It's no secret that the Canucks have mismanaged themselves into salary cap hell over the last few years. Albatross contracts abound, handed out to guys who are now, and in some cases were even then, replacement-level or below. With a couple of franchise cornerstones to sign at the end of next season in Hughes and Pettersson, not to mention the inevitable expensive extensions that Horvat, Boeser and 2020-surprise-superstar J.T. Miller are likely to command over the next few years, they are in real danger of their cup run window closing before it's even been cracked.
This fact coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic that has created a real buyers market in terms of UFA's means that a good chunk of quality players have already moved on and in some cases have left big shoes to fill. Benning was wise not to match the deals handed out to Canucks stalwarts Tanev and Markstrom as they depart to greener (or in this case redder) pastures. Even if the cap space to do so was available, long term deals for guys their age are rarely wise. The first couple of years of the Markstrom deal may look good, but Tanev is already on the wrong side of the ageing curve and the on-ice results are bearing that out. Josh Leivo, a handy middle-six guy assuming he can bounce back from last season's injuries has also headed east, inking a very match-able contract of basically league minimum. The one that really hurts though is Troy from Richmond, who will be playing for the cellar-dwelling Red Wings next season for the princely sum of $1.7 million per season. It's crazy, even given the cap crunch, that Benning couldn't make that work, arbitration case be damned. Finally, Tyler Toffoli headed to Montreal at a relative discount rate. Giving up a prospect and a couple of picks for what amounted to 10 games of his service seems horrifyingly bad in hindsight.
Despite what looks like a great trade for Nate Schmidt that cost only a 3rd round pick, there are a ton of holes to fill in this roster and not an easy way to do it. Hoping that rookies take the next step isn't going to paper over the issues with this lineup. So, I thought I'd take a crack at trying to build a serviceable team based on just what's left on the UFA board as of time of writing (November 12). As I mentioned it's a buyers market, so players can be had for cheap. Let's see what we can do here. First some ground rules and assumptions.
I'm assuming that what CapFriendly tells me is correct. So when I'm burying guys in the minors for example (let's face it, Loui is the first to go), I'm assuming the cap relief number is correct.
I'm assuming that Ferland ends up on LTIR. Honestly I'm surprised he's thinking about returning with his concussion history. This is probably one of the only reasons I can make this work.
I've assumed some numbers for signings based on current market conditions. Feel free to yell at me about low-ball offers.
I'll be presenting evidence for new signings using Micah's excellent hockeyviz.com charts (specifically the team 5v5 WOWY charts)
Another plug for CapFriendly in general, but specifically their armchair GM tool
With that, here's what I was able to come up with.
Firstly, the non-roster players. I was able to get away with burying just Baertschi, Eriksson and Beagle in the minors in order to sign our additional pieces. Assuming these salary relief numbers are correct, my roster squeaks in under the cap by just $59k. Let's take a look at the new toys
As mentioned, acquired by trade with the Golden Knights for pennies on the dollar, Schmidt was the victim of Vegas trying to shed salary in order to sign the big-ticket defenseman of this UFA class, Alex Pietrangelo. A solid puck-moving guy, he gives the Canucks a really good one-two punch on the powerplay. With Quinn Hughes quarterbacking the first unit, Schmidt would be the obvious choice to replace Edler on the second. Able to play both sides, on my roster he'd be on his off side on the second pairing with Edler who has clearly lost a step over the last couple of years.
I realized after the fact that this number for Duclair ($1.5 million over 1-3 years, depending on circumstances) is likely wildly unrealistic. He's apparently valuing himself in the $3.5 - 5 million dollar a year range. This actually just goes to further highlight my point about missed opportunity cost in this historic buyers market. Some team is going to get him at a discount rate this season, but unless he's totally given up and willing to take just about anything, the Canucks aren't in on that race. Similarly with Mike Hoffman who's probably the best forward left on the board, but likely going to have to take a pay cut over the next season or two. Duclair has also just turned 25 and likely hasn't quite peaked yet. If the Canucks were in a position to sign him for 4 years at even $4.5 million per I think you jump at that to add some scoring punch to your top six, maybe recoup some of the value lost in the Toffoli trade/departure debacle. No, instead we're paying Loui Eriksson almost as much as Nathan MacKinnon to sit in Utica or wherever the hell the feeder club ends up moving to because COVID. Anyways, Duclair is a real good driver of offense but what is this "defense" you speak of? Though he played for Ottawa last season so... read into that what you will.
Splitting time between an awful Detroit team and a significantly less awful Oilers team last season, Athanasiou is an interesting case. He drove play in a relative sense in Detroit, but I feel like me from Tier 12 beer league could've driven play on that Detroit team last year. He's defensively weak as well, but at only 26 there's potential for a small bump in production over the next year or two. Worst case at this price (2x$1.8 million) he's a speedy addition to PP2 who can replace Gaudette if he doesn't fire. Best case he plays in the middle six and pots a couple dozen goals over a full season.
Looking at these team WOWY's I am truly baffled as to why Chicago elected not to qualify Koekkoek. Was he arbitration-eligible? At 26 did they deem him too old to stick around for their well-publicised rebuild? Is...is Stan Bowman a bad GM? Regardless, playing what I would imagine were sheltered 3rd pairing minutes he made a positive relative impact at both ends of the ice on a terrible team. At league minimum this would be a very low-risk move to shore up the bottom of the defensive depth chart until the Juolevi's, Rathbone's and Woo's of this world are ready for prime-time.
Less of a new toy and more of a retread, Canucks fans will remember Hutton as yet another victim of Benning's roster and cap mismanagement. A decent third pairing option while he played in Vancouver, Benning allowed him to walk while still RFA rather than go to salary arbitration or recoup assets via trade. He signed with the Kings and has performed solidly getting 2nd (and in some cases 1st) pairing minutes in LA over the last couple of years - especially impressive given the absolute garbage fire that was their roster. Bring him back for a year or 2 at league minimum to shore up the bottom of the defensive depth chart.
That's my roster. Wildly optimistic in some places, especially the AAV of the Duclair deal. I think this just serves to highlight not just the real cost of having a number of such terrible deals on the books, but the opportunity cost as well. We didn't even mention the Tyler Myers deal, but that's another one that's likely to age very poorly. When combined with the Eriksson, Beagle, Sutter, Roussel deals, as well as, to a lesser extent the Baertschi contract, you have a ton of dead money. Seeing players walk into free agency because you're unable to afford to retain them is one thing. The opportunity cost of not being able to capitalize on a once-in-a-lifetime buyers market on UFA's might sting even more.