Canucks: Jim Benning has to trade some of his veteran forwards

With a serious cap crunch looming, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning must find a way to move out some pricey veteran forwards.

The Vancouver Canucks fell one game short of reaching the Western Conference Final, and it’s up to general manager Jim Benning to make the necessary adjustments to help them reach that next level.

Per CapFriendly, the Canucks have about $17 million in projected salary cap space. Top goalie Jacob Markstrom, veteran blueliners Chris Tanev and Oscar Fantenberg and trade deadline pickup Tyler Toffoli are all pending UFAs. Jake Virtanen, Adam Gaudette, Tyler Motte and Troy Stecher are pending RFAs.

Next year, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes will be up for new deals. As you can see, careful long-term cap management is pivotal for Benning this offseason.

Yes, Benning is responsible for constructing this Vancouver team that enjoyed its best playoff run in nine years. At the same time, he put himself in this salary cap conundrum by overspending in free agency.

It’s now up to the sixth-year GM to find a way out of this.

Injuries and inconsistency have prevented Brandon Sutter from justifying his $4.375 million cap hit. He only has one year left on his deal, and a team with plenty of cap space should be willing to discuss a possible trade with Benning.

Could a rebuilding team like the Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings or Buffalo Sabres take on Sutter to bolster their forward depth? What if Benning is happy to attach a draft pick to sweeten the deal?

Benning obviously values Sutter as a player, but the Canucks could really use an additional $4.375 million in cap space. So yes, he should be persistent about finding a taker for Sutter this offseason.

Loui Eriksson was a frequent healthy scratch during the playoffs. He’s signed for two more seasons.

According to CapFriendly, Eriksson is only owed $1 million and $3 million in base salary for 2020-21 and 2021-22, respectively. Over that two-year span, he’s only owed $4 million in signing bonuses.

Unlike previous years, Benning might have an easier time finding some takers for Eriksson. Even if he has to give up a decent prospect, roster player or a draft pick (a third or fourth-rounder, perhaps), Benning has to go through with it. Cap space is what matters most right now.

Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel signed matching four-year, $12 million contracts in free agency. Those were generous overpays on Benning’s end, and although both veterans contributed some grit and valuable leadership in the postseason, there’s no justifying $3 million cap hits for bottom-six forwards.

But Beagle and Roussel have more value than Eriksson. A playoff-caliber team like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins or Colorado Avalanche might be keen on adding Beagle or Roussel. Those teams have plenty of skilled forwards, but they could use more toughness and physicality.

If Benning works extensively at it, he might have some luck in moving out Beagle and/or Roussel. And again, if he’s asked to attach a sweetener to either player, Benning has to do it.

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With a little bit of creativity and persistence, Benning should be able to clear out at least a couple of these contracts in order to free up valuable cap space. It’s imperative that he does so, otherwise the Canucks will have to bid farewell to several key contributors from their thrilling 2019-20 season, and possibly more next year.

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