When the Vancouver Canucks got rid of three problematic contracts last week in the trade for Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, they didn’t actually clear any cap space.
Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, and Antoine Roussel had a combined $12 million cap hit — less if one or more of them was buried in the minors. Ekman-Larsson, after salary retention by the Arizona Coyotes, has a cap hit of $7.26 million through 2027. Garland, who signed a new five-year deal with the Canucks on Tuesday, has a cap hit of $4.95 million.
That’s a combined cap hit of $12.21 million for Ekman-Larsson and Garland, meaning they brought in more money than they sent out, albeit for more useful players. It means, however, that the Canucks absolutely needed to make an additional move to clear cap space with several players still to sign, including Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.
With the deadline for buyouts looming, the Canucks made that room on Tuesday by buying out the contract of goaltender Braden Holtby.
Holtby was signed last off-season to a two-year deal worth $4.3 million per year. It was a risky deal because Holtby was coming off the worst season of his career with an .897 save percentage. The Canucks were hoping that goaltending coach Ian Clark could help Holtby get back to the Vezina-caliber goaltender he had been in previous years.
Instead, Holtby slid even further, with an .889 save percentage that was among the league’s worst.
Moving out Holtby’s $4.3 million cap hit was a priority for Canucks GM Jim Benning. It was hoped that the Seattle Kraken might take him in the expansion draft, but they instead took prospect forward Kole Lind and looked elsewhere for their goaltending.
Several teams were apparently interested in acquiring Holtby via trade, but only if the Canucks retained salary. According to a report by Rick Dhaliwal, the Canucks were only willing to retain up to $500,000 of Holtby’s contract.
$500,000 just so happens to be the cap hit of Holtby’s buyout next season, clearing up $3.8 million in cap space. The trouble is that his buyout will cost the Canucks $1.9 million in cap space the following season.
It arguably would have been better for the Canucks to retain a larger portion of Holtby’s salary to move him in a trade and save themselves the cap space in 2022-23. The Canucks, however, seem heavily focused on short-term gain. As Benning has said, “We need to make the playoffs next year.”
With the $3.8 million in cap space from the Holtby buyout, the Canucks will need to find another backup goaltender for Thatcher Demko and will hopefully have enough leftover to help address the right side of their defence.
It's a disappointing end to Holtby's time in Vancouver. At least we'll always have his two 37-save performances against the Toronto Maple Leafs coming out of the Canucks' COVID-19 outbreak. No buyout can take those away.
Canucks re-sign Conor Garland to five-year deal
The Garland contract, meanwhile, is a tidy piece of work. It’s a five-year deal worth $4.95 million per year, which is solid value for a top-six winger like Garland. Contract projections from Evolving Hockey predicted a $5.29 million cap hit if Garland’s deal went five years, so this comes under that projection.
The contract doesn’t come with any trade protection or signing bonuses. It is somewhat backloaded, with $3.75 million in actual salary next season and $6 million in actual salary over the final three seasons.
Garland had 39 points in 49 games last season for the Coyotes, a 65-point pace over an 82-game season. His 39 points would have tied him with Bo Horvat for fourth on the Canucks last season.