I want to start this by acknowledging that in almost every post so far relating to roster management, I have advocated trading Luca Sbisa. I feel like I’ve been really hard on the guy, and I want to qualify that. I think, while overpaid, Sbisa is not a terrible defenseman like many claim. He’s a perfectly acceptable 5/6 defenseman, and although his gaffes are often strangely noticeable, he brings a lot of unique elements to a team.
However, a cap hit of $3.6 million is an absolute hindrance to the team, and now is the time to rid the team of that hindrance if possible. With the salary cap being significantly lower than expected this year, more teams than usual are scrambling for cap space. As a currently non-competitive team, the Canucks are in a perfect position to take advantage of cap-strapped teams. Unfortunately, the Canucks don’t exactly have a lot of cap space themselves, with a little under $3 million. The space opened up by trading Sbisa would allow the Canucks to gain assets for helping out teams in cap trouble.
If there really isn’t a market for Sbisa, I would go as far as to say trading Jannik Hansen before the season, for the reasons listed above, would be a wise choice. Hansen would yield great assets himself, and give the Canucks the vital cap space needed to make some moves.
In order to illustrate, I’ve collected some of the teams with the most obvious cap troubles, and some examples of how the Canucks could take advantage (if only they had more cap space of their own!)
Anaheim: Anaheim currently has tons of cap space, but unfortunately for them they have also yet to sign Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell. Depending on how those negotiations go, the Ducks could have very little cap space or none at all. While Anaheim would undoubtedly pay a high premium to rid themselves of Kevin Bieksa and Clayton Stoner, the Canucks should steer clear of these Sbisa-esque contracts, unless the value attached to them is outrageously high (think Nick Ritchie). A better idea may be acquiring some scoring depth in Andrew Cogliano for relatively cheap.
Colorado: Colorado is a weird team to see on this list, but their signing of Tyson Barrie reportedly leaves them with less than $1 million in cap space, and a less-than-impressive roster. Their wing depth, in particular, is atrocious, and they will need space to make additions if they want to compete. Jarome Iginla is the obvious candidate to go, but he has a full NMC, meaning he chooses his destination. A return to Western Canada may entice Iggy, and the Avalanche would likely give up a huge asset to dump his contract without taking back salary. Gaining a 1st or a couple of decent prospects to put up with one year of Iginla mentoring our youth may be worth it to the organization.
Detroit: Detroit has negative cap space, although Johan Franzen will remain on LTIR. Still, that will leave them as close to the cap as possible. The Red Wings will be looking to dump salary, and talent like Brendan Smith may be available for very cheap. The Canucks should stay far away from the awful salary of Jonathan Ericsson. Jimmy Howard is an intriguing discussion. The Canucks have no need for him, but Detroit will be so desperate to rid themselves of his contract that they may offer ridiculous add-ons.
Just spit-balling here: Ryan Miller @ 50% retained for Jimmy Howard @ 25% retained+ Anthony Mantha+ 1st. Detroit gains immediate cap space and long-term cap space, as Miller’s deal expires after this season. The Canucks have the burden of Howard at about $4 million for three years, but it might be worth it for those premium add-ons. The Canucks could explore buying Howard out at some point, or just sucking it up. The Canucks’ goalie tandem would still cost far less than the two-headed monster in Dallas.
Los Angeles: LA is a perennial cap victim, but they’ve so far been mostly able to retain their talent. That will probably change this year. If the Kings aren’t able to dump Dustin Brown, and they won’t be, cap space will be at a premium in Hollywood. The Canucks could acquire scoring depth in Dwight King for next to nothing. In fact, they wouldn’t even need to trade Sbisa to accommodate this one.
Philadelphia: Philadelphia isn’t a major contender, but they have the cap situation of one. With less than a million in space, the Flyers have one of the highest salaries in the league. A player like Matt Read, at $3.625 million, could be acquired for next to nothing. An alternative idea, slightly more crazy, is Luca Sbisa for Mark Streit. This gives the Flyers immediate cap relief, as Streit has a cap hit of $5.25 million, and the Canucks benefit because Streit’s contract runs out after this season and he’s a much better player than Sbisa. This would be a fine option if Sbisa is unable to be traded without taking back major cap space.
Pittsburgh: The salary cap is the bane of all Stanley Cup Champions, and Pittsburgh is no exception. They’ll gain cap space from the pseudo-retirement of Pascal Dupuis, but it’s barely enough to get under the ceiling. A prime opportunity for the Canucks to add scoring depth while also adding future assets? Chris Kunitz. The Penguins would love to dump his one year, $3.85 million hit, and would probably add something like a 1st to him if they didn’t have to take back salary. Kunitz isn’t the player he used to be, but he brings experience and enough skill to help out a little.
San Jose: The California teams have a theme in this write-up: solid scoring options available for cheap. The Sharks have around $1 million in cap space but no backup goaltender, so they might have to make a deal. A depth winger like (the fabulously named) Tommy Wingels could probably be had for next to nothing if the Canucks did not send back salary. Alternatively, the Canucks could take care of that backup goalie problem by sending Ryan Miller @ 50% retained for Wingels.
Tampa Bay: Everyone knows the Lightning have cap problems. They still need to sign Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov, and those deals will undoubtedly leave them uncomfortably close to the cap. However, they may not be the best trade partners for the Canucks. Their best bet may be trading Ben Bishop, who the Canucks do not need. The Canucks should steer clear of Braydon Coburn’s contract, too. In smaller deals, the Lightning may even add assets to Erik Condra or Brian Boyle to move them, or dump JT Brown or Nesterov for cheaper depth, both of which would interest the Canucks. Valterri Filppula falls under the Chris Kunitz category, where the Lightning may add assets to move him, but with two years remaining, the Canucks shouldn’t be interested.
Looking way ahead, however, there will be further cap sacrifices after this season, when Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat must be re-signed, along with Jonathan Drouin. Many speculate that one of these players will be traded, with Palat as my top candidate. Palat would probably carry a high price-tag already, but it’s conceivable that Steve Yzerman could put Palat on the trade block a season early to raise his value even higher. If the Canucks want to “swing for the fences” on a trade, Palat is a fine choice.