In the first instalment of our Canadian team-by-team Off-Season Primers, we take a deep look at the key decisions–and salary cap considerations–facing the Vancouver Canucks this summer.
Head coach: Willie Desjardins
GM: Jim Benning
Salary cap space: $5,705,834 (assuming a $71.5 million upper limit, according to salary data found at generalfanager.com).
We’ve seen a tonne of upheaval on Griffiths Way in recent years, but most of the changes have been cosmetic.
Even as a variety of coaches, presidents and general managers have churned through the organization, the Canucks have never deviated from their stated goal of rebuilding while also striving to ice a competitive team every season.
“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to add core prospects on the fly, as you’d say,” Benning said in late April, summarizing the club’s philosophical approach to a competitive rebuild. “We have a good team, but we want to develop those young players in a winning environment.”
The Canucks probably won’t sacrifice any significant future assets in pursuit of veteran help this summer, but don’t expect them to mortgage the structural integrity of their roster with an eye on two or three years down the road either.
Players under contract for 2015-16 (annual average value and duration):
Henrik Sedin, C: $7M AAV through 2017-18
Daniel Sedin, LW: $7M AAV through 2017-18
Ryan Miller, G: $6M AAV through 2016-17
Radim Vrbata, RW: $5M AAV through 2015-16
Alex Edler, D: $5M AAV through 2018-19
Kevin Bieksa, D: $4.6M AAV through 2015-16
Dan Hamhuis, D: $4.55M AAV through 2015-16
Alexandre Burrows, LW: $4.5M AAV through 2016-17
Chris Tanev, D: $4.45M AAV through 2019-2020
Luca Sbisa, D: $3.6M AAV through 2017-18
Derek Dorsett, RW: $2.65M AAV through 2018-19
Jannik Hansen, RW: $2.5M AAV through 2017-18
Chris Higgins, LW: $2.5M AAV through 2016-17
Nick Bonino, C: $1.9M AAV through 2016-17
Zack Kassian, RW: $1.75M AAV through 2015-16
Eddie Lack, G: $1.15M AAV through 2015-16
Bo Horvat, C: $894,166 AAV through 2016-17
The Vancouver Canucks’ best players are getting long in the tooth and the team’s underlying performance deteriorated worryingly in every area this past season, even as the club’s record improved. Still, this is a team that should be in the thick of the playoff race next season.
When you still employ a high-end, top-line centre (Henrik Sedin), a goaltending tandem likely to provide you with average or better goaltending, and a very credible top defence pair (Alex Edler and Chris Tanev), you have most of what’s required to set the table.
Restricted free agents (2014-15 salary):
Jakob Markstrom, G: $1.4M
Yannick Weber, D: $850,000
Sven Baertschi, LW: $832,500
Adam Clendening, D: $817,500
Linden Vey, C: $735,000
Ronalds Kenins, LW: $717,500
Brandon McMillan, LW: $625,000
Frank Corrado, D: $575,000
Ryan Stanton, D: $550,000
AHL RFAs:RW Alexandre Grenier, G Joachim Ericsson, LW Cory Conacher, C Alex Friesen
The Canucks have a variety of intriguing restricted players this summer and it would seem probable that a few of these players could be dealt prior to the NHL Draft. After all, the Canucks own the 23rd overall pick at the 2015 draft and then don’t pick again until the 4th round (114th overall pick).
“I love draft picks,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said following the NHL trade deadline back in March. “We’re going to try to recover some of these picks.”
If the club is intent on shopping aggressively for picks, there are two obvious areas where they have an excess of restricted and potentially desirable assets. Benning identified one of these areas explicitly at his season ending press conference in April.
“We have depth at the goaltending position” Benning said. “That’s an area where we could probably recapture a draft pick if we decide to trade somebody.”
Because of Jacob Markstrom’s backloaded deal, the cost of keeping him, Eddie Lack and Ryan Miller on the payroll next season is prohibitive and we can reasonably expect the Canucks to trade one of the three.
While Vancouver would probably prefer to move Markstrom, Benning recently admitted that he might look to move Lack instead if the organization decides against signing the 27-year-old goaltender to a contract extension.
Vancouver should look to trade a player from the right side of their defence also. The club has five right-handed shooting defenders who will require waivers next season, including a trio of restricted players in Yannick Weber, Adam Clendening and Frank Corrado.
So you know something has to give.
Unrestricted free agents (2014-15 AAV):
Shawn Matthias, LW: $1.75 million
Brad Richardson, C: $1.15 million
Darren Archibald, RW: $600k
AHL UFAs: LW Brandon DeFazio (Group VI), G Joe Cannata (Group VI), C Cal O’Reilly, D Alex Biega, D Bobby Sanguinetti
The Canucks already elected to re-sign defenceman Luca Sbisa and fourth-line forward Derek Dorsett, which leaves them with limited flexibility to bring back outgoing unrestricted players like Brad Richardson and Shawn Matthias.
Vancouver will miss Matthias’ goal scoring ability at 5-on-5 and Richardson’s penalty killing mastery, but in Sven Baertschi and Bo Horvat the Canucks have a pair of natural and affordable heirs in place.
Possible off-season targets:
Following a February trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Nashville Predators, defenceman Cody Franson struggled in a reduced role on his weak side. Still the former Vancouver Giants defender could be too good, and too good a fit, for the Canucks to pass up.
“If they did clear up (some cap space) I absolutely think they’d take a run at Cody Franson, and why not?” said Vancouver Province beat writer Jason Botchford on a recent podcast.
“I think he’s the best fit out of any free agent defenceman that’s out there,” Botchford added later. “I think (the Canucks) see him as the best fit out of any free agent out there.”
Franson is likely to be an expensive addition, so this is a move that can only happen if Vancouver renovates their roster a bit more comprehensively than we can reasonably expect.
The Canucks are thin on the left side of their defence, and Boston Bruins defender Matt Bartkowski could be a sensible depth addition. Vancouver was rumoured to be interested in the 27-year-old stay-at-home defender throughout last season, and Benning has some familiarity with him from his time in Boston.
Bartkowski isn’t flashy or fast, but he’s a capable, heady contributor who could probably be had at a reasonable price point.
In the midst of stalemated contract negotiations last summer, former St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka left the NHL for Avangard Omsk of the KHL.
When we last saw him with the Blues, Sobotka was one of the league’s most dominant faceoff men. Think he could prove helpful to a Canucks team that finished 28th in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage?
Sobotka is a restricted player, so the Canucks would have to give up an asset to acquire his rights. If the team is looking to improve in the circle and offset the probable loss of Richardson, Sobotka would fit the bill perfectly.
Biggest off-season need:
Speed, youth, and talent on the blueline.
The Canucks were burned repeatedly by faster teams during the regular season and couldn’t handle the Flames’ aggressive forecheck in their first-round playoff series.
It’s not just puck moving that’s at issue for the Canucks’ too-permissive defence corps; it’s also their inability to contribute offensively.
Canucks defenseman combined for 135 points last season, worse than every team in the NHL save for the Florida Panthers, Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres. That’s not the sort of company you want to keep.
How much of the Canucks’ much maligned ‘core’ group will return next season?
The Canucks have a variety of aging but still useful veteran pieces, the types of players that might be able to help a contending team get over the top. The problem for Vancouver is that they’re not that team anymore.
Benning has repeatedly insisted that he’s willing to ask players to waive their no-trade clauses. It’s not idle talk either, just ask Jason Garrison.
This off-season will we see the Canucks explore the possibility of moving ‘core’ pieces on soon-to-expire contracts, player such as Kevin Bieksa or Dan Hamhuis?
Radim Vrbata apparently didn’t impress management with his post-season performance. Could he be on the move if the return is right?
Might one of Jannik Hansen or Chris Higgins find themselves on the trade block?
Or will the Canucks stand pat, mostly, and return a similar team next season?
We know that the Canucks will look to recapture draft picks and get younger this summer, but how far will Benning and company be willing to go?