Breaking down all contracts for the 2020-21 Canucks roster

Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green spoke to the media as their season has come to an end about the success they found in the playoffs and any potential plans for the off season.

VANCOUVER — The adage that every dollar counts has never seemed as true for the NHL as it will be this off-season.

For the Vancouver Canucks, the dollars that count include the extraordinary cap-recapture penalty on Roberto Luongo ($3.035 million), last year’s buyout of Ryan Spooner ($1.03 million) and bonus-overages ($1.7 million) due to Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.

Pile on Loui Eriksson’s bad contract ($6 million) and the Canucks have several million fewer dollars than they’d like to withstand the economic downforces caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The good news is Pettersson and Hughes are still on their entry-level deals next season and most of the Canucks’ best players are under contract at sensible salaries. But their MVP, goalie Jacob Markstrom, is an unrestricted free agent, as is first-line winger Tyler Toffoli and veteran defenceman-leader Chris Tanev.

Here, in alphabetical order, is Sportsnet’s breakdown of Canucks contracts and the outlook for these players’ future in Vancouver as the team tries to navigate the flattened NHL salary cap.

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Sven Baertschi

Age: 27

Contract status: Signed through 2020-21

AVV: $3.37 million

The winger, a top-line partner for Bo Horvat until Baertschi suffered a concussion two years ago, spent all but six games in the minors last season when coach Travis Green dropped him in favour of others after training camp. The Canucks tried a couple of times to trade Baertschi in retained-salary deals but found no takers. He was the only Vancouver player who opted out of return-to-play, and very likely won’t play again for the Canucks.

According to CapFriendly, there is a cap savings of $525,000 next season if the Canucks buy out Baertschi rather than bury him in the minors again, but that wouldn’t offset the additional cap charge the team would face in 2021-22. It looks like there may be no way out for either side.

Jay Beagle

Age: 34

Contract status: Signed through 2021-22

AVV: $3 million

The veteran centre and team leader has been everything the Canucks hoped he would be – as long as they didn’t hope he’d actually produce like a guy getting paid $12 million over four years. The fourth-line centre, who specializes in killing penalties and winning faceoffs (59.1 per cent), managed just two goals and eight points in 55 games.

In fairness, Beagle isn’t expected to score and starting a team-low 16.2 per cent of shifts in the offensive zone reflects this. But Beagle and fellow veteran Brandon Sutter, also overpaid for his role by general manager Jim Benning, do the same job and the Canucks really need to move on from one of them. Sutter is the slightly more viable trade candidate.

Canucks right wing Boeser (6) carries the puck past Lightning centre Stamkos (91) and centre Point (21) during the first period on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (Chris O’Meara / AP)

Brock Boeser

Age: 23

Contract status: Signed through 2021-22

AVV: $5.875 million

Most markets would adore a 23-year-old winger who has generated 75 goals and 161 points in his first 197 NHL games and was a Calder Trophy runner-up in 2018. But sometimes it feels a large segment of Canucks Nation can’t get rid of this young star soon enough.

Sure, Boeser had an inconsistent playoffs, opening strong but finishing with just four goals and 11 points in 17 games, which followed a regular season in which a rib injury and extended slump meant his final goal was on Jan. 11. But really, Boeser’s biggest fault is that he isn’t Pettersson — or Bo Horvat or J.T. Miller — and may not have the role on the Canucks to justify his next contract.

In the context of value choices that NHL teams must make, Boeser’s future is legitimately open to discussion. He could return a huge haul in trade, but the Canucks need to be careful. Boeser is a character person and teammate and could score 25-30 goals and 70 points per season for the next decade.

Loui Eriksson

Age: 35

Contract status: Signed through 2021-22

AVV: $6 million

Eriksson’s contract isn’t the worst in the NHL for his team, but it’s close. At least he can still play – except when the Canucks are fully healthy or deep into the playoffs. Four years into his six-year, $36-million contract, the winger is essentially a penalty-killer who can play a checking role as long as there is little expectation of offence. Eriksson’s six goals and 13 points in 49 games – he was healthy-scratched 20 times – were easily the lowest of his career.

The Canucks are desperate to find an exit ramp on this contract and hope that the actual cash still owed to Eriksson (just $5 million) might make him moveable with retained salary. But during the flat-cap crisis, a trade looks hopeless. Eriksson’s bonus-heavy contract is essentially buyout proof.

If the American League operates, the Canucks could save $1.075 million by burying him in the minors, but the real hope there is that Eriksson would agree to simply terminate his deal and let the Canucks off the hook.

Micheal Ferland

Age: 28

Contract status: Signed through 2022-23

AVV: $3.5 million

Ferland looked like a free-agency bargain when the Canucks signed him last summer to a four-year, $14 million deal. But the winger suffered a concussion during a staged fight Oct. 30 in Los Angeles, then played only four more NHL periods the rest of the season.

Hopefulness generated by his encouraging and unexpected return from injury for the playoffs lasted two games, until he was concussed again in August. There is serious concern about Ferland’s quality of life, let alone his hockey career. He is expected to attempt another comeback when next season begins, but there is little reason to think it will be successful. Best-case scenario for the Canucks – besides a medical miracle that allows him to play his rugged game – is that the team will get some crucial cap relief if Ferland spends next season on LTI.

Adam Gaudette

Age: 23

Contract status: RFA

The centre’s ineffectiveness during the Canucks’ playoff run (0 points in 10 games, 31.4 xGF%) dulled what had been a relatively impressive campaign that saw him score 12 goals and 33 points in 59 regular-season games. He’s still trying to figure out the 200-foot game but certainly has offensive upside. That isn’t getting him paid this off-season.

Coming out of an entry-level contract that paid him $917,000 last season, Gaudette is a 10.2 (c) free agent, ineligible for an offer sheet or arbitration. With so many dollars needed for others, Gaudette will have to sign for something close to his previous salary, then build more experience and leverage. He is also an intriguing trade piece if GM Jim Benning wants to move him for a draft pick or asset.

Vancouver Canucks’ Horvat (53) celebrates his goal as he is followed by St. Louis Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo (27) during overtime in first round NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey series in Edmonton, on Friday August 14, 2020. (Jason Franson/CP)

Bo Horvat

Age: 25

Contract status: Signed through 2022-23

AVV: $5.5 million

At some point, the Canucks’ captain surely must reach his peak and stop surprising people by continually getting better. But that point wasn’t this past season, when the powerful centre scored 22 goals and 53 points in 69 games while again getting the second-best set of wingers and the toughest matchups.

Horvat then scored 10 times in 17 playoff games, and was the Canucks’ best player in a few of them. He helps drives the team from the second line, behind Pettersson, the same way Ryan Kesler once did playing behind Henrik Sedin. Horvat’s six-year contract has turned into a bargain, and his three more seasons under the deal represent, for now, the Canucks’ window to compete for a championship.

Josh Leivo

Age: 27

Contract status: UFA

The late-blooming forward was having a breakthrough season before he shattered his knee cap in December. He finished with seven goals and 19 points in 36 games, which didn’t fully reflect his value to coach Green as a versatile winger who could play up and down the lineup and in all situations.

Only Pettersson and J.T. Miller had a higher shots-for percentage than Leivo’s 52.45. Until he was hurt, it looked like Leivo would price himself out of Vancouver, but given the severity of his injury, it’s impossible to know what his next contract will be. Would the Canucks even match last year’s salary of $1.5 million?

Zack MacEwen

Age: 24

Contract status: RFA

MacEwen is like found money – a former undrafted free-agent out of junior who in less than three professional seasons played his way into the NHL lineup. The physical, six-foot-four winger had five goals in just 17 NHL games, including three goals during two big wins in March that moved the Canucks into a playoff position.

His expired entry-level contract paid him $848,000 last season, and MacEwen is due a modest raise. The Canucks have some greyhounds in their lineup and system, but very few pitbulls like MacEwen who can play.

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J.T. Miller

Age: 27

Contract status: Signed through 2022-23

AVV: $5.25 million

Sometimes wrong but rarely humbled, Canucks Twitter largely lost its mind at the 2019 entry draft when GM Benning surrendered a lottery-protected first-round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning to acquire Miller.

The two-way power forward merely led the Canucks from early in training camp, and eventually obliterated previous career highs by scoring 27 goals and 72 points in 69 games. He actually helped make Pettersson even better, then backed it all up by producing 18 points in 17 playoffs games while playing hurt. Miller’s contract is a bargain and he has become essential to everything the Canucks do. As with Horvat’s contract, the years remaining on Miller’s deal frame the immediate window to win for Vancouver.

Tyler Motte

Age: 25

Contract status: RFA

Few players personify the gulf that sometimes exists between analytics and the eye test than Motte, a buzz-saw winger who has turned himself into one of the Canucks’ most valued depth players.

Somewhere between all that speed and tenacity – forwards-leading hits (15.9) and blocks (4.97) per 60 minutes – and a shot-share and expected-goals rate of just under 40 per cent, is an energy player loved by coach, teammates and fans. After making $975,000 last season, Motte is probably management’s top priority among the RFAs.

Tanner Pearson

Age: 28

Contract status: Signed through 2020-21

AVV: $3.75 million

Pearson turned around his career in Vancouver after he was traded twice in 2018-19. In just 69 games, playing mostly with Bo Horvat on a two-way line that had a lot of tough matchups, the winger set a career high with 45 points and his 21 goals were the second-most in his seven-year NHL career.

Pearson is an important second-tier player whose experience and grit were evident during the playoffs. He is a UFA after next season and, depending on how badly he wants to stay in Vancouver, may be difficult to re-sign given the expensive players ahead of him. But the Canucks are awfully glad they have him now.

Vancouver Canucks’ Pettersson celebrates after scoring the winning goal against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

Elias Pettersson

Age: 21

Contract status: Signed through 2020-21

AVV: $925,000

Last season’s rookie of the year was even better as a sophomore and truly is one of the elite young talents in the game, a likely superstar.

Pettersson was a point-per-game player until the playoffs, when he became something more – producing seven goals and 18 points in 17 games despite being ferociously targeted by opponents. He and defenceman Quinn Hughes, taken fifth- and seventh-overall in successive drafts, are the future of the Canucks and that future is now. Pettersson will be the most expensive player in franchise history after next season, but with all the uncertainty and economic downforces in the Year of the COVID, that long-term extension may not materialize for a while.

Antoine Roussel

Age: 30

Contract status: Signed through 2021-22

AVV: $3 million

Halfway through his inflated four-year, $12-million contract, Roussel was close to being a healthy scratch in the playoffs, averaging easily the least ice time (7:26) of any lineup regular. We’re inclined to give the agitating winger a mulligan on the season since he didn’t start until December, missing nearly nine months with a devastating knee injury that prematurely ended his first year after Roussel had a career-best 31 points in 65 games.

Coach Green likes Roussel, but he’s making a lot of money to play on the fourth line and his combativeness will appeal to some teams if the Canucks try to trade him – with retained salary.

Brandon Sutter

Age: 31

Contract status: Signed through 2020-21

AVV: $4.375 million

Sutter had the misfortune of being oversold to the Vancouver market five years ago after his trade from Pittsburgh, just as the character centre was about to break down physically. He has missed 165 games due to various injuries, including what appear to be chronic groin-abdominal issues, and never fulfilled the promise of becoming more than a third-line centre.

That said, Sutter leads by example, has some versatility to go with his experience, is a good penalty-killer and can still play in this league. He just makes too much money for someone who has scored 12 goals in 70 games over the last two seasons. The Canucks may try trading him and a buyout would save them $2.33 million next season.

Vancouver Canucks’ Tyler Toffoli (73) celebrates his goal against the Vegas Golden Knights during second period NHL Western Conference Stanley Cup playoff action in Edmonton on Sunday, August 30, 2020. (Jason Franson/CP)

Tyler Toffoli

Age: 28

Contract status: UFA

Toffoli was a revelation in Vancouver after his arrival from Los Angeles in a February trade that cost the Canucks highly regarded prospect Tyler Madden and a second-round draft pick. It wasn’t just that the winger scored six goals and 10 points in 10 games while seamlessly moving to the top line alongside Pettersson and Miller, but Toffoli’s consistency, grit and 200-foot game were impressive.

Between the Canucks and Kings, Toffoli’s 24 goals matched the second-most of his career. He should blow through that mark if he plays a full season with Pettersson. No wonder the Canucks are desperate to re-sign Toffoli.

The 2014 Stanley Cup winner said this month his top priority is to stay in Vancouver, but he is coming off a three-year contract that paid him $4.6 million annually and won’t be taking a pay cut. The player is a great fit in Vancouver. Will his contract be, too?

Jake Virtanen

Age: 24

Contract status: RFA

After what appeared to be a breakthrough season when he scored 18 goals and 36 points in 69 games, Virtanen managed to practise himself out of Green’s lineup during summer camp and was a healthy scratch when the playoffs began. When his size, speed and physicality should have been vital, Virtanen finished the post-season with just two goals and an assist in 16 games, leading Benning to say he “expected more” from his first pick as GM back in 2014.

With arbitration rights that could double or triple last season’s salary of $1.25 million, Virtanen may be too expensive for his role. He is probably the most likely player to be traded from the NHL roster.

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Jordie Benn

Age: 33

Contract status: Signed through 2020-21

AVV: $2 million

A key off-season pickup, Benn’s first year in Vancouver was disappointing. He played his way out of the lineup in December and was a healthy scratch for 25 of the Canucks’ final 32 games. Brought in cold during the playoffs when Tyler Myers was injured, Benn played his best hockey of the season.

Interestingly, it was on the right side, where the defenceman did his best work for the Montreal Canadiens, instead of the left side coach Green had him anchored to during the regular season. With younger, cheaper options, the team is expected to see if it can trade Benn before next season. In any other year, his cap hit would be moveable.

Alexander Edler

Age: 34

Contract status: Signed through 2020-21

AVV: $6 million

Prior to Edler re-signing in 2019 on a team-friendly two-year deal, there was a theory that the rebuilding Canucks needed to “move on” from one of the best defencemen in franchise history. Edler may have lost a half-step, but he proved again this season he is still a top-four NHL blue-liner who eats minutes, blocks more shots than almost anyone, and can play against the best players in the league. He remains essential to the Canucks, who will likely try to extend him again after the Seattle expansion draft.

Oscar Fantenberg

Age: 28

Contract status: UFA

The Canucks batted .500 on their depth signings, Fantenberg’s solid season offsetting Benn’s disappointing one. The Swede had to wait until Dec. 1 to get into a game, but was a third-pairing regular the rest of the season and through the playoffs.

There are limitations to Fantenberg’s game, but he generally plays within them and competes on every shift. He was worth his $850,000, one-year deal and has earned another one. It may even come from the Canucks, although with good prospects like Olli Juolevi, Brogan Rafferty and Jack Rathbone competing for jobs at training camp, the team may go with a younger player with upside.

Vancouver Canucks’ Hughes (43) warms up prior to NHL Stanley Cup qualifying round action against the Minnesota Wild in Edmonton, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (Codie McLachlan/CP)

Quinn Hughes

Age: 20

Contract status: Signed through 2020-21

AVV: $917,000

What can you say about this phenom that hasn’t already been said?

He had the potential when he was drafted in 2018 to become the best defenceman in Canucks history and, after just one season, already looks the part. The only worry is how much it will cost the team when they re-sign the dynamo sometime in the next year to what could be a precedent-setting extension for his age and position. Hughes’ agility, creativity, passing skills and hockey IQ should soon make him a Norris Trophy contender.

Olli Juolevi

Age: 22

Contract status: Signed though 2020-21

AVV: $863,000

Late is always better than never, and it appears the fifth pick of the 2016 draft is finally ready to push for NHL duty. After three injured-plagued seasons of development, Juolevi played his way onto the Canucks’ “fourth pairing” at summer camp and made his NHL debut in Vancouver’s playoff series-clinching win against the Minnesota Wild.

It remains far from certain what kind of NHL player the lefty will become, but the Canucks need entry-level players in their lineup to offset the cost of Vancouver’s top end and Juolevi will have a chance to play next season.

Tyler Myers

Age: 30

Contract status: Signed through 2023-24

AVV: $6 million

Some fans didn’t want Myers on the Canucks at any cost, let alone on a five-year, $30-million contract that was actually considerably less than what had been predicted for last summer’s UFA. But it’s hard to argue that the six-foot-eight defenceman didn’t make the Canucks better during his first season.

He skates and moves the puck well, possesses a physical element the team sometimes lacks and, despite his defensive deficiencies, Myers still led Vancouver in even-strength ice time (18:35) – slightly ahead of Edler and Hughes. Will he be the same player in another two of three seasons? That’s the $30-million question.

Vancouver Canucks’ Stecher, front, and St. Louis Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist, of Sweden, vie for the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver on Monday January 27, 2020. (Darryl Dyck / CP)

Troy Stecher

Age: 26

Contract status: RFA

In normal times, Stecher wouldn’t have much to worry about contractually. A local kid, he is a good, if under-sized, right-side puck-mover who leads by example and can play up and down the defence.

But in 2020, he’s unsure he’ll receive a qualifying offer on last year’s salary of $2.325 million because the Canucks are concerned what he may cost them in arbitration after averaging just 15:21 of ice time this season. Benning has said he’d like to recover a draft pick or two before Oct. 6, and Stecher’s rights may be used as bait.

Christopher Tanev

Age: 30

Contract status: UFA

Few players have literally sacrificed themselves as much for their team as Tanev has during a career spent entirely with the Canucks. He has missed piles of games with injuries sustained blocking shots and battling for pucks, although the veteran dressed for every game this season when he averaged 19:32 of ice time and mentored Hughes as an even-strength partner.

Both the Canucks and Tanev want him to stay in Vancouver, but his previous salary of $4.45 million will be hard to match, especially if the right-side defenceman wants more than a couple of years on his next deal. Edler, the only Canuck with more tenure than Tanev, helped the team by accepting a two-year deal as a UFA last summer, but this may be Tanev’s last chance to get some long-term security – if not from the Canucks, then someone else. His future in Vancouver may hinge on how much money the team has left if it re-signs UFAs Toffoli and Jacob Markstrom.

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Thatcher Demko

Age: 24

Contract status: Signed through 2020-21

AVV: $1.05 million

The uncertainty of this NHL time is reflected by the Canucks’ excellent backup-prospect; Demko could be Vancouver’s starter next season or he could be traded if Markstrom re-signs or his status may remain unchanged for another year. Hard to tell.

Demko has been groomed to become an NHL starter since he was chosen 36th in the 2014 draft, and he did nothing in his first full season to undermine that belief. He briefly became the story of the Stanley Cup playoffs when, with Markstrom injured and the Canucks facing elimination, he came in cold and stopped 123 of 125 shots against the Vegas Golden Knights. But the performance didn’t change the way the team views him. Demko, supported by an experienced 1a or 1b, is a viable option if negotiations with Markstrom go poorly.

Louis Domingue

Age: 28

Contract status: UFA

The journeyman goalie was a rush acquisition in February when Markstrom’s knee injury coincided with the NHL trade deadline. He played one game for the Canucks. Nobody views him as an NHL regular at this stage of his career. But the Canucks need a veteran goalie in the minors to support prospect Mike DiPietro, and Vancouver also has to offer Seattle a goalie in expansion. So it’s possible the team re-signs Domingue, who made $850,000 last season.

Jacob Markstrom

Age: 30

Contract status: UFA

Except for the global pandemic, Markstrom timed his free agency perfectly. He has improved each of his three seasons as Vancouver’s starter and is coming off a career year in which he posted a .918 save rate despite brief absences due to injury and personal family leaves. Then Markstrom backed it up with an outstanding playoff run.

In any other year (we know that phrase is getting old), the six-foot-six stopper could command a five- or six-year deal at $6 million or more. And he may still – but it won’t be from the Canucks. The team is trying to compromise with Markstrom on something with less term (or less salary in exchange for term) and is prepared for the possibility of losing their MVP. They have Demko, and they’ll have more money for others if Markstrom doesn’t re-sign.

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