With the season paused until some point in the future, no one knows where the Vancouver Canucks will finish. This hasn’t stopped their fans’ annual routine, though: worrying about the future and considering the Canucks buyout options. Panic about the salary cap and bad contracts is how they warm up to Summer.
Those fears have been amplified by a possibly decreasing cap for next season at the very least, and possibly two. The optimistic projections from just one month ago are now long forgotten, but the expiring contracts are still there. There are a lot of questions yet to be answered.
Vancouver Canucks Buyout Options
The Vancouver Canucks obviously made a big push to make the playoffs this season. Bringing in NHL replacements for injured players rather than calling them up has cost them assets. Being buyers rather than sellers both in the offseason and at the trade deadline emphasized GM Jim Benning’s words. While he has always said he was confident about cap negotiation, that was before league closures and massive financial losses.
There are lots of rumours and questions about what is going to happen for this season, never mind the next. We don’t know when it’s going to start again, for instance, or what “finishing the season” will look like. The league and players really, really want to have a complete 82 games this season – with playoffs – and another the next. If that happens, losses will be minimized.
Should that “best of” scenario come true, there will be some compromises to the year: no All-Star Game or week-long break, for instance, to go along with a compressed schedule. But before that happens, they’ll have to work out the salary cap. The only thing we know for sure is that it won’t be going up.
Pass Go, Collect Two Million(-ish)
Not all is doom and gloom for salary-crunched teams, however. The players don’t want to lose a huge chunk of their pay to escrow this year, so will likely compromise. One place they might do so is allowing buyouts. In players taking the lesser of the two evils, teams can gain some flexibility. It won’t be setting a precedent, either, given the unique circumstance.
So let’s go ahead and assume the cap remains flat and the NHLPA grants each team one buyout. Though there are plenty of bad contracts on the Canucks – remain calm, Vancouver fans – this might not be the panacea you think. The Canucks’ buyout options are plenty, and one, in particular, will leap to mind. But is that the best use of a one-time gift?
Loui Eriksson has never lived up to his $6 million price tag. His contract was structured to be very tough to convince another team to take him on. Between a high base salary and signing bonuses, it was deliberately written to be trade- and buyout-resistant.
With two years left on his deal, a regular buyout would save the Canucks less than $350,000 cap space in 2020-21 and less than $2.5 million in 2021-22. While that’s not exactly nothing, it certainly isn’t “re-signing Tyler Toffoli” money. Eliminating his contract completely, on the other hand, would be a massive benefit. It leaves him free to sign on with another team as a perfectly good fourth liner, too.
But what if the team decided he was fine for another two seasons? Sounds crazy, I know, but if they decided his defensive strength (which is a real thing) and experience were worth keeping?
Next Up (And Out)
While Brandon Sutter only has a single year left on his deal, it does come with a $4.375 million hit. A regular buyout would save the team $2 million this season but add a bit more than half that the next. He was brought in to act as a buffer for the young Bo Horvat, but the captain hardly needs one now. Sutter has mostly lost his place as a third-line centre to Adam Gaudette and now plays wing. He’s still got good speed and a decent shot, but he’s not the defensive specialist that Eriksson is.
Buying Sutter out instead of Eriksson would save the Canucks less in cap space, but he may be the more redundant player.
The Dog House
Getting a veteran from a winning program is rarely a bad idea, especially if you have a young team. Jay Beagle has a Stanley Cup ring. By all accounts, he’s a player you want talking to your rookies about what it takes to win one. But he is also older, slower, and signed on for longer than Sutter. That’s enough to make him one of the Canucks’ buyout options.
Buying out Beagle would save the Canucks $3 million in cap space for the next two years. It would also free up space to drop Sutter to the third line if he moves back to the middle.
First, the good news: Sven Baertschi played a full(-ish) season of professional hockey without any concussion symptoms! The bad news: it was in Utica.
Baertschi was a surprise cut from the Canucks pre-season when room was needed for Gaudette. The frequently-injured Baertschi’s concussion history made him a bit of a risk, and was undoubtedly one of the reasons he passed through waivers this year. He has a fairly reasonable contract with just one year left on it, but the team was unable to trade him despite his request and their desire.
Even buried in the AHL, he is costing the Canucks $2.3 million in cap room. That’s quite a bit for a player who is doing literally nothing for the team. At least Sutter, Beagle, and Eriksson are in Vancouver.
This One Hurts
Another player with a history of concussions could also be a target for the buyout: Micheal Ferland. Signed on with the chance to play on the top line, Ferland never quite found his place with the team. Even before his injuries, he had slipped down to the fourth line. His play had improved there, but with an already far-too-expensive bottom-six, can the team afford him?
He returned to the ice briefly in Utica post-concussion but had difficulty tracking the puck. All other symptoms have cleared up, according to TSN’s Rick Dhaliwal. Even so, the risk of a recurrence of those symptoms and his uncertain place in the lineup makes him a suitable Canucks buyout option.
Micheal Ferland’s agent Jason Davidson : “Mike is back in Brandon working out and experiencing zero symptoms.” #Canucks
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) April 1, 2020
Buying him out would take $3.5 million off the books for three years – a considerable savings.
What A World, What A World
As much as Vancouver is a team on the rise, it is a bit disturbing that there are so many Canucks buyout options. But there are five restricted free agents come due this season, and another four unrestricted ones they’d like to keep, the Vancouver Canucks have to consider every tool available to them. With the Salary Cap remaining flat – at best – for 2020-21, few teams will be in a position to take a bad contract on.
This season has been unlike anything hockey has seen for a century. What happens in the next one has yet to be discovered. But the space between is fascinating.