Jim Benning is heading into his eighth season as the general manager (GM) of the Vancouver Canucks. During his time as GM, he’s had trouble managing the team’s cap space. Benning has overpaid a lot of players outside of his core pieces. He has added a few overpaid contracts during the 2020-21 season and this past offseason, which have affected the contract negotiations between the club’s two cornerstone pieces, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.
The first overpaid contract that didn’t work out for the team was signed in the 2016 offseason by Benning. He continued to add players in the 2018 offseason and the 2019 offseason. His latest risky signing came this past summer in Tucker Poolman.
Loui Eriksson Signing
Loui Eriksson signed a six-year, $36 million contract. Benning hoped Eriksson would provide the team with elite scoring, playmaking, defence and leadership. Instead, his presence was only felt on the penalty kill and forecheck, which is not enough for a player with a cap hit of $6 million. He scored 38 goals and posted 90 points in 252 games with the team.
The team added Eriksson to play with Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The Sedin’s retired after the 2017-18 season, two seasons after Eriksson signed with the club. His high-cap hit and low return hurt the team up until his departure this past offseason.
2018 Spending Spree
With the Sedin twin’s combined $14 million cap hit off the books, Benning decided to use his newly acquired cap space to add some depth and grit. He signed Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle to matching four-year, $12 million contracts.
Although Roussel played well in his first season with the club, providing bottom-six scoring with nine goals and 31 points in 65 games, he struggled to remain healthy the following two seasons. He played in 76 games in the last two seasons combined, posting a total of eight goals and 17 points.
As for Beagle, he didn’t provide the team with bottom-six scoring, as he posted six goals and 26 points in 142 games with the team. Roussel and Beagle’s cap hit was a lot higher than what they provided on the offensive end. The Canucks traded both of them along with Eriksson, the 2021 ninth overall pick, a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 seventh-round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland this past summer.
Tyler Myers’ Contract
In the 2019 offseason, Benning made another big splash by adding 6-foot-8 defenceman Tyler Myers. Myers signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the club.
Myers has posted 41 points in each of his first two seasons with the Canucks. The 31-year-old’s struggles are in the d-zone, as well as the transition from offence to defence. He loves to jump up into the offensive play but gets caught out of position quite often, and he isn’t the fastest skater on the ice, which leads to the opposition receiving high danger scoring chances when the puck goes the other way. Since the 2019-20 season, he ranks seventh in the league in scoring chances against, eighth in shots against and has been on for 103 goals against.
Since the Canucks added Ekman-Larsson, another offensive defenceman with a high cap-hit, the Myers’ signing seems pointless. The organization could’ve re-signed other veteran players in the 2019-20 offseason if they hadn’t overpaid the 6-foot-8 d-man.
Signing Tucker Poolman
Although the Poolman signing is very recent, this could be another contract that may hurt the Canucks in a few years. Benning signed the right-handed defenceman to a four-year, $10 million contract. Signing Poolman to the four-year pact is risky, especially since he has only played in three seasons in the NHL and has played in 120 games. Additionally, the Canucks could’ve used his cap-hit elsewhere.
Players Lost Due to Overpaid Contracts in 2020
In the 2020 offseason, the Canucks lost all four of their key free agents. Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev signed with the Calgary Flames, Tyler Toffoli signed with the Montreal Canadiens, and Troy Stecher signed with the Detroit Red Wings. The cap crunch created by Benning made it difficult for the Canucks to keep any of the four players. The disappointing 2020-21 season was the result of the team losing all four players. A slow start in January and February proved costly as fans saw their team struggle to pick up wins while watching players such as Toffoli flourish with their new team.
Aside from Toffoli, Stecher is a player the Canucks should have re-signed due to his $1.7 million cap hit. The Richmond, B.C. native was a well-liked player and is what the team needs on its blueline, a right-handed depth d-man. Re-signing him would’ve allowed the club to save $800,000, and at this point, every penny counts for the Canucks.
Cap Crunch Slowing Down Pettersson and Hughes Negotiations
The Canucks have felt similar effects of their cap crunch this offseason. This time with their two restricted free agents, Pettersson and Hughes. Both players are crucial to the team’s success in the present and the future. The organization ideally has $14.5-$15 million of cap space to spend on the two forwards (from ‘What we’re hearing about Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes negotiations ahead of Canucks training camp,’ The Athletic, September 20, 2021).
The Canucks only have enough space to offer one of the two cornerstone pieces a long-term deal, while the other will have to take a bridge deal. Elliotte Friedman stated in his recent 32 Thoughts piece, “when you’ve got a cornerstone player, you sign them for as long as you can.” Friedman also stated the Canucks are likely thinking about signing both players to a short-term contract.
Signing Poolman hurts the Canucks as the team could’ve used the additional $2.5 million in cap space. Tanner Pearson is another player the team could’ve avoided extending as the forward received a three-year, $9.75 million extension mid-way through the 2020-21 season. The team could’ve at least waited until the offseason before signing Pearson. Although he played on the second line for most of his time with the team, the Canucks have other players who’ve emerged as second-line wingers. Garland is a likely lock for the spot, while Nils Hoglander is heading into his sophomore season and ready to take another step in his development. Also, Vasili Podkolzin has been ready for his NHL debut for two years and will be fighting for a top-six spot.
Without Pearson and Poolman’s cap hit, the team would’ve had an additional $5.75 million in cap space. If the club prioritized extending Pettersson and Hughes a lot earlier, over re-signing and signing vets, they wouldn’t have been in a position where the two may miss training camp, pre-season and potentially the start of the regular season. The Canucks were off to a bad start last season, which resulted in a disappointing campaign for the club. Another bad start could hurt the team in the 2021-22 season.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.