VANCOUVER – No matter how aggressively GM Jim Benning attacks the Vancouver Canucks’ offseason, patience and caution will be vitally important ideals because realistically there is little the club can do this season. been to escape his windfall contracts.
After a season of losses in the standings and the financial ledger, Canucks general manager Jim Benning announced a week ago that owner Francesco Aquilini is committed to providing all necessary resources to bring the team back to the playoffs in 2022.
“Buyouts will be part of our strategy this summer to save ceiling space,” Benning told reporters. “We are going to be aggressive on the trade front and in free will.”
The Canucks should be aggressive. Captain Bo Horvat and co-frontman JT Miller are on contract for two more seasons, during which franchise players Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson are expected to play on bridge deals (see below). Nils Hoglander, Vasili Podkolzin and Jack Rathbone will be on entry-level contracts. The team must do everything in their power to take advantage of this window.
But management must be careful. There is so little financial wiggle room – and a lot more pay cap relief after next season – that Benning can’t afford to repeat mistakes in free agency like the $ 12 million contracts over. four years which he granted to Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle. in 2018.
As Week 1 of the Canucks’ offseason comes to a close and the team prepares to strike new deals for coach Travis Green’s staff, including goaltending coach Ian Clark, it remains a lot of work to do.
Here are some of the Canucks’ off-season priorities.
TO MAKE ROOM
There are countless ways to project / set up the Canucks roster for next fall. Depending on how management treats the most ineffective contracts, a rough estimate leaves the team with $ 16-20 million in cap space available and 5-7 vacancies on the roster. Much of that money will go to restricted free agents Pettersson and Hughes.
It’s great that Benning has the power to initiate buyouts, which he was denied last fall and contributed to the needless free agency loss of frontline Tyler Toffoli. But the reality is that due to the way the contracts have been structured for Roussel, Beagle and Loui Eriksson (six years and $ 36 million in 2016), there is little to no cap savings to buy back the ‘one of those players.
A much better option for Benning over Roussel and Beagle would be to seek a trade, even if that means the Canucks keep 50 percent of their pay. In this scenario, the structure of their first-load contracts helps because Roussel’s actual salary next season is $ 1.9 million and Beagle’s is $ 2.2 million. With the exception of transactions, the most sensible cap savings would be to bury their salaries in miners, along with Eriksson’s, which would reduce at least $ 1.125 million per player from the cap.
Buying out the one-year deal and $ 2.55million remaining on Jake Virtanen’s contract should be a no-brainer, but so was him last fall when Benning had the chance to trade him for a draft pick. Laid off by the Canucks on May 1 following the publication of a sexual assault allegation, Virtanen is currently the subject of police and team investigations, as well as a civil lawsuit filed last week. .
The 24-year-old has five goals and no assists in 38 games this season, and a buyout would save the Canucks $ 2.5 million next season, but add a liability of $ 500,000 the following year. While awaiting the outcome of the investigations into Virtanen, it is possible that his contract may be terminated.
The only other plausible buyout candidate is alternate goaltender Braden Holtby, but the net savings on replacing him in the roster next season while adding a new charge of $ 1.9 million to 2022- 23 make a buyout very questionable.
GET PETEY, GET QUINN, GET CLARITY
With so little flexibility to add speed and skill to deep positions that Benning acknowledged last week the Canucks need, it would be helpful for ceiling clarity to re-sign Pettersson and Hughes well before the NHL goes through the draft. expansion, entry draft and free agency at the end of July.
Given the current NHL recession and continued uncertainty over how much ticket revenue the Canucks should expect next season, two or three year transition deals for top forward and top defenseman of the team seem to make sense to both parties. But as preliminary talks have started with super agent Pat Brisson, who represents both Pettersson and Hughes, the Canucks aren’t ruling out long-term deals and will budget for that possibility.
While Benning was proactive in re-signing goaltender Thatcher Demko to a five-year, $ 25 million contract in March, Horvat only got his six-year extension the week before training camp in 2017, and Brock Boeser’s three-year bridge. an agreement two years later arrived at the end of the camp.
Long term or transition, sooner or later new contracts for Pettersson and Hughes will set a precedent for the Canucks and shape the organization for many years to come.
MAKE PETTERSSON HEALTHY
It probably didn’t get the attention it deserved a week ago, but Pettersson’s end-of-season explanation for his troublesome wrist injury sounded familiar and disturbing.
Boeser’s Calder Trophy campaign in 2017-18 ended when he broke a bone in his back during a March 5 home game against the New York Islanders. But it wasn’t until a month later that Boeser revealed to Sportsnet that a wrist injury that occurred on February 8 in Tampa caused him to miss a single game, had not healed and was being treated by a specialist.
Boeser has said his wrist will not require surgery and that an offseason full of rest and training should get him at 100% for the start of the 2018-19 season. Although he scored 26 goals in the sophomore, his shooting percentage dropped by four points and Boeser missed 13 games with a groin injury due to his late injury-delayed start to summer training. .
Pettersson left the Canucks roster two days after hyperextending his wrist in an awkward crash during a March 1 game in Winnipeg.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Pettersson said. “It was so frustrating because I thought I would be gone for maybe four to six weeks and then I still haven’t played and still not 100%.
Although he can skate and lift weights, Pettersson said the injury affects his shooting, which is world-class. He is convinced that a summer of rest and training will allow him to be healthy next fall. Boeser felt the same.
BUILD A THIRD LINE
The Canucks have relied on too few players up front for too long, and stretching their score to three lines up front is imperative if they are to become a superior team. The arrival from Russia of Podkolzin, a two-way tank picked with the 10th pick in the 2019 draft, should help the top nine deepen how Hoglander has done it this season.
But the Canucks are in dire need of a third-row center. The team has ditched the Adam Gaudette prospect as a future 3C, has no one going through their system to fill that role, and will have holes in the middle depending on what they do with Beagle and soon UFA Brandon Sutter. Converted winger JT Miller could stay center, but that’s not ideal.
If Benning finds enough space to add a $ 3-4million player this offseason, it should be for a center capable of handling some of Horvat’s defensive weight. How much would 28-year-old Montreal Canadiens free agent Phillip Danault cost?
USE THE EXPANSION LEVER
As many have noted, the Canucks have no issues with expansion protection heading into Seattle’s July 21 draft and can use that as bargaining leverage with teams that can’t protect all of their key players.
But this “benefit” for Vancouver is not as simple as it seems. Along with the obvious concerns about the salary cap and the assets needed to complete a transaction, the Canucks will be bidding against a bunch of other teams looking for discounts. And potential business partners with multiple protection issues, like Colorado and Carolina, may decide to simply limit their roster drain to one Kraken-selected player rather than losing one expanding player and another (or others) to a business loss.