Vancouver Canucks: Using the Chicago Blackhawks to help the rebuild

Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Vancouver Canucks have the advantage of financial strength in the NHL. Given that they are rebuilding, they can use that might to benefit from cap-strapped teams.

Cap space is everything these days. Intended to bridge the gap between the richest and poorest teams in the NHL, the salary cap is a weapon. When utilized effectively, teams can use their financial clout to take advantage of teams that committed far too much money and term to their players.

This is where the Vancouver Canucks step in. Francesco Aquilini may be an owner who meddles, but does not impose financial restrictions on his general managers (so far). Vancouver has a major advantage over several other teams going into the offseason. Cap space.

Gary Bettman estimated next year’s salary cap to rise to a value between $78 and $82 million for 2018-19. As things aren’t set in stone with the Stanley Cup Playoffs occurring, I will stick to the current cap of $75 million for the purposes of today.

According to CapFriendly, the Vancouver Canucks will have just over $23 million in cap space in the offseason. I’m willing to bet the salary cap will increase by a good amount, so expect that number to rise significantly. Sven Baertschi should be the only player to make a noticeable dent in that cap space, but the Canucks will have much to work with after the fact.

When a team like Vancouver can leverage desperate teams, they can extract assets, specifically draft picks. I want to specifically look at the Chicago Blackhawks and how the Canucks have a couple options to consider (only one is the correct choice).

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Chicago Blackhawks

It feels like an annual tradition to talk about how the Chicago Blackhawks will get out of their latest cap crunch. There is always a cap casualty on the roster and despite some clever moves, Stan Bowman has little flexibility on his roster.

The Blackhawks have 37 contracts committed for $67.5 million next season. Once again, they are in a tough spot and the Canucks would have two options to help Chicago and more importantly, themselves.

Option 1: Marián Hossa

Let’s start with the Marián Hossa situation. The Slovakian forward has been on the LTIR since the start of the season due to a medical condition that makes him allergic to his equipment. Hossa carries a $5.275 million cap hit, but will only make $1 million in salary for the remaining three years on his deal.

LTIR is not a free pass for bad contracts. It can provide relief to teams that exceed the cap, but won’t make the contract go away. This part of the CBA is very complicated as different formulas are used before, during and after the NHL season.

Vancouver could take on that contract and receive some form of compensation in return. Hopefully, that could be a first round pick. The Blackhawks have two of them, acquiring a late first from Nashville at this year’s trade deadline.

If that pick is off the table, mid-round picks are suitable, but the Blackhawks need to add prospects. This could include former Canucks prospect Gustav Forsling (erasing the trade for Adam Clendenning). Chicago’s competitive window is closing and they may shift towards rebuilding.

They could also get desperate and make a rash move to free up cap space and spend that money on a win-now piece. However, I don’t think someone like Henri Jokiharju or Dylan Sikura will be on the table. To me, taking on this contract is likely the easiest of the options I talk about today.

Option 2: Brandon Saad

There was a rumour in April, regarding the Canucks’ interest in Brandon Saad. I don’t love this option for a couple reasons. First, Saad feels like another shortcut for the rebuild and we are seeing what that gives you. He is turning 26 in October and 2017-18 was rough in terms of production and a career low shooting percentage.

Second, he’s not as good as his contract indicates. I don’t think Saad is a 35-point player. His past shows he can be a 50-point winger. You don’t pay those guys $6 million per year. Saad is overpaid and will not magically turn the Canucks’ fortunes overnight.

To make matters worse, Saad will be very expensive to acquire. Chicago won’t let him walk for nothing, so Jim Benning can’t exactly treat this like he’s doing the Blackhawks a favour. Something has to be sent back. Maybe it’s Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund. Or perhaps Nikolay Goldobin in a low-cap hit package to the Blackhawks.

How about a worst case scenario? The Canucks need to sacrifice a draft pick to get the deal done. I don’t like pursuing this at all, but the option is there. Giving up futures seems to be the antithesis of a rebuild, right? Honestly, it wouldn’t be the first time winning now took priority over the future.

That’s how we got stuck with Erik Gudbranson. Vancouver has the cap space and could look at this as a quick way to get back into the playoffs. Or, they end up finishing 23rd, so Brandon Sutter can be happy about catching Chicago.

Option 3: don’t do it

Okay, there was a third option, but it truly is the worst of the three. No team in the NHL, let alone the Vancouver Canucks should touch this option with a 40-foot pole.

Of course, I am referring to Brent Seabrook. The Blackhawks have one of the most crippling contracts in the league, so I would stay as far away as possible. To give you an idea of how bad it is, if Chicago offered four first-round picks to take that contract, as well as taking Loui Eriksson, Erik Gudbranson and Brandon Sutter off our hands, I would still say no.

Seabrook is locked into his $6.875 million cap hit until 2024! That’s Stan Bowman’s cross to bear alone. It’s a good lesson out there that blindly rewarding loyalty (even for three Stanley Cups) can absolutely ruin a team down the line.

The point

I used the Blackhawks as a case study to illustrate what a wealthy team can do with their resources. The Canucks are in a great position to exploit the mistakes and pitfalls from managers across this league.

Chicago may have the worst cap problems in the league, but there are always teams in a pinch. For example, the Tampa Bay Lightning have managed their cap quite well over the last few seasons. This offseason won’t be an issue as they should be able to fit their pending RFA’s with their small amount of cap space.

However, Nikita Kucherov is due for a huge raise after the 2018-19 season. Steve Yzerman may like having the additional cap space provided from getting rid of Ryan Callahan and his $5.8 million cap hit.

With their window to win in progress and a rich prospect pool, Tampa can use that to dispense bad contracts. Therefore, having a read on the rest of the league and capitalizing on opportunities are important skills to have for a general manager.

Next: Thatcher Demko feels NHL-ready

Finally, no matter what stage you are at, you need to properly evaluate your team and figure out the best way to improve it. Rebuilding teams should focus on the future and build through the draft. Punishing other teams for their mistakes is a good way to get the currency (draft picks) to do it.