The Vancouver Canucks have finally made that long-awaited return to NHL relevance and look like a team that not only could make the playoffs but possibly make a splash as well. With the spotlight on his squad, Rick Dhaliwal of TSN and The Athletic provided an update on a number of major questions facing the team beyond this season, as they look to keep trending upward. The biggest focus will be how the cap-strapped club handles free agency this summer. The Canucks have $63.5MM tied up in just 15 players for the 2020-21 season and face the tall task of trying to fill out the roster with eight players with around $20MM to work with. The team would like to bring back each of their three primary UFA’s – Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli, and Chris Tanev – but could find it hard to do so. Dhaliwal reports that Markstrom, who has been invaluable to the Canucks again this season, is the most likely name to return. Toffoli, who has excelled since coming over from the Los Angeles Kings, seems like a top priority for the team as well. That could leave Tanev as the odd man out, even though Dhaliwal states that the team would need to immediately find a replacement. Tanev, a career Canuck, has been effective when healthy during his time in Vancouver, but a thin defense market and the team’s own constraints could make it difficult to keep the two sides together. On the other hand, it may make more sense for the team to move other pieces in order to keep Tanev rather than moving on and hoping they can find an adequate replacement. Even if that means trading RFA defenseman Troy Stecher, the overall Vancouver blue line could benefit from retaining Tanev beyond this season.
- Another potential cost-cutting measure could be the end of veteran Loui Eriksson’s playing days with the team. Although Eriksson still has two years left on his contract at a $6MM, Dhaliwal believes that the Canucks may have reached their limit with Eriksson’s disappointing time with the team. Eriksson has never topped 30 points in three seasons with Vancouver and is on pace for a career-low 16 points after being scratched for many of the Canucks’ early games this season. Eriksson has never found his place with the club and Dhaliwal believes he will be on the move this off-season. He notes that Eriksson will receive a $3MM bonus on July 1st, after which his contract carries only $5MM in actual salary over the final two years. The cap implications are far heavier than the actual dollars and a team with more space than the Canucks could be willing to take Eriksson on, perhaps in exchange for another bad contract or alongside a draft pick. If not, Vancouver could also try to persuade Eriksson to walk away from his contract via mutual termination, which Dhaliwal suggests, or they could simply buy him out. Either way, moving on from Eriksson will open up some more cap space to help the Canucks continue to ice a playoff-caliber roster.
- Nikolay Goldobin is another player who could be on the move this summer. Dhaliwal reports that Goldobin was nearly moved to the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline and two or three other teams also showed interest. Goldobin has played in the AHL for all but one game this season, but has at least made the most of this relegation with a very productive season. Dhaliwal believes that he will back at the NHL level next season, but will that be in Vancouver? Goldobin is owed a $945K qualifying offer this season for the Canucks to retain his rights, which they are likely to do, but they could still trade his rights away rather than retain him.
- Don’t expect 2019 first-rounder Vasili Podkolzin to be in the NHL or anywhere in North America next season. Dhaliwal does not believe that there is any chance that Podkolzin can get out of the final year of his KHL contract with SKA St. Petersburg, meaning the earliest he could be available to the Canucks is in 2021-22. The wait will be worth it though. After a slow start to the season, Podkolzin’s play picked up in the second half and he has been playing a complete game for months now. Dhaliwal says “the sky is the limit” for Podkolzin’s NHL career, regardless of when it begins.