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Cap Constraints Push Canucks Defence into a Serious State of Flux

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How much better will this group be in 2020-21?

Vancouver Canucks v Los Angeles Kings
Tanner Pearson #70, Tyler Myers #57, Bo Horvat #53, Alexander Edler #23, Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks gather for the national anthem before the game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on October 30, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images

The offseason, generally, is where you look to improve your team in order to have a competitive edge going into the next season.

However, the cap constraints of a flat salary cap are forcing organizations to get creative about how they’re going to improve their team.

In the case of the Vancouver Canucks, not only are they constrained by the salary cap, but they’re also constrained by the fact that they have a bunch of spare parts taking up more than a quarter of their cap space.

Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, Micheal Ferland, Sven Baertschi, Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle eat up a combined $23.2 million of the salary cap. Add in Ryan Spooner’s buyout and Roberto Luongo’s cap recapture penalty, and the Canucks are already operating with exactly a third of their salary cap ($27.3 million out of $81.5 million) being attributed to replaceable players and dead weight.

This puts a strain on management’s job as a whole, but where this really impacts the roster is on defence.

However, if you think the concerns I’m bringing up are about Troy Stecher and Chris Tanev’s potential departure, you’re mistaken.

St Louis Blues v Vancouver Canucks - Game Six
Chris Tanev #8 of the Vancouver Canucks and Ryan O’Reilly #90 of the St. Louis Blues pursue the play in the Canucks zone in the first period of Game Six of the Western Conference First Round of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff between the St. Louis Blues and the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place on August 21, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta.
Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Like most in Vancouver, I like Tanev and Stecher as players. Tanev is an incredibly smart defenceman, and he’s been a warrior in the city for more than a decade.

However, the numbers point to someone who isn’t an analytics darling anymore. He’s not as effective in those tough shutdown minutes, and there’s a serious argument to be made that he’s being propped up by Quinn Hughes, rather than Tanev boosting the rookie.

Also, if there is a team willing to give Tanev five years at $5 million per season, you need to just chuckle and walk away.

As for Stecher, he’s the ultimate try-hard, someone who plays with a ton of heart, and he’s also got an incredibly adept mind for the game. It also helps that he’s a fan favourite due to being undrafted, undersized and from the city.

He’s also not the team’s first priority, and they need to look at improving their defence BEFORE signing a guy like Stecher to play on the third pairing.

Benning preparing fans for worst case scenario

It’s fine to want some turnover on your defence after multiple seasons where the Canucks were one of the worst defensive teams in hockey.

It’s decisively less fine to think that this team is going to take the next step by plugging in a bunch of rookies next year.

Benning has repeatedly mentioned the likes of Brogan Rafferty and Jalen Chatfield being ready to push for jobs on the right side next season. While both prospects have some intrigue, that’s a shitty plan after letting two actual NHL defenceman potentially leave in free agency.

A move like that would smell a lot like the moves the Canucks made in 2015-16, where they forced players like Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann and Ben Hutton into the line-up, arguably before they were ready to be full-time NHLers.

Canucks need to push hard for OEL

I talked about it today on The Quickie Podcast, but I truly hope the Canucks try to make this deal with before Oliver Ekman-Larsson and his agent’s self-imposed deadline of Friday at 9:00 am.

This can’t be a throwaway trade for the Coyotes, which is why a trade like this probably sees the Canucks part with a 2021 first-rounder and either one of Olli Juolevi or Jack Rathbone.

I’d personally rather see the Canucks trade Juolevi over Rathbone, but the fact of the matter is that the Canucks will have to give up someone of value in a trade like this, in spite of OEL’s hefty cap hit.

This won’t be an easy trade to make, but it’s one that could solidify the left side of the defence for the next five years with Hughes, Ekman-Larsson and one of Edler/Juolevi/Rathbone.

Creativity needed if OEL doesn’t sign

One of the biggest gripes fans have about an OEL trade (aside from his hefty cap hit), is that he’s a left-side defender, and one who’s a bit older than the core of this current group.

If an OEL trade doesn’t transpire, then the Canucks need to get creative with replacements.

I know it feels like a tired strategy to bring up (because it so rarely happens), but there’s two younger, right shot RFA defenceman that the Canucks could target.

New York Islanders v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Seven
Devon Toews #25 of the New York Islanders greets teammates before taking the ice to play against the Philadelphia Flyers in the second period of Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Second Round of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on September 05, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario.
Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

One is Tampa’s Erik Cernak, the hulking 22-year-old Slovak defenceman who was fantastic for the Lightning this season. Another one that I’ve brought up is 26-year-old Abbotsford boy Devon Toews, who was a big part of the Islanders success this season. He also finds himself on a team squeezed to the cap with more notable RFA’s that need to be signed.

The Canucks could sign either player to an offer sheet with a cap hit of up to $4,363,095 per season for the cost of a second-round pick.

Aside from those two, there aren’t a lot of realistic options on the free agent market for guys who could move the needle on defence next season.

We’ll soon find out if the back-end — a weakness on this team for far too long — will be flush with promise or mired in questions heading into next season.

Apparently, I’m not as optimistic about the Canucks outlook compared to my fellow Nucks Misconduct colleague, Kyle Bhawan. We went back and forth about the state of the Canucks on the latest episode of Sippin’ On A 40.