Earlier this week, the NHL announced that the projected salary cap for next season will be between $84 and $88.2 million. With that news, the Vancouver Canucks will have a projected minimum of $20.5 million in cap space for the offseason. If the salary cap is at $88.2 million, the Canucks will have $24.7 million in cap space. This helps the team’s potential cap problems heading into the offseason with key players such as Jacob Markstrom becoming free agents.
Markstrom has been the team’s MVP so far this season. Since he has been out with an injury over the last two weeks, the Canucks have lost four of their five games without him. He is due for a hefty pay raise this offseason largely due to how he has allowed the team to be competitive this season.
He is the team’s priority heading into the offseason, simply due to his Vezina-worthy season. On Feb. 14, Markstrom was leading the league in goal-differential at plus-22.1, which calculates the difference between the goals he has allowed and the number of goals he should have allowed. The stat shows that Markstrom has stopped an additional 22 goals in 41 games this season. Boston Bruins goaltender Tukka Rask was in a second with a plus-15.2 goal-differential.
Markstrom will be coming off of a three-year contract paying him $3.67 million annually. It seems unlikely that 24-year old Thatcher Demko will be ready to take on the starting role full-time next season, adding to Markstrom’s value. Ideally, the Canucks sign Markstrom to a three or four-year contract worth $6 million per season.
Chirs Tanev has been the best shutdown defenseman for the Canucks since 2014-15. Since joining the team, he has been a reliable player on the backend. He has been great playing alongside Calder nominee Quinn Hughes, providing the rookie with a veteran presence and defensive help.
Since the Canucks didn’t trade the 30-year-old defenseman at the trade deadline, they are better off not losing him for nothing and re-signing him. His relationship with younger players and his reliability on the defensive end also makes him a priority for the team. Due to his lack of offensive upside, it is unlikely that he will see the same contract as Alex Edler, who signed a two-year, $12 million contract this past offseason. Tanev should get a four-year deal paying him around $5 million per season this summer.
The Canucks added Tyler Toffoli at the trade deadline, trading away Tim Schaller, prospect Tyler Madden, a 2020 second-round pick and a conditional 2022 fourth-round pick in the process. They will lose the conditional fourth-round pick if Toffoli re-signs, which is not too much to give up for a player who has added value to the team so far. He has five goals and seven points in seven games in Vancouver since being traded, and he’s added offensive help after the team lost Brock Boeser.
Re-signing Toffoli will strengthen the Canucks’ top six heading into next season, something that will be on the list of priorities for them. Loui Eriksson has been playing on the second line for most of the season but has struggled to produce on a line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. Toffoli will be an upgrade during an 82-game season and can shift between the first and second line.
He will turn 28 at the end of April and has 23 goals and 41 points in 65 games this season playing with the Los Angeles Kings and the Canucks. Chris Kreider and Jean-Gabriel Pageau both signed contract extensions last month, and their salaries are likely comparable to Toffoli’s next contract. Kreider, who is 29 and has 24 goals and 45 points in 63 games, signed a seven-year, $6.5 million per year extension with the New York Rangers. Pageau, who is 27 and has 26 goals and 42 points in 65 games, signed a six-year, $5 million per year extension with the New York Islanders.
Toffoli’s next contract should be long-term since he is entering his prime. Ideally, the Canucks re-sign Toffoli to a six or seven-year contract for $6 million.
Other Free Agents
Besides Markstrom, Tanev, and Toffoli, Canucks have a few other players they will look to re-sign. Jake Virtanen has shown progress this past season for the team and is eligible for arbitration. His 18 goals and 36 points in 66 games is a career-high for the forward and will help his arbitration case this offseason. Micheal Ferland signed with the Canucks last summer and his contract is comparable to Virtanen’s next contract.
Ferland signed a four-year, $3.5 million contract after scoring 17 goals and 40 points in 71 games for the Carolina Hurricane last season. If Virtanen returns to the Canucks, he will likely receive a similar contract, which is up from the two-year, $2,5 million contract he previously signed.
After being in trade talks at the trade deadline, Troy Stetcher is heading into free agency unsure if he will be offered a contract. The Canucks have an option in the AHL to replace him with Brogan Rafferty. In his rookie season in the AHL, Rafferty leads Utica Comet defenders in points this season with 42 points in 52 games. He will be turning 25 in May and is a right-handed shot – the next step for him is to play for the Canucks next season. If the Canucks can re-sign Tanev, they can let Stetcher walk.
Adam Gaudette is an RFA this offseason and has stepped up for the Canucks as a third-line center. In his sophomore season, the center has posted 11 goals and 30 points for the team. A two-year, $2 million per year contract is likely for Gaudette.
If the salary cap is as projected by the NHL, the Canucks are getting pretty lucky. After signing a few bad contracts such as Loui Erickson and Brandon Sutter and getting hit with the recapture penalty due to Roberto Luongo’s contract until the end of the 2021-22 season, the team was in a lot of trouble heading into the offseason. If the salary cap hits the $88.2 million max, the Canucks may even have room to sign other free agents but first have to focus on re-signing their own players.
Following this season, the Canucks will have important contracts to deal with. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are both expected to receive big contracts and should be locked up by the team for the long term. This may affect how the team approaches this offseason, as securing the two of them will be a priority, and one Vancouver needs to start preparing for.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.