Saturday, August 15, 2020

Demko as a sweetener could keep this team together

We are finally seeing what this Canucks team could be without its usual raft of injuries and with its veterans contributing as they can. The emergence of the team’s young core in its first playoff test has coincided nicely with the reappearance from hiding of high-price hands like Loui Eriksson and Brandon Sutter and the return from injury of bottom six acquisitions Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle. Long-time blueliners Alex Edler and Chris Tanev are unusually healthy and meshing nicely with free agent acquisition Tyler Myers and young phenom Quinn Hughes. Goalie Jacob Markstrom keeps showing that he is the team’s rock. Only injuries to wingers Tyler Toffoli and Michael Ferkland have marred the team’s post-season success. It is all finally turning out as Jim Benning envisioned.

Thatcher Demko may be Canucks' cap casualty
Thatcher Demko may be Canucks' cap casualty
The problem, as Canucks fans well know, will be keeping this team together under a flat salary cap. Markstrom, Tanev and Toffoli all need new contracts after the season, and as UFAs they will be expensive to retain. Their total on the books of $12.7 million this year will be more like $16-17 million next season, as each will be looking for a contract in the $5-6 million range. Then there are RFAs to re-sign at more modest increases, such as Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte, Zack McEwen, Adam Gaudette and Tiny Stecher. Despite his spirited play this post-season, Stecher is looking like a cap casualty given the team’s depth on defence. Virtanen could be trade bait unless he pulls up his hockey socks, but it would be hard to give up on such a promising player. To keep him and the rest of the RFA forwards will add another few million to the payroll. That adds up to about $6 million that Benning will have to come up with to shoehorn his roster under the cap. 

Which brings us to The $6 million Man. No, not Colonel Steve Austin. Eriksson and his salary of that amount were expected to be dispatched with a compliance buyout coming out of the lockdown, but none was forthcoming from league office. As a result, the prevailing wisdom is that the Canucks will be able to afford only two of Markstrom, Tanev and Toffoli next year. The only other realistic alternative would be unloading the last two years of Eriksson’s contract on a team with salary cap space. That would be expensive, however, witness the Maple Laffs having to package a first-round pick with Patrick Marleau to unload his contract. But Eriksson has already been paid his bonuses, which means he is only owed $3 million a year in salary. That would make him more palatable to a cash-strapped but cap-rich team. He might be unloaded with a sweetener like Virtanen and his 30-goal potential tossed in.

A better solution might be to offer Thatcher Demko to a team willing to take on Eriksson and his albatross contract. It should be a team in the east so he doesn’t come back to haunt us too often. Demko is a budding NHL starter of similar pedigree to Cory Schneider, who netted the Nux the ninth-overall draft choice a few years ago, which became Bo Horvat. Demko was a high second-round pick in 2014 and has been ripening ever since, first in college and then in Utica  A choice between him and Markstrom will have to be made in the next year anyway as the Seattle expansion draft looms. The team also has Mikey DiPietro in Utica as a possible goalie of the future, so goal is a position of strength at the moment.  A veteran backup could easily be obtained to play 15-20 games a year to spell Markstrom.

Let’s face it, when it comes to the salary cap, something’s gotta give. It might have to be Demko.