by Tyler Rowe
More and more in the salary cap era of the NHL, the question isn’t so much how the players are playing, but how they’re playing in relation to how much said players get paid. The field is level, at least amongst the teams who spend all the way up to the cap nowadays, so spending your owner’s money the right way is a lot more important than just having a lot of money to spend, like it was when the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup. How are the Vancouver Canucks going to spend their money and deal with their assets in the coming free agency seasons? Talking about non-Canucks who might get added to the roster is a crap shoot, but we can examine what will become of those players they already have.
G – Corey Schneider (RFA)
Current Cap Hit: $900,000
Expected ’12-’13 Cap Hit: $3,250,000
Maybe the most interesting, and certainly one of the most important free-agent signings on the list, Schneider has pushed Roberto Luongo and provides an undeniable safety net for the Canucks if Luongo gets injured or gets too far inside his own head during the playoffs. Schneider is correctly heralded as the best backup in the league; will he ask for a trade? It wouldn’t be unfair – he should be a starter somewhere. I expect the Ginger Hinge (as the Canucks’ success may well hinge on him if Luongo falters) to command a salary of at least $3 million on his next deal. And if the Canucks do keep him, is it a good idea to sink upwards of $8 million into the goaltending position? The Rangers, Sharks and Wild all spend over $7 million in the net, but if the Canucks want to roll a tandem of Luongo and Schneider in the future, they’ll be the team with by far the most payroll spent in the blue paint.
Basically the options are these with Schneider heading into contract talks:
1) Trade him at the trade deadline. Columbus, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Florida, Toronto and a handful of other teams would be greatly improved by having the big, athletic and positionally excellent Schneider in net as their starter, and he could fetch something in the area of a top prospect and a 1st round draft pick. Brett Connolly and the 2012 8th-18th pick from the Lightning would be tough to turn down. Fans on other clubs are a bunch of Schneider-deriders if they say he’s just a backup with inflated numbers behind a good team. The choice here is between bulking up for a cup run at a position of weakness, where the big con is trading the best insurance policy on the club.
2) Trade him on draft day. Mike Gillis might get run out of Vancouver if he trades Schneider before the playoffs and Luongo suffers a melt down. Eddie Lack, the Chicago Wolves starter is having a great year, but has virtually no NHL experience. However, Schneider’s trade value may be diminished by then as trading for his RFA rights is no sure thing.
3) Re-sign him. That’s a lot of money in the net, but the Canucks would be able to roll two top-flight goaltenders, with a better chance of keeping both men fresh and healthy. Only Boston, with Tukka Rask backing up Tim Thomas, has this luxury, but Rask is still on his rookie-minimum contract, and Thomas at age 39, will be retiring in the near future, assuming he doesn’t get shipped out of town in the summer for being… verbose at times. Vancouver still has another decade of Luongo and probably couldn’t extend this kind of arrangement in perpetuity.
4) Let him walk (Hard) in the offseason. That would be very poor asset management, and is the least likely scenario.
5) Schneider gets offer-sheeted. Although it rarely happens, teams can make offers to other teams’ RFAs, like Bob Clarke did with Ryan Kesler in 2006. The team who holds the RFA can match any offer, or they can let him sign with the other team and accept compensation for losing the young player. As of 2011, the offer sheet compensations look like this (thanks to puckmeplease.com):
|$994,433 or below||None|
|Over $994,433 to $1,506,716||3rd round pick|
|Over $1,506,716 to $3,013,434||2nd round pick|
|Over $3,013,434 to $4,520,150||1st and 3rd round pick|
|Over $4,520,150 to $6,026,867||1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick|
|Over $6,026,867 to $7,533,584||Two 1st’s, one 2nd, one 3rd round pick|
|Over $7,533,584||Four 1st round picks|
A team who offer-sheets Schnieder will probably be offering enough that they don’t think the Canucks will match, likely in the $3.2-4.5 range – a first and a third round pick is pretty close to market value anyways – although a rival like Chicago could offer $3.013 in an attempt to handcuff the Canucks to the contract knowing that they’d only lose a 2nd-round pick and gain a great young goalie if the ‘Nucks didn’t or couldn’t match. That would be a jerk move.
While the draft day trade is the most likely outcome, there’s still a lot of time between now and the trade deadline on February 27th, and other than letting Schneider walk, none of these outcomes would be shocking.
LW – Mason Raymond (RFA)
Current Cap Hit: $2,550,000
Expected ’12-’13 Cap Hit: $2,250,000
While the Canucks have been criticized for having too many second/third line “tweeners” in their line-up, having a roster chock-full of guys like Mason Raymond is a position most NHL clubs would envy. With the cap likely going up to $68-69 million next year, there will be money to pay Raymond. However, a guy who can score 50 points, play the PK, and skate as fast as anyone in the league might also make interesting trade bait as part of a deal for landing a big-name right-handed defender to share the blue line with franchise defenseman Alex Edler. Chances are Raymond, after his serious back injury suffered in the Finals last spring, will command something similar to, if not a little less than, the $2.55 he makes against the cap now.
D – Aaron Rome
Current Cap Hit: $750,000
Expected ’12-’13 Cap Hit: $850,000
For all the heat Rome takes for being a pylon from the Vancouver media, he’s good value at three quarters of a million per year, and coach Vigneault clearly loves the big, physical defender. He’s supplanted 4.2-million-dollar man Keith Ballard as the 5th defenseman on the team, something that seems to flummox a lot of fans on the lower mainland, and Gillis will probably re-up the depth defender at similar numbers.
D – Sami Salo
Current Cap Hit: $2,000,000
Expected ‘12-’13 Cap Hit: $2,000,000 or Retirement
Sami Salo has become a bit of a punchline for his constant injuries, but when he’s healthy, Salo might be the best #4 defenseman in the NHL. Unfortunately, at age 37, its tough to say whether the big Finn (who was had for the low price of Peter Schaefer back in 2002) is up for another year in the NHL. If the fan favourite Salo does come back for one more year, and I’m sure every Vancouver Canucks fan hopes he will, it will probably be on a one-year contract at a similar salary.
RW – Byron Bitz
Current Cap Hit: $700,000
Expected ‘12-’13 Cap Hit: $900,000
Bitz is exactly the kind of guy the Canucks want in their depth chart. Big, tough hockey player with decent hands who makes for a big screen in front of the net. Other teams will likely be looking to add the 6’5” Bitz too, so don’t be shocked if he leaves town for financial reasons.
And the dearly departed…
D – Alexander Sulzer
Current Cap Hit: $700,000
Expected ’12-’13 Cap Hit: $700,000
What I had written: He still has upside at 27 years old, and was playing ahead of Chris Tanev for a while (who played so well in limited time filling in for Dan Hammhuis in the 2011 finals). Sulzer is another depth defender that the Canucks will likely hold on to for similar pay, especially since Steve Aquellini doesn’t mind spending money in the minors if it means a deeper team. It’s hard to blame him since the Canucks are riding a sellout streak that would make Nicki Minaj blush.
What I’m Writing Now: Sulzer was traded along with Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres for Zach Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani. Grags has a lot more upside than Sulzer, so happy trails and best of luck to Sulzy. For a more in depth look at the Hodgson/Kassian deal, stay tuned.
And stay tuned for part II of the Canuck’s free agency future, when I tackle the 2013 free agent class.