Faster Salary Cap Increase Helps the Canucks

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Vancouver Canucks fans got some very good news recently – or at the very least a new flavour for some well-chewed grist. In an interview with Sportsnet, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly suggested the salary cap could increase sooner – and more significantly – than formerly thought. Any increase helps the Canucks salary cap, but the timing couldn’t be better for the team.

“Elephant? What Elephant?”

Let’s start with what we all know is coming. “But how does this affect J.T. Miller?” is a punchline in Vancouver after months of speculation. The second most popular page for Vancouver Canucks fans has been CapFriendly, visited with every transaction. Not just in Vancouver, but any deal anywhere in the league. New Jersey Devils make a trade for John Marino? “One less target for a J.T. Miller deal!” Jonathan Huberdeau swapped for Matthew Tkachuk? “Should we move Miller now, or do the Canucks need him even more?”  Nazem Kadri free-agent signing?  “Is Miller worth more or less?” The Vegas Golden Knights give away Max Pacioretty? “How does this affect the Canucks playoff chances – and J.T. Miller?”

NHL free agent frenzy

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It’s tiring, sure. But also highlights just how important making the right move with J.T. Miller is. What that right move is has fuelled endless speculation – here included – for a few reasons. Most obviously is that he’s an excellent player. Career high in points, used everywhere for the team, taken on a big part of the leadership. And all that, of course, means he’s just as valuable as a trade chip. What GM Patrik Allvin does with him – which probably includes increasing the team’s offer – is vital.

A team that has had what little progress they managed slammed into the wall of COVID-19 is looking for more. As are the fans. And the players who have been here long enough to expect improvement. With whole new management, though, it’s hard to get a read on their long-term plans. This one… trade? Signing? Will provide some clarity. And, as ever, it all comes down to money.

Tip Your Cap and Vice Versa

While not providing any numbers, Daly sounds optimistic about revenues catching up to the hit the league took during their COVID-shortened seasons. Players cut a deal with the league to keep losses minimal as part of the NHLPA and NHL negotiations. To minimize it, both sides agreed that their 50-50 split of revenue included player paycheques, at least until revenues returned. Well, revenues have returned quicker than feared. Brilliant news for the players, as a reduction in player escrow, is already happening – from 17.2% this past season to 10% for 2022-23. It gets even better for players over the next three years, as escrow drops to 6% for each. If revenues catch up sooner, then they’ll get that money back by season’s end anyway.

Following those rose-coloured signposts, expect the salary cap to go up matching the increased revenue as soon as 2023-24. We know that next season’s salary cap is increasing by $1 million to $82.5 million. If owners recoup their approximately $1 billion in losses during the 2022-23 season, that cap will increase much more significantly for 2023-24. So let’s talk about timing and how that as much as the cap increase helps the Canucks salary cap situation.

Any Port in a Storm

Under the tsunami of talk about renewing J.T. Miller’s contract lies the ocean current of Bo Horvat. The team’s captain is also an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2022-23. He had an excellent season, freed to some degree of being the team’s official shadow. For the comic nerds out there*Horvat is a bit like Ultra Boy – he can do one thing really well at a time. When he’s sent out to try countering opponents’ big stars, he does a good job. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of his own scoring. Horvat had more help last season, and his scoring hit career highs while his even-strength Corsi broke 50% for the first time. He’s been full value for his $5.5 million cap hit – but not a lot more than that. Whatever raise he gets, it shouldn’t be all that substantial.

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Compare that with all of the everything involved in J.T. Miller’s upcoming contract. He hasn’t just been the team’s top scorer over the past three seasons, but also their leading forward in ice time. He’s extremely versatile, playing wing or centre and on either special team. A very vocal player on and off the ice. He’s never said anything about wanting to play anywhere but Vancouver. Everybody wants a deal to get done. You know the stories by now.

Now, the Canucks are getting some salary relief after 2022-23. Both their buyouts – Jake Virtanen and Braden Holtby – expire. Michael Ferland, as useful as his long-term injured relief was, is finally off the books. Bonus overages earned by Jaroslav Halak are paid out and done. The 2023-24 season will start with almost $7 million in “dead money” off the books. And best of all, Thatcher Demko is still on a sweetheart deal!  That’s the good news for the Canucks salary cap.

Making An Asset Out of You and Me

The bad news is they currently have nearly $25 million on the books for just four defencemen. Eight forwards will be taking up over $31 million. For those doing the math, it comes out to almost $61 million for 13 signed players. Without new contracts for either Horvat or Miller. And in the ultimate Good News/Bad News scenario, if Andrei Kuzmenko does as well as hoped, he will need a new deal also. With a projected cap increase of a paltry $1 million, there are some awkward meetings coming up.

And here’s where the larger cap increase helps the Canucks possibly more than any other team. Billionaires and sports teams never actually know how much money they are going to make in the next year. But the new revenue sources – including sports betting and on-player sponsorship – gave last year’s numbers a boost. There are other things coming in this year, including electronic dasher boards and (gulp) NFTs that can provide another increase. But beyond those sources, just getting people back into the habit of NHL fandom can see a resumption of normal growth. If the change of television channels improves visibility, fans old and new will be able to find the sport more easily.

The Canucks can say they want to keep Horvat and Miller all they like. If they can’t afford it, though, then they don’t have much of a choice. Should revenues increase through the 2022-23 season enough, then maybe – just maybe – they can manage it.

The Secret of Good Comedy

A miracle cap increase won’t solve all of the Canucks salary cap problems, of course. But it can buy them some time. If no deal is signed between the team and either Miller or Horvat, then it’s not a fatal issue. As the year progresses, teams will get a better idea of how much the total revenues will increase – and the salary cap with it. Now, things would have to go very, very right for the debt from players to be fully repaid to owners that soon… but what if it is?

Suddenly getting a $5 million increase for 2023-24 instead of another $1 million won’t as mentioned, solve everything. But it will give a better idea of where the cap might be in, say, another seven years. And that could be pivotal for signing Miller. A cap of $95 million to $100 million would make carrying a $7 million third-line player much more palatable than a cap of $90 million. That’s way too high a paycheque, sure, but in the intervening years? That third-line stop is the end of his career, and one not coming for a few seasons yet.

If the Canucks are going to be a legitimate challenger in three to four seasons, J.T. Miller is exactly the sort of player they’ll be looking for. Why not keep him for the trip to that spot? He’s not the perfect player, but he has fit in perfectly with the Vancouver Canucks. What will free agents cost in 2027? Especially if he’s a 60-point scorer who can play wing or centre and either special team?

Sure, any size of increase helps the Canucks salary cap. But if they can pull off a sizeable jump in one year instead of two? That would be more blind luck than planned timing but at this point? Vancouver – and their fans – with take either one.



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