Better Luck Next Year: The Vancouver Canucks vs. the salary cap
It is a very one-sided rivalry.
Welcome to Better Luck Next Season. As each NHL team gets eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention, and then the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we will take a look at what went wrong, what went right, and what sits ahead for them. The Vancouver Canucks were the eighth team to be eliminated from playoff contention as they continue their ongoing — and losing — rivalry with the NHL salary cap.
The Vancouver Canucks are not the worst team in the NHL.
Far from it, actually.
They are not even really a BAD team.
But they still might have one of the bleakest short-term (and long-term) outlooks in the NHL given the holes on the roster, the salary cap situation they create for themselves, and the haphazard approach to building the team. Like the Philadelphia Flyers, it is an organization that can not seem to get out of its own way and never seems to realize what is, where it needs to go, or how to actually get there.
It is a team that is simply …. stuck.
The good news is there is some real talent here. The type of talent a competent front office should be able to build a good team around.
Elias Petterson is a bonafide STAR and one of the league’s most exciting players. He does everything well and is a legit cornerstone player.
Quinn Hughes is one of the most productive defensemen in the league and has spent the 2022-23 season playing at a Norris Trophy level. He will not win it, but he deserves some votes.
Between J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, Conor Garland and Andrei Kuzmenko they have some competent top-six forward options that can produce and give them a formidable group of forwards to create the illusion of a good team.
They just do not have enough depth pieces around them, or enough impact players on defense, or enough goaltending to actually be a contending team.
Every year the Canucks fall into the same trap where they think they are just one big piece away from winning — or even one medium-sized piece away — when they are actually several big pieces away from winning.
They make a big investment in the wrong player, it eats up their salary cap space, and then they find themselves in a perpetual salary cap crunch that causes them headaches and limits their ability to actually improve. It keeps happening over again and again. First it was Tyler Myers. Then it was Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Then it was trading a first-round pick for J.T. Miller, and then giving him a contract that looked like a cap-killer from the moment it was signed.
It has been mid-level guys like Ilya Mikheyev in free agency and then trading a first-round pick for Filip Hronek.
In a vacuum there is nothing wrong players like Miller, Mikheyev, and Hronek. But they are not really the type of players a cap-strapped, mediocre team needs to make serious strides. They just add to the problem.
Good teams being in a salary cap crunch is common because they usually have superstar players (usually more than one) making superstar money and a lot of really good players around them. It is expected that they will be pushed to the cap ceiling and have to figure out ways around it.
The problem with the Canucks is they not only do not have any true big money players making superstar money on their roster, they are also not really a particularly good team. And they still have no salary cap room to play with.
They have the salary cap headaches of a good team without the actual good team to go with it.
It is even more infuriating when you consider their two best players — Pettersson and Hughes — are signed to below market contracts for the time being.
The Canucks do not have a single player on their roster that counts more than $8.5 million against the salary cap. Their highest paid player, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, counts $8.25 million against the cap, and they are not even on the hook for all of that as Arizona picks up nearly $1 million per year in retained salary. He only costs Vancouver a little more than $7.2 million against the cap.
Nobody on the roster (including Ekman-Larsson) cracks the top-50 in terms of biggest salary cap hits in the league next season, and they only have two players (J.T. Miller being the other) within the top-70.
Despite this, they are still currently projected to be over the salary cap going into the offseason with a ton of holes to fix.
It is an impressive display of salary cap mismanagement to have zero top-50 cap hits, have a team that misses the playoffs every year, and still have no salary cap space to work with.
What went wrong for the Canucks
This is one of my biggest misses from the preseason, because I admit when the season began I actually had some expectations for the Canucks.
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