Canucks: Future success will come down to Jim Benning’s cap management

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

Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning must manage the salary cap wisely if the team is to build off of a successful 2019-20 campaign.

The Vancouver Canucks enjoyed their best season in nine years, going all the way to the Western Conference Semifinals before bowing out to the powerhouse Vegas Golden Knights in seven games.

But there is already great concern among the Canuck fanbase and several pundits that the team will regress in 2020-21. And the worries are somewhat warranted.

The team lost four key players from last season in free agency: Team MVP and starting goalie Jacob Markstrom, top-four defenceman Chris Tanev, a reliable top-six forward in Tyler Toffoli and fan favourite and blueliner Troy Stecher.

Benning was able to offset some of the damage in the Markstrom and Tanev departures by signing former Washington Capitals All-Star goalie Braden Holtby and by acquiring standout defenceman Nate Schmidt via trade with the Vegas Golden Knights.

But whether or not Holtby and Tanev are enough to make up for that lost production remains to be seen.

Some years earlier, Benning put himself in a cap bind by overpaying for veteran bottom-six forwards. Loui Eriksson‘s six-year, $36 million deal doesn’t need much of an explanation at this point.

Brandon Sutter is entering the final season of a five-year, $21.875 million deal. Injuries have prevented him from fully living up to the contract.

Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel have provided plenty of grit, physicality and valuable leadership to the young Canucks, but Benning definitely overpaid when he handed them four-year, $12 million deals in 2018 free agency. You simply don’t pay bottom-six forwards that much in today’s NHL.

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At this point, the Canucks are unlikely to find a taker for any of those expensive forwards.

All Benning can do at this point is learn from his mistakes when it comes to cap management and try to avoid making these same errors in the future.

As valuable as Markstrom and Tanev were to Vancouver, it made sense to let them walk. No way he could afford to risk handing out more long-term deals to veterans that could end up as cap problems in the near future.

The entry-level deals of Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson expire next season. Even if both were to sign bridge deals (the best case scenario for Vancouver from a cap standpoint), you have to think they’ll combine for a cap hit of at least $15 million in 2020-21. Likely more.

Thatcher Demko’s deal is also up after next season. If he beats out Holtby for the starting job, the Canucks better be ready to quadruple his salary ($1.05 million for 2020-21).

Not to mention that Alexander Edler and Tanner Pearson are free agents after next season. And Brock Boeser will need a new deal after 2021-22. And in the following year, Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller will be up for new contracts.

So as you can see, cap management will be key if Benning is to sustain this championship-caliber core that he’s built up. Benning simply cannot afford any more bad contracts.

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Every GM makes mistakes, but the best GMs are the ones who can learn from their blunders. Here’s hoping that Benning will find greater success in managing the cap as the Canucks try to build off a thrilling 2019-20 season.