Canucks’ cap twist may force tough roster decisions
NHL bid to slash team salary limits by $10 million means moving some veterans
VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks aren’t talking, but you can bet the team is hoping that a $60-million salary cap for the 2013-14 season has not become the latest hill the National Hockey League is willing to die on in labour negotiations with its players.
A $60-million cap for the 2013-14 season — which is what the NHL has proposed in its current negotiations with the NHL Players’ Association — would present significant challenges to the Canucks and several other of the league’s big spenders.
Vancouver has 13 players signed for 2013-14 with a cap hit of roughly $55.4 million. That would leave the Canucks with the impossible task of signing 10 more players to fill out their roster for less than $5 million in total.
Not even assistant general manager Laurence Gilman — who has made like Houdini in past seasons to keep the Canucks under the cap — can pull off that kind of sleight of hand.
Gilman, who on Wednesday politely declined to comment on the team’s cap challenges, would likely point out that things aren’t quite as dire as they might seem on paper.
For starters, the Canucks currently have $9.33 million committed to two goalies. That figures to change once a labour deal is reached. All signs point to Roberto Luongo and his $5.333 million cap hit being traded.
But the Canucks won’t be able to shed all of Luongo’s salary. Presumably, the Canucks will receive two, perhaps even three, players in return for the goaltender, so the cap savings would not be as significant as one might think.
For sake of argument, let’s say the Canucks received two players with a total cap hit of $2.5 million in a Luongo trade. That would mean the team had 14 players signed for a cap hit of about $52.57 million.
That still leaves the Canucks looking to sign nine players to fill out their roster with less than $7.5 million to spend. Not impossible, given the current NHL minimum salary of $525,000 but not an ideal scenario.
A $60-million cap could also mean the end of Alex Edler’s time in Vancouver. The defenceman is heading into the final year of his contract and it would be difficult to pay him Kevin Bieksa- and Jason Garrison-type money ($4.6 million a season) and stay under the cap.
In fact, if Edler is going to stay next season with a $60-million cap, the Canucks would almost certainly have to make use of the so-called amnesty buyout owners are trying to negotiate into a new collective bargaining agreement. Those buyouts — likely one per team — would be available before the 2013-14 season and not count against the team’s salary cap.
Defenceman Keith Ballard, who has been unable to crack the top four, is an obvious buyout candidate. Come 2013-14, Ballard will still have two years remaining on a deal that pays him $4.2 million a season.
Winger David Booth could also get buyout consideration if the Canucks do indeed face a cap crunch in 2013-14.
Booth, who underperformed after being acquired from the Florida Panthers early last season, is signed for $4.25 million a year through the 2014-15 season.
The Canucks would have the company of many cap-crunched teams if a $60-million cap came to fruition in 2013-14. The Boston Bruins, for example, have $57.5 million committed to 16 players and don’t have a goalie signed for that season. The Montreal Canadiens are already north of $60 million with just 16 players signed and almost certainly will be under pressure to buy out the final year of Scott Gomez’s $7.357-million contract.
The Philadelphia Flyers (16 players, $57.47 million), Chicago Blackhawks (17 players, $57.2 million) and San Jose Sharks (14 players, $54.4 million) are among other teams facing a potential cap crunch next season.
All those teams and perhaps some others are likely quietly rooting for the NHLPA in this battle. The NHLPA legitimately fears a $60-million cap in 2013-14 will drive down salaries, particularly for lower-end players. Teams like the Canucks know a $60-million cap could mean losing some of their assets and a compromise — perhaps in the neighbourhood of $63M to $65M — would be more palatable.
As for the 2012-13 season (if there is one) the Canucks seem in better shape cap-wise. With the cap remaining at $70.2 million, the Canucks have 23 players signed with a cap hit of $67.77 million.
The team figures to gain some additional cap space with a Luongo trade.
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