Twelve months later and the Vancouver Canucks have the same problems: waylaid by a brutally fast ejection from the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and trying to trade the talented but richly remunerated Roberto Luongo.
Now, however, there are new problems, even if ever-hopeful team president/general manager Mike Gillis wants to say they’re not really terribly pressing and the Canucks will ably skate through the next few weeks and emerge, again, as a Cup contender.
The immediate issue, which is pressing, if not extreme, is Vancouver’s kissing-distance from the salary cap. According to capgeek.com, the Canucks as of Wednesday had the tiniest margin of error in the league against the $64.3-million (all currency U.S.) cap, just $47,222 – which, coincidentally, is almost exactly the average person’s wage in Canada.
Further, the Canucks cash only tallies up for 17 players, which, of course, includes Luongo. The cap wiggle room is $2-million less than any other team in hockey.
Granted, subtracting Luongo – and his $5.33-million hit – is a big, and seemingly difficult, first step. If achieved, it does free up enough room for about six entry-level contracts – if the Canucks don’t have to retain salary. So, half-pinned against a wall, Gillis, the Canucks, and their new coach, John Tortorella, preach the importance of building from within, developing their young players on the ice in the NHL. There’s not much else they can preach, since they do not have the room to manoeuvre in the free-agent market.
Luongo, quiet on Twitter of late, is the fulcrum around which the Canucks will move, into the draft weekend, through the compliance buyout period, and into free agency. A trade is the goal and is complicated. A buyout is possible but seems extreme, given cost.
“We’ll figure out the cap space,” said Gillis on Tuesday afternoon after the party at Rogers Arena to introduce Tortorella. “It’s not as difficult as you guys think. Everyone insinuates that it’s this massive issue. Every team is facing it.”
The fifth-year GM, whose five-year contract extension, awarded a year ago, begins for 2013-14, generally outlined some of his strategic thinking, as he tries to bolster a veteran squad, having added a fiery new coach, for another Cup challenge, after falling badly short, twice.
Gillis, no surprise, sees some market for Luongo, calling him one of only 12 No. 1 goalies in the entire world. The netminder’s certainly paid like it. A buyout is radical, given it would cost a record $27-million over 18 years. Waivers seems a better option, if it all comes to that. If it ends up being a trade, Gillis on Tuesday did say he does “not necessarily” need to get a goaltender back, noting the new backup could be a first-year player, presumably the 25-year-old Swede, Eddie Lack, or newly signed 23-year-old Swede, Joacim Eriksson.
Such a backup would rank among the “five or six [entry-level players] that we would really like to push for this hockey team and get on this hockey team.” Names Gillis cited were Brendan Gaunce, a 19-year-old centre, the 26th overall pick a year ago who played major junior last winter; Kellan Lain, an undrafted 23-year-old winger who is 6 foot 6; 20-year-old winger Nicklas Jensen, the No. 29 pick in 2011; Frank Corrado, for whom the Canucks burned a year of his entry-level deal this past spring as the 20-year-old played seven games.
On the subject of buyouts, Gillis was coy. How the draft, and Luongo, plays out will be the decisive factor. Defenceman Keith Ballard seems a maybe, and would cost $5.6-million over four years. David Booth cannot be bought out, as he is still injured from the ankle he broke badly back in March. “Recovering well,” said Booth’s agent, Mike Liut, by e-mail. The winger can try to skate in month or so but “he hasn’t got to uneven terrain running (no Grouse Grind, yet).”
There was no word from Gillis regarding the Sedins. The twins turn 33 in September and enter the final season of their bargain five-year, $30.5-million contract.
Restricted free agent Chris Tanev, the steady 23-year-old defenceman, just hired a big-time agent and looks to get at least $2-million a year or more, given he could be snatched up with an offer sheet for as much as $3.36-million (or as little as $1.68-million) and the acquirer would only have to provide a second-round pick, though, of course, the Canucks could (and likely would) match.
On his unrestricted free agents, Gillis wouldn’t comment – but it’s hard to see Mason Raymond coming back. Max Lapierre seems unlikely, too, given cap constraints.
The action commences this weekend. The Canucks have time to think, with no second-round pick, traded away in a package for the hapless Derek Roy. “Everyone’s going to wait,” said Gillis, “till the last minute to see what shakes out here.”