Before the wrench that is the COVID-19 pandemic was thrown into the mix, the NHL was projecting an increase in the ceiling of the salary cap to between $84 and $88 million. That would have helped the Vancouver Canucks re-sign their key assets in Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, Jake Virtanen, and possibly even Tyler Toffoli with relative ease. However, now that the NHL has announced a flat cap of $81.5 million for the foreseeable future, they will be in major trouble, not just this offseason, but in at least two more to come. Superstars Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes will be looking for new contracts before too long, and they will not come cheap.
So, what will general manager Jim Benning do to wiggle out of this conundrum? The easy answer would be to somehow get rid of the contracts of Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, and Sven Baertschi. Though that is easier said than done. More than likely, he will have to offer up some of his more valuable higher priced assets. As much as it pains me to say these names, here are three players the Canucks may need to trade in order to get out of the cap hell they are currently in.
Brock Boeser – Signed Through 2021-22 at $5.87 Million AAV
If at all possible, the Canucks should not entertain the thought of trading Brock Boeser, but if the alternative is being unable to re-sign Hughes or Pettersson, then you need to think about trading him. Those two are the foundational players you try to keep around as long as humanly possible and Boeser is, truth be told, a scoring winger that could be discovered again. Heck, they may already have someone that has a good chance of turning into something even better in 2019 first-round pick Vasili Podkolzin.
Boeser is a two-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL and could fetch a first-round pick and possibly a package of mid-range prospects as well. He is a legitimate top-six forward capable of playing on the power play and is a proven play driver who could help teams that struggle to generate goals from the top of their lineup. So if the Canucks end up putting him on the trade block, they would have no trouble getting a good return for him. They also avoid the possibility of taking any salary back to sweeten the deal, which defeats the whole purpose of trading him in the first place.
Tanner Pearson – Signed Through 2020-21 at $3.75 Million AAV
Tanner Pearson has probably been one of the best trade deadline deals Benning has made in his tenure with the Canucks. Now he may have to do the same thing the Pittsburgh Penguins did in 2019 and deal him again. He’s not overly expensive at $3.75 million, but with how close they are to the upper limit of the salary cap, they could use all the help they can get. He generated 21 goals and 45 points in 69 games in 2019-20 and is at his peak in trade value right now. If they are going to trade him to obtain some cap relief, this coming offseason is as good a time as any.
Pearson is still only 27-years-old and has proven to be a good compliment to skilled players in the past. Most recently with Bo Horvat, as he’s been glued to his side ever since he was acquired. Before that, he showed great chemistry with Jeff Carter when he was part of the Los Angeles Kings. Additionally, he has the propensity to step up his game in the playoffs when it matters the most, as he has 15 points in 34 games, which includes 4 goals and 12 points when the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2014. With his two-way skills and overall intangibles, he could get the Canucks a second-round pick or mid-range prospect when all is said and done.
Jay Beagle – Signed Through 2021-22 at $3 Million AAV
Of the three players cited here, Jay Beagle may fetch the least in a potential trade. However, trading him would free up $3 million in cap space and the impact on the team should be minimal considering players like him are a dime a dozen on the open market. The Canucks could also fill his role on the fourth line with a recent signing in college standout Marc Michaelis.
The other part to his game is his attention to detail is very good. We think that with our group moving forward when he’s ready to play like he’ll be a penalty killer for us too because he’s good defensively. He’s always on the right side of the puck. He’s a smart two-way player that plays a 200-foot game.Jim Benning after signing Marc Michaelis
Michaelis may not have the faceoff acumen Beagle has, at least not yet, but he clearly possesses a very mature game with all the skills to be a very effective fourth-line center at the NHL level. So the Canucks could have a replacement for the veteran center in their pipeline already.
In his first two seasons with the Canucks, Beagle has shown his value in the faceoff circle and the penalty kill but has often dragged his line down in the category of analytics. His Corsi-for percentage (CF%) in 2019-20 was an abysmal 36.6 percent and he didn’t appear to make his line any better. For example, when his frequent linemate Tyler Motte was on the ice with him his CF% was 37.25, but without him, it was 43.42. So it could be beneficial to ultimately replace him with a better option.
Having said all that, Beagle could be a valuable piece to a contending team as he is still a great penalty killer and faceoff man. 2019-20 was actually a career season for him in the faceoff circle with a 59.1 percent success rate. His previous best was 58.5 percent set back in 2017-18 with the Washington Capitals. He also is a veteran of 583 regular-season games and 85 playoff games. Additionally, he has a Stanley Cup ring and is a proven asset during the most important time of the year. With all that on his resume, he could get the Canucks a prospect or a late-round draft pick. Most importantly, it would give them cap relief.
Canucks Need Something to Go Their Way
In a perfect world, Benning finds trade partners for Sutter, Eriksson, and Baertschi. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time soon. The only player that he may get lucky with is Sutter, as he could still carry value in some circles. However, his price tag of $4.375 million will make trading him difficult. His injury history and the fact that he hasn’t played a full season since 2011-12 won’t help matters either. As for Eriksson and Baertschi, Benning has actively attempted to trade both of them with no luck, so a buyout or contract termination are the only options here.
In the end, the Canucks need something to go their way or they will be forced to trade a valuable asset to get out of the cap conundrum they are currently facing. All I have to say is, I do not envy Benning and his staff right now. Difficult decisions are coming and they are coming very soon. We will just have to wait and see who’s left standing when the dust clears.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.