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Canucks camp cuts: A ‘perfect’ opening-day roster making the best of a bad situation

The Canucks have exactly $0 in cap space to start the season, which is actually ideal.
Danila Klimovich is only on the Vancouver Canucks' opening-day roster for salary cap reasons.

The Vancouver Canucks’ opening-day roster probably won’t be their exact opening-night roster.

As the deadline to submit rosters to the NHL approached, the Canucks made a few final moves. Christian Wolanin, Sheldon Dries, and a newly-healthy Justin Dowling were placed on waivers and sent down to the AHL. Several other players, including Tyler Myers, Travis Dermott, and Philip Di Giuseppe were placed on Injured Reserve.

Then, on Monday, the Canucks made two final transactions: they sent down Linus Karlsson to the Abbotsford Canucks and recalled Danila Klimovich. Once all of that was done, the Canucks had a 22-man roster.

Those last two transactions might seem strange — Klimovich had been cut from the Canucks a week ago and sent down to Abbotsford, while Karlsson had stuck around and seemed on the verge of making the team out of camp. But those transactions were necessary to get the Canucks cap-compliant to start the season.

In fact, juggling the waiver-exempt Karlsson and Klimovich between their NHL and AHL rosters made the Canucks perfectly cap-compliant.

With their 22-man roster and their injured players, the Canucks are exactly at the salary cap of $82.5 million, with $0 of cap space remaining. That’s quite the feat, because it will allow them to maximize their cap relief when putting players on Long-Term Injured Reserve, and their front office — particularly new assistant general manager Emilie Castonguay — deserve a lot of credit for this clever piece of salary cap management.

Stephen Roget at CanucksArmy goes into detail of how the Canucks managed this feat, which involved putting Di Giuseppe on Season-Opening Injured Reserve — a special IR list for players on two-way contracts who get injured in training camp but were not expected to make the team’s roster — which significantly lowers his cap hit. 

With Myers, Dermott, and Ilya Mikheyev on IR, but not LTIR, the Canucks roster was just $27,917 over the cap. The difference in cap hit between Karlsson and Klimovich was exactly $27,917, putting the Canucks right at the salary cap, with no cap space remaining

Canucks cap management not quite as perfect as it seems

Now the Canucks can place players on LTIR and get the full cap relief of their cap hits. If one of Myers, Dermott, or Mikheyev are out for at least ten games, for instance, the Canucks can place them on LTIR and have their full cap hit added to their LTIR relief pool, allowing the Canucks to exceed the salary cap by that amount.

Once the Canucks have another player on LTIR, Klimovich will likely be sent right back down to Abbotsford.

The “perfection” of the Canucks’ cap management comes with a caveat. They were not able to get Micheal Ferland’s $3.5 million cap hit under the salary cap as part of their opening night roster and he will start the season already on LTIR. That means the Canucks won’t be able to accrue cap space this season, limiting their ability to add players via trade later in the season — assuming the Canucks perform well enough to justify adding players.

There was a path available to getting Ferland under the salary cap, but it would have meant sending all or most of their waiver-exempt players to the AHL. It has since come to my attention that even though this is not against the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NHL considers temporarily sending down players to the AHL like this to be circumventing the salary cap.

Teams can get away with sending down one depth player to the AHL like this without drawing the NHL’s ire — the Canucks are presumably doing exactly that with Karlsson — but sending down the likes of Vasily Podkolzin, Andrei Kuzmenko, and Nils Höglander could have caused trouble.

So, the Canucks did the best with what they had and managed to avoid putting any additional players on LTIR before the start of the season, which would have kept them out of the lineup long-term.

What about the players cut? Let’s take a quick look at the team’s final cuts.

Wolanin climbed the depth chart 

No one did more for their stock in the preseason than Christian Wolanin, who looked the part of an NHL defenceman in his four games. 

Wolanin was particularly impressive during a game against the Edmonton Oilers where the Canucks had few veterans dressed. He played over 22 minutes in that game, had assists on the Canucks’ only two goals, hit a crossbar, and — most importantly — matched up against Connor McDavid and held his own.

The 27-year-old defenceman has never been able to stick in the NHL for an extended stretch, but he does have 70 games of NHL experience under his belt. If not for the Canucks trading Jason Dickinson and a second-round pick for Riley Stillman, Wolanin would probably be on the Canucks’ roster right now as the team’s seventh defenceman.

With the addition of Stillman, however, Wolanin got bumped to the AHL, where he’ll likely be the Canucks’ top option for a call-up if/when injuries strike.

Dowling healthy and waived

Justin Dowling played 22 games for the Canucks last season but an unknown injury kept him out of training camp and the preseason. He returned to health just in time to get waived and sent to Abbotsford.

The 31-year-old centre is a defensively-minded forward who can capably fill in on the fourth line. Even if he was healthy, however, he would have been in tough to make the Canucks out of camp — the additions of Dakota Joshua, Curtis Lazar, and Nils Åman pushed Dickinson out of the lineup, so they certainly would have done the same for Dowling.

Dowling has been a top-six forward at the AHL level, so should give the Abbotsford Canucks a boost once he finds his stride after recovering from his injury. He could still play in Vancouver this season if the Canucks have need for a reliable fourth-line option.

Dries looking to lead Abbotsford

Sheldon Dries had a massive season with the Abbotsford Canucks last year, finishing with a team-high 35 goals and 62 points in 54 games. That was good for fourth in the AHL in goalscoring.

Abbotsford will once again be looking for a big year from Dries, who didn’t really have much of a shot at making the Canucks out of camp. As much as he’s a top-tier AHL player, he’s never been able to produce at the NHL level, with 9 points in 59 career NHL games.

The 28-year-old centre could still get a call up to the Canucks in case of injury because he’s a respectable two-way player in addition to his AHL scoring talent. 

How long will Karlsson be in AHL? 

The Canucks gave Linus Karlsson a long look at camp and in the preseason, using him primarily in a top-six role. They like his finish around the net even if his skating is a little rough.

It’s probably best for Karlsson to start his North American professional career in the AHL, where he can play more minutes and work on smoothing out his skating stride. But considering he was primarily sent to the AHL as part of a pair of transactions to get under the salary cap, it’s worth wondering how long the Canucks plan on keeping him in the AHL.

While analytics in the preseason should be taken with a grain of salt considering the variable quality of teammates and competition, Karlsson had a 60.32% corsi in the preseason, third among Canucks forwards behind Joshua and Åman. As rough as Karlsson’s skating seems to be, his hockey sense appears to make up for it.

If Karlsson was called back up to the Canucks, however, where would he fit? It does not appear that Brock Boeser and Ilya Mikheyev will be out for as long as initially feared, so Karlsson would be, at best, the team’s 13th forward. It’s probably for the best that he stays in the AHL until further injuries occur.

The Canucks' likely opening-night lineup

So, who will be in the lineup on opening night? It’s safe to assume the way the Canucks practiced on Tuesday is likely how they’ll lineup on Wednesday night. It also happens to be very similar to how the Canucks lined up at the start of training camp, just with a couple of substitutions.

Tanner Pearson - J.T. Miller - Brock Boeser
Andrei Kuzmenko - Elias Pettersson - Nils Höglander
Vasily Podkolzin - Bo Horvat - Conor Garland
Dakota Joshua - Nils Åman - Curtis Lazar

At forward, Höglander will step in for the injured Ilya Mikheyev on Pettersson’s wing, while Nils Åman won the training camp battle to be the team’s fourth-line centre in place of Jason Dickinson

Quinn Hughes - Luke Schenn
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Tucker Poolman
Riley Stillman - Kyle Burroughs

On defence, Jack Rathbone will likely be on the outside looking in with the addition of Riley Stillman via trade. Quinn Hughes has been dealing with an illness the past few days but seems intent on playing. If Hughes is unable to play, Rathbone could play with Schenn instead.

Thatcher Demko
Spencer Martin

The goaltending tandem has been clear for some time, even if Collin Delia and Arturs Silovs provided a surprising push at training camp. Demko is the clear number one and is likely to start 60 games this season, while Martin will hopefully stabilize the backup job and provide Demko with some time off when necessary.