With just one preseason game remaining, the Vancouver Canucks are very close to their final 23-man roster.
There are currently 29 players remaining on the Canucks’ roster, although that includes several players who are currently out with injuries, such as Brock Boeser, Ilya Mikheyev, and Travis Dermott. That means there are just a few cuts remaining.
Just because a player gets cut in the next week, however, doesn’t mean they won’t be on the opening-night roster. That may sound strange but it all comes down to the salary cap, long-term injured reserve (LTIR), and waiver eligibility.
As one might expect of a team that still has 29 players on the roster, the Canucks are currently over the salary cap. That’s fine — teams are allowed to exceed the cap during the offseason — but they will of course have to be cap compliant by the start of the regular season.
Ideally, the Canucks would be under the salary cap with all of their injured players on the roster, including Micheal Ferland, who is essentially retired but still has one more year left on his contract. Even though Ferland will remain on LTIR for the entire season, it would be beneficial to the Canucks to get his contract under the salary cap when they submit their day-one roster.
The rules for LTIR are complicated but by having all of the team’s injured players on the roster at the start of the season, the Canucks could potentially accrue cap space during the season. Essentially, what you need to know is that in order to maximize the benefit of LTIR, a team needs to be under the salary cap with all of their injured players on the roster at the start of the season, preferably as close to the salary cap as possible.
With that in mind, let’s look at the Canucks’ situation.
The Canucks need to clear over $7 million in cap space
Here is the current roster of the Canucks, including all injured players.
Tanner Pearson - J.T. Miller - Brock Boeser
Andrei Kuzmenko - Elias Pettersson - Ilya Mikheyev
Conor Garland - Bo Horvat - Vasily Podkolzin
Nils Höglander - Jason Dickinson - Curtis Lazar
Dakota Joshua - Nils Åman - Linus Karlsson
Sheldon Dries - Justin Dowling - Phil Di Giuseppe
Quinn Hughes - Luke Schenn
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Tyler Myers
Jack Rathbone - Kyle Burroughs
Travis Dermott - Tucker Poolman
With Ferland included, the Canucks have 30 players on the roster and are $7,694,167 over the salary cap, according to CapFriendly’s incredibly useful Armchair GM tool. That means the Canucks need to shed nearly $7.7 million in cap hits before the start of the season.
That may seem daunting, but one option open to the Canucks is to “paper down” players to the AHL that are exempt from waivers and then call them up after putting their injured players on LTIR.
Any players exempt from waivers can be sent down to the AHL this way without risk of them being claimed by another team. The Canucks have five players who are waiver exempt and they may have to either send down or paper down all five of them: Nils Höglander, Vasily Podkolzin, Andrei Kuzmenko, Nils Åman, and Linus Karlsson.
Sending down all five waiver-exempt players would clear around $4.5 million in cap space, leaving the Canucks still $3.16 million over the cap.
Dickinson and Poolman have big contracts for depth players
At this point, the Canucks could just leave Ferland and his $3.5 million cap hit on LTIR and accept that they won’t be accruing any cap space this season. By doing so, they could keep whatever players they want to on the roster and put a couple of players on waivers to get down to 23 players.
But if the Canucks want to maximize their use of LTIR, they need to clear over $3 million in cap space and that means putting some players with more significant contracts on waivers.
The two most logical players to waive would be Tucker Poolman and Jason Dickinson, who have hefty contracts but have arguably been outplayed by younger, cheaper players. Waiving and sending down Poolman and Dickinson to the AHL would only clear $1.125 million each in cap space because of the limit on buried contracts, for a total of $2.25 million.
That would leave the Canucks still $910,000 over the cap with a 23-man roster. Since the roster minimum is 20 players, the Canucks could still waive two more players — likely Sheldon Dries and one of Christian Wolanin or Justin Dowling, since Boudreau said Thursday that Dowling is healthy enough to return to practice.
There might be a better combination of players to send down to the AHL to get as close to the salary cap as possible to maximize the team’s use of LTIR relief. Perhaps all three of Dries, Wolanin, and Dowling could be waived while keeping up one waiver-exempt player, for instance, but this provides the basic skeleton for how the Canucks could get fully under the salary cap with Ferland included.
A potential opening-night roster
Once the Canucks’ roster is cap compliant, Ferland and any other players can then be moved to LTIR and the players papered down to the AHL can be returned to the roster. Depending on how long Brock Boeser, Ilya Mikheyev, and Travis Dermott are out, that could mean immediately recalling all five waiver-exempt players, along with Christian Wolanin, and putting them on the opening-night roster.
If the Canucks follow all of the above steps and waive both Poolman and Dickinson, here’s how the roster could look on opening night:
Pearson - Miller - Höglander
Kuzmenko - Pettersson - Podkolzin
Garland - Horvat - Di Giuseppe
Joshua - Åman - Lazar
Hughes - Schenn
Ekman-Larsson - Myers
Rathbone - Burroughs
While Boeser won't be ready for the start of the season after his hand surgery, it's possible that Mikheyev and Dermott will be ready to go. In that case, it's easy enough to send down a waiver-exempt forward like Åman or Karlsson and keep Wolanin in the AHL.
Are the Canucks willing to risk losing Dickinson or Poolman to waivers? Honestly, they'd probably welcome a waiver claim, as it would free up a lot more cap space. The bigger question is whether they're willing to remove Dickinson and Poolman from the lineup. As much as it seems clear that they've been outplayed by other players, the Canucks still seem to like both Dickinson and Poolman.
This next week could be very interesting for the Canucks.