roussel on injured reserve to start the season, but he and his $3 million contract will return at some point.

Benning will also have to deal with about $4 million against the cap for two players that are no longer with the team, in the form of Roberto Luongo’s $3.033 million cap recapture penalty and the buyout of Ryan Spooner’s contract ($1.033 million against the cap).

Should Tim Schaller and his $1.9 million contract be sent to Utica, as we have projected, the Canucks will be dinged another $875,000 against their cap.

Add it all up and the Canucks project to be up to $78 million on the salary cap, leaving them just $3.5 million left to spend for next season – but that doesn’t include Roussel coming off IR.

Basically, if they want to improve their team any further for next season, they’ll have to move money out to move money in.

Past mistakes have caught up

Benning can point to the Luongo recapture penalty as a reason why the team will have cap trouble going forward, and that’s absolutely true.

But it’s only part of the problem.

Many of the contracts Benning has handed out in five years on the job have hurt his team far more than Luongo retiring.

The Canucks have $14.408 against the cap in each of the next two seasons spent on four players that aren’t likely to help the team beyond a fourth-line role, in Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, plus Spooner’s buyout.

The biggest waste of money on the Canucks’ payroll is without a doubt Eriksson, who signed a six-year, $36 million contract to come to Vancouver three years ago. He counts $6 million per season against the cap, which is tied for the team lead.

Eriksson turns 34 this month, so he’s not likely to improve his on-ice play in the final three years of his contract, so his deal is about to look even worse.

Sutter was re-signed in 2015, a year before he needed to be, with the team giving up money, term, and trade protection on his five-year, $21.875 million contract. Instead of being a foundation player for the team, he’s now an anchor.

Sam Gagner, a 2017 free agent signing who was flipped for the bought out Spooner, was in the AHL by year two of his three-year, $9.45 million free agent contract. The result of Spooner’s buyout is a $1.03 million cap hit in each of the next two seasons.

Fourth-line centre Jay Beagle, who turns 34 in October, is scheduled to make $3 million in each of the next three seasons.

Schaller is only on the books for one more season, which will cost the team $1.9 million if he remains in the NHL. He’s a candidate to be sent to Utica after a poor first season in Vancouver.

Missed opportunity

One player that surely would have drawn interest from the Vancouver Canucks in free agency, had they had the cap space to sign him, was Marcus Johansson.

Johansson, who reportedly drew interest from the Canucks at the trade deadline before he was dealt from New Jersey to Boston, scored 30 points in 58 games last season. He’s also just two years removed from a 58-point campaign with Washington in 2016-17.

He eventually signed a two-year deal worth $4.5 million with the Buffalo Sabres, which is very palatable number for the 28-year-old.

Looking ahead

As difficult as manoeuvring under the cap will be in the two seasons, it’s going to be even more difficult before the 2021-22 season.

Boeser will be re-signed this summer, while Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko will come off their entry-level deals in two years’ time.

By that time, the Canucks are scheduled to still be saddled with the contracts of Eriksson ($6M) and Beagle ($3M), while Antoine Roussel ($3M) and Tyler Myers ($6M) will each be 31 years old and could be on regrettable deals by that point.

Jacob Markstrom is a pending unrestricted free agent, and will be in line for a hefty raise on his current $3.667 million contract if he can replicate his play from last season.

Canucks players under contract in 2021-22:

  • Loui Eriksson ($6M)
  • Tyler Myers ($6M)
  • Bo Horvat ($5.5M)
  • JT Miller ($5.25M)
  • Antoine Roussel ($3M)
  • Jay Beagle ($3M)

Looking ahead to 2021-22, the Canucks already have close to $32 million on the books for Eriksson, Bo Horvat, JT Miller, Roussel, Beagle, and Myers, to go with Luongo’s cap recapture. That’s roughly 40% of the current cap – and that doesn’t include the contracts they’ll need to sign for Boeser, Pettersson, Hughes, or Thatcher Demko – all of whom will all be off their entry-level deals at that point. If those four young players add up to $25 million by that point, which is possible, the Canucks would be left with not a lot of money to fill roughly half their roster.

Much of the Canucks’ ability to improve will need be tied to their prospects.

Is Adam Gaudette a bonafide third-line centre? Will Demko supplant Markstrom as the team’s No. 1 goalie soon? Can Olli Juolevi and Jett Woo become reliable top-four defencemen? Will Vasily Podkolzin step into the lineup and make a difference in two years? Will they hit on one of their mid-round picks?