Booth buyout, Kesler trade will give Canucks a terrifying amount of capspace

For years, the Canucks have been one of the biggest spenders in the NHL, spending right up to the limit of the salary cap. With Laurence Gilman’s cap wizardry navigating the way, the Canucks have deftly used every trick in the book to squeeze their roster under the cap, sometimes making it just by the skin of their teeth.

That’s no longer a major concern. With Roberto Luongo’s $5.3 million already off the books, David Booth’s $4.25 million cap hit bought out this week, and Ryan Kesler’s $5 million contract almost certainly about to go elsewhere, the Canucks are in unfamiliar territory.

With technically only five roster spots to fill, the Canucks will have over $21 million in cap space heading into free agency. While that’s not including any potential return in the Kesler trade and some of that money will be eaten up re-signing Mike Santorelli and restricted free agents like Zack Kassian, Chris Tanev, and — maybe — Jordan Schroeder and Yannick Weber, that will still leave the Canucks with plenty of room to spend big money on a big-name free agent or two.

This is absolutely terrifying. Why? Because it is remarkably easy to royally screw up in free agency.

Free agency is where General Managers make their biggest mistakes. Teams overpay for playoff performance, toughness, or because they thought they were signing a different player. Jim Benning, for all his experience with the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins, is still a rookie GM facing his first NHL free agency as the man in charge. Any GM is bound to make a few mistakes and the Canucks’ bountiful cap space will give Benning plenty of rope with which to hang himself.

It’s also terrifying because the Canucks aren’t the only team with money to burn. The rapid increase in the salary cap after last season’s lockout-lowered cap means other teams will be bidding against the Canucks, potentially driving up prices for even the most unexciting free agents. This will also drive up expectations for those players who cash in and many fans will end up disappointed, Canucks fans almost certainly among them.

Some team (hey there, Minnesota) is going to offer Thomas Vanek well over $7 million per year. Same with Paul Stastny. Matt Moulson might make over $6 million per year on his next contract. Are you ready for Matt Moulson to be making as much per year as Patrick Kane? I’m not.

Are you ready for the Canucks to be one of those teams massively overpaying one of these players?

Just how much will the Canucks really have to spend? Let’s make a couple assumptions and see where that leaves us. First, we’ll assume that at least one of Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce, or Cole Cassels makes the team. We’ll go with Horvat, as Benning has spoken well of him, he fits a need at centre, and he makes the most (along with Shinkaruk) of any player in that group, taking the most out of Canucks’ capspace.

We’ll also assume that if and when Kesler gets traded, the Canucks will get a young NHL-ready forward in return. We’ll pick Anaheim, as that seems to be the the team everyone’s talking about in relation to this trade. Names mentioned in rumours include Emerson Etem, Rickard Rakell, and Devante Smith-Pelly. We’ll go with Rakell, as again he makes the most of those three, though Smith-Pelly is an RFA due for a raise.

We’ll assume the Canucks re-sign all of their RFAs, giving Kassian a reasonable $1.4 million, Tanev a nice raise at $2.8 million, and Schroeder and Weber a let’s-see-what-you-can-do $750,000 each. We’ll even throw Zac Dalpe a $605,000 qualifying offer.

All of those assumptions give the Canucks a 22-man roster. It’s not a particularly good roster, relying on one of Horvat or Shawn Matthias to step up as a second-line centre, and it has some pretty big question marks in the bottom-six, but it’s a serviceable NHL lineup, though not one likely to make the playoffs. It also leaves the Canucks with over $13 million in capspace.

Do the Canucks want Stastny to take Kesler’s place as second-line centre? They have more than enough money to entice him. Do they instead want Ales Hemsky to be the bonafide top-six winger the team’s been missing for years? The money’s there. Mike Cammalleri to provide goalscoring pop? Sure. Mikhail Grabovski for some extra skill down the middle? Why not?

At this point, the Canucks could conceivably spend $13 million on two players, which comes back around to being terrifying.

I would be okay with the Canucks signing Hemsky for $5 million per year over 2 or 3 seasons and Stastny for $7.5 million per year for 5 years. I’d be fine with Cammalleri for $6 million and Grabovski for $4.5 million. There are any number of combinations that I could accept and a few I would be thrilled with, but I fear none of those will occur.

I fear that Stastny’s asking price will reach $9 million. I fear that Iginla, at 36, will want a long-term contract and Benning will be willing to give it to him. I fear that Ryan Callahan, who has never scored 30 goals or more than 54 points in a season, will want $7 million per year and that he’ll get it from the Canucks. I fear that my hopes for Hemsky will be dashed upon the rocks of Olli Jokinen.

Are these irrational fears? Perhaps. But this is the first time in years that the Canucks have had this kind of spending power in free agency. it’s understandable, I think, that I would have the jitters. Part of me hopes that the Canucks sign just one UFA — Mike Santorelli — and fill the roster with whichever prospects and veterans play best at training camp.

That’s unrealistic, of course. The realities of the Vancouver hockey market demand a quick return to the playoffs and standing pat during the free agent frenzy won’t appease the masses or, for that matter, the Aquilinis. So, with money to burn and mistakes to be made, Benning will enter the free agent market. Are you scared yet?

30 comments

  1. Kelvin Yu
    June 19, 2014

    5 million for 50 games of Hemsky per year seems like a bit of a risk. Stastny would be nice though.

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    • Aaron
      June 22, 2014

      Please not Hemsky!!!!

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  2. Rob Robertson
    June 19, 2014

    I share your trepidation on this matter.

    As you said, they have 2 logical options, a short term deal to an older player to boost the offence or a long term deal to a young player who can grow with the team.

    I fear that neither will come with a reasonable contract.

    I’m hoping against hope that Benning will stand pat for the most part, call this next season a rebuilding year and load up on some more prospects in the 2015 draft.

    The curse of being in a big hockey market is that will not be allowed, even though it’s the most logical path for long term success.

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  3. benner
    June 19, 2014

    Dude, $7M is the old $5M… with the cap project to go up yearly for the next 5 years or so, and rosters staying at 22 players, we can afford to ‘overpay’ by the old standards as we’ll have continued space to pay our own raises in the future.

    If we can get Stasny for 5 years, even at more than $7.5M it will look like a bargain down the road.

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    • Matt
      June 19, 2014

      Assuming the cap was going up forever is one of the things that cost Gillis his job.

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      • ikillchicken
        June 20, 2014

        That’s…not even remotely true. Gillis was easily one of the most cap cautious GMs in the league. He never splurged on highly priced FAs. He always either re-signed existing players at below market value or let them walk. Without a doubt there were a lot of things that cost Gillis his job: Turning the Luongo situation into an absurd gong show, sticking us with dead weight like Ballard and Booth, trading away too many picks and prospects and failing to develop young talent, locking us into too many NTCs thus preventing us from making moves when the status quo stopped working. But overpaying guys? No way. Not a chance. That was NEVER his M.O. The one thing Gillis undoubtedly did well was manage the cap.

        Anyway, I kinda agree with benner. I mean, I’m not super eager to see us make a big free agent signing since I’m not sure I love any of the options and I think it may be in our interest to have a bit of a transition year to see where we’re at before making any such big commitments. But, that said, I’m not super worried about the cap. It’s gonna absolutely explode over the next few seasons. So it is actually a pretty decent time to make a big signing. Pretty soon, 6-7M will be the new 4-5M. And 4-5M will be the new 2-3M. If nothing else, it makes me feel pretty okay about the Sedins and Burrows recent contracts.

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  4. Chris the Curmudgeon
    June 19, 2014

    I would really like to have Paul Stastny from that group. However, I think he has some loyalty to the Avalanche (which is part of what makes him a desirable acquisition) and will probably give them a big opportunity to get a deal done. Hemsky might be a good fit with the Sedin twins too, but if Kesler is to be traded, one would hope that a winger with upside would come in return and the biggest hole would likely be at center. No to Jokinen thank you, and maybe on Grabovski, though it’d have to be on another show-me type of deal, as he’s a few seasons from having really impressed anyone. Vanek’s going to get overpaid, like you said, and Moulson will probably cash in a little too much too on account of the weak field. I’d love to have Cammaleri’s goals, but am less excited about every other aspect of his game.

    What if they were to not spend to the cap, trust the kids to learn quickly and hope for a few bounceback years under competent and appropriate coaching, and lower the ticket prices a little bit to actually put money where their mouths are with this protracted PR campaign they’re waging to win back their miffed fans? Wouldn’t happen with this team, I suppose.

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  5. iain
    June 19, 2014

    you paint a terrifying picture. i’m further worried that somehow shawn thornton finds his way onto the canucks.

    against that, i hold out hope that the BLT will swing a deal for the No.1 pick and draft Reinhart. (is there not a clause in the CBA that forbids Florida from dealing with anyone other than Vancouver?) I’d forgive them a lot if they could pull that off.

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  6. Noodle
    June 19, 2014

    I’m impressed that The Sporting News got away with that headline regarding Jeff Finger.

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  7. chulookin
    June 19, 2014

    Hopefully the Canucks go with the kids this year & lose more then any other NHL team so they can pick Connor McDavid first over all in the 2015 NHL draft…McDavid is the next great one…This year is a crap shoot in the draft so trade Kesler for a first round draft pick to the team most likely to get us the first over all draft pick next year…it will be worth it down the road.

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    • Naturalmystic
      June 19, 2014

      Kesler has a not trade clause, his list only includes cup contender.

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  8. Sandro
    June 19, 2014

    If you trade Kesler and pick up Stastny, then you don’t need much return for a centre ice player other than prospects. The idea would be to shore up Stastny first then work on rounding out the roster with a Matt Moulson AND Hemsky type player to play one-two with Sedins. I’d also consider dumping the Edler contract somewhere and nabbing a young up-and-coming future Norris candidate. That is, of course, if the team is still willing to spend to the ceiling…. wait a minute… they are aren’t they? Full analysis here: http://raincityhockey.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/canucks-laundry-list-2014-playing-armchair-gm/

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    • Dissin' Terry
      June 20, 2014

      First off, Stastny and either Moulson or Hemsky alone will likely set the Canucks right up against the cap, if not over already. Edler isn’t going anywhere, according to both Edler and management, so that “dump” is not happening. Lastly, Norris calibre defensemen can’t just be “nabbed up” like a rabbit out a hat, not even for Edler, who again, is remaining a Canuck. Try researching sometime, as it will help iron out your impossibly perfect expectations. Frustrating to read.

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  9. swizzler16
    June 19, 2014

    some of that money will be spent on a goalie no?

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    • Daniel Wagner
      June 19, 2014

      I hope not. Or, if they do spend any money, I hope it’s a small amount on a goalie to split starts with Lack. I’d rather they don’t spend big on someone like Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller.

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  10. Chrìs
    June 19, 2014

    Hopefully they leave themselves some cap space so we can take those salary dump trades that come with a prospect/young nhler ie: ehrhoof trade

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  11. BBoone
    June 19, 2014

    I hope they show some patience here. If they stay flexible perhaps being able to take on some salary would facilitate a trade as the season unfolds.

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  12. Chrìs
    June 19, 2014

    We should sign pk subban to a rediculous offer sheet lol.

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  13. Locky
    June 19, 2014

    My anus is puckering Daniel

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  14. akidd
    June 20, 2014

    stastny would be a pretty sweet pick up, even if you overpaid him a mil per or so. hemsky i’m less sold on but short-term wouldn’t be terrible. it would be nice to see the sedins somehow get to play with a highly-skilled winger. they need it now, a little boost.

    there are other ways to spend that money. lots, really. i wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of ntc types get moved. salary could come back. or money coming back could be just another chip to land the key prospect in a package. so many juicy possibilities really. that draft should kick the proceedings off nicely. a new coach, heck maybe even a franchise player if someone plays his reinhart chips right, lots in the works. definitely not going to be a dull off-season.

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  15. Jimjamg
    June 20, 2014

    This also overlooks the fact that all the money from the new TV contracts comes into the cap next year when it will make this years cap increase look like chump change. You would have to make some super boners to get yourself in cap trouble over the next few years. And give the Aquilini’s credit, they have demonstrated willingness to spend to fix problems and spend cash when necessary. Can’t say they don’t want to win and aren’t prepared to put their money where their Team is.

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  16. Frank
    June 20, 2014

    I’m not loosing any sleep over what Benning might do in free agency. From what I have heard and seen, he seems to be a guy that knows how to evaluate talent and character. I can’t wait to see what team they will ice this year.

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  17. Smokey
    June 20, 2014

    There’s no need to spend to the cap, the Canucks have too many players already even without bringing in high-priced UFAs. Not all very good players, but this is a team that’s more than a Stastny or a Moulson away from the playoffs. Cap flexibility has its own value. What’s wrong with icing a younger, cheaper team if you’re gonna be on the bubble anyway?

    Sedin-Sedin-Jensen
    Kassian-Horvat-Burrows
    Hansen-Matthias-Higgins
    Archibald-Lain-Sestito
    Shinkaruk, Gaunce, 6th overall

    Bieksa-Hamhuis
    Tanev-Garrison
    Corrado-Stanton
    Weber

    Lack, Markstrom, veteran backup

    That’s a team that can compete and play good hard, fast hockey. Not a playoff team, but a team that can build to contention over time. Moving Kesler and Edler for futures puts you in a strong place with a deep draft upcoming. Mortgaging the farm to make the playoffs doesn’t make sense, so we get clobbered by one of the Cali teams again, what does that accomplish? We need to build this thing up bit by bit.

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  18. zack
    June 20, 2014

    are you joking? hemsky, vanek, moulson, cammaleri? who wants these guys for that price. lets go with the youth movement like other teams. get rid of hansen, kesler, edler and yes even burrows. he is past his prime

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    • Daniel Wagner
      June 20, 2014

      I don’t want Vanek or Moulson. I’d be okay with a couple years of Hemsky and Cammalleri. Hansen is 28, right in what should be his prime, as is Edler. Burrows is past his prime, sure, but I’d be loathe to get rid of him after his years of playing for contracts below what he’s worth and his ability to contribute in both a scoring and defensive role.

      I’m not arguing against a youth movement at all. One of the benefits of having talented prospects on cheap, entry-level and RFA contracts is that you can spend big on veterans to fill out the lineup. Sure, have Horvat, Jensen, and Shinkaruk pencilled into the lineup for the next several years, but why not also have Stastny, Hemsky, or Cammalleri, either in the top-six as those prospects gradually develop, or on the third line if outplayed by youth. That’s the kind of depth you see on LA (Mike Richards skated on the fourth line in the Stanley Cup Final) or the Bruins (Loui Eriksson, a first-line forward in Dallas, was on the third line in Boston).

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  19. t-canuck
    June 23, 2014

    I really struggle with how the sports columnists come up with their ideas for this team. I am pretty sure that the Canucks have had no problem with scoring with the forwards that they have with the exception of last season which I blame on the failed Torts( who puts their best scoring players on the PK?).
    In fact the young prospects look promising to offer some depth in this regard.
    The glaring problem with the team is that Boom Boom is our best Defence-man which is not a good position for the team to be in (sorry Kev….still got love for you but not at #1 slot) as for the rest of the D you can scrap the bunch, maybe keep Edler and Tanev but again second line at best probably third.
    The Canucks would be best to first trade up to #1 pick and take Aaron Ekblad which would give us a great young D-Man to build a D core on. Second never mind the high priced UFA forwards the smart thing would be to go after UFA Matt Niskanen, probably best available D-Man for UFA and he moves the puck with speed and is good on PP.
    If JB is as smart as I think he is it will be finally some D-Men for the hurtin blue line.
    Every cup contender has a Norris winner or candidate , the only guy ever in that category for the Canucks was Babych and it was after his prime. Its time management for this club addressed the blueline or we will see another era of goaltender graveyards for Vancouver.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      June 23, 2014

      I really struggle with how commenters come up with their ideas for this team. I am pretty sure that the Canucks have had no problem preventing goals with the defencemen they have with the exception of last season, which I blame on the failed Torts (who puts Alex Edler with Kevin Bieksa?). In fact, the young prospects (Corrado, Stanton, Hutton, Tommernes) look promising to offer some depth in this regard.

      Just bugging you a bit with the above, but I honestly don’t think defending is the issue for the Canucks. Bieksa, Hamhuis, Edler, and Tanev provide a capable top-four, with Garrison able to step into that role as well. Honestly, if you consider Bieksa the Canucks’ best defenceman, then you’re severely underrating Hamhuis.

      That said, I would be okay with the Canucks selecting Ekblad if they traded up to number one. Corey Pronman, whose opinion on prospects I greatly respect, along with many other experts, have him as the top-rated prospect in this draft. But man, the Canucks badly need a future number one centre for when the Sedins fade and eventually retire. If you’re wondering where sports columnists get their ideas, it’s that significant need, Reinhart’s impressive junior performance and pedigree, and Jim Benning making a point of saying how impressed he is with Reinhart.

      We’re not just making things up. There are reports from legitimate sources that the Canucks have already made a trade offer to Florida and the consensus is that the Canucks will pick Reinhart if they get the pick.

      As for cup contenders needing a Norris winner or candidate, who was the Norris candidate on the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes? Frantisek Kaberle? Bret Hedican? How about the 2003-04 Lightning? Dan Boyle? Maybe, but never won and I don’t think he’s ever even finished top-three in voting. Pavel Kubina?

      Of course having a franchise defencemen helps teams win championships and it would be nice if the Canucks had a Zdeno Chara or Drew Doughty. But the Canucks were one win away from winning the Cup in 2011 without one. Heck, if Dan Hamhuis hadn’t gotten injured hip-checking Milan Lucic, maybe that series ends differently. Maybe then we’re instead talking about how you don’t need a number-one, Norris-caliber defencemen. Maybe we’re instead talking about having a balanced top-four is what is needed to win the Cup.

      Again, drafting Ekblad would be great, but it ignores a greater need at forward. As for Niskanen, he’s going to get paid a lot of money this off-season — way too much, in my opinion. He’s good, certainly, but he’s coming off a career-year that he’ll never be able to repeat. His PDO (addition of on-ice shooting and save percentage) was 1031, 5th highest among defencemen, showing he was exceptionally lucky last season. Edler’s, incidentally, was 952, lowest among defencemen, indicating he was exceptionally unlucky. More on Niskanen here: http://www.sbnation.com/nhl/2014/6/19/5823460/matt-niskanen-analysis-penguins-nhl-free-agency-2014

      Suffice it to say, in response to one of your comments on a different post, no we’re not high, and we’ve actually put a great deal of thought into this. The Canucks’ defence is an issue, perhaps, but it is not the issue right now and in the future. And bring back Bertuzzi? And you think we’re smoking BC’s finest? Are you insane?

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  20. T-Canuck
    June 24, 2014

    I agree with the hole left if Kesler or better said when Kesler gets traded but I would rather go for a UFA like Stastny or Bolland. There is lots of cap room for either of or someone similar.
    Trying to draft to fill the immediate void is not possible.
    Still will bet on Ekblad over Reinhart. Will say that either one would be great to have but if had to choose Ekblad appears to be ready for the show.
    Also lets hope the squad can ramp up the scouting and make some late round picks that blossom for a change.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      June 24, 2014

      The Canucks need for a centre is not just an immediate need, it’s a long-term need. Sure, sign Stastny (stay the eff away from Bolland), but what do you do in a couple years when Henrik is 36 or 37 and about to retire? Stastny will be 32 or 33 at that point. Horvat isn’t going to be a first liner; none of the Canucks centre prospects are likely to reach that level. So what do you do? Keep looking to free agency or draft someone to fill the role?

      Number one defencemen don’t necessarily come from the top of the draft — Chara was in the 3rd round, Keith in the 2nd round, Subban in the 2nd round, Weber in the 2nd round; heck, Lidstrom was a 2nd round pick — and there are plenty of risks associated with taking a defenceman with a top pick. Just look at Luke Schenn, Erik Johnson, Roman Hamrlik, and Brian Berard.

      Drafting is not about filling immediate needs or expecting players to immediately make the NHL at 18. It’s about the future of the franchise. The Canucks need a pool of prospects who can potentially replace the Sedins in a few years.

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  21. t-Canuck
    June 26, 2014

    I have to laugh, for years the Canucks were spoiled with an elite goaltender with Luongo, so management and fans got use to not needing quality defence do to the great goaltending bailing out the D.
    The management cruised along taking full advantage of Luongo, now here we are, the fans and some of the previous management believed that all of these good young goalies would be able to work miracles as Lu did.
    So now we have management looking into Miller as a starter, good luck there is not a goalie on the planet that is going to be able to have great seasons with the defence that this team has in front of them.
    Miller will be a great waste of money with the state of the defence on this squad.
    Eddie Lack has awesome potential, but without some defence in front of him for support it will be wasted.
    Even if Edler does have a better year which seams very likely cause how could he be any worse, we are still in a position of only having a couple of d-men that have had consistent seasons. Hamhuis and Boom Boom are not likely to be able to carry the squad through the entire season.
    A UFA Defenceman is a must and the scouting department needs to be improved and held to hirer expectations, It would be great to be able to have some players that we draft actually be able to play on the team.
    That said management needs to stop trading away the good ones!

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