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What should the Canucks do with their remaining cap space?

Should the Canucks sign the likes of Adam Boqvist or Alex Nylander, weaponize their cap space in a trade, or do nothing at all?
Should the Vancouver Canucks use their remaining cap space to sign Adam Boqvist in free agency?

The Vancouver Canucks have some money burning a hole in their pocket.

The Canucks were busy on the first day of free agency, signing five players for their NHL squad plus two more depth players in the AHL who might also play NHL games.

The signings filled nearly every hole in the Canucks’ roster, with the only missing piece being a backup goaltender. Even that seems like a formality, as the job likely belongs to Arturs Silovs and the restricted free agent will likely re-sign soon.

With 22 players on the roster, the Canucks have approximately $3.5 million in cap space remaining. Assuming Silovs re-signs for around $1 million or so, the Canucks will have $2.5 million left over.

So, what should the Canucks do with that $2.5 million? Let’s take a look at some options.

Sign another defenceman

The Canucks have eight defencemen signed at the NHL level as well as a few prospects looking to battle their way onto the roster. But looking at who the Canucks have signed, one thing becomes clear: they have plenty of size on the blue line but, beyond the top pair of Quinn Hughes and Filip Hronek, not a lot of puck-movement.

It’s clear the Canucks prize size on the blue line but it might be worth spending some of their cap space on one of the puck-moving defencemen still on the market in order to provide some more depth and competition.

26-year-old Nick Blankenburg is undersized but he plays much larger than his size and does a lot of good things defensively. He’s a right-hand shot to boot and can likely be had on a league-minimum contract for minimal risk.

Adam Boqvist is also a right-hand shot. Taken one pick behind Quinn Hughes, the 23-year-old defenceman has struggled to stay healthy, which has derailed his development and career a little bit, but maybe he just needs a change of scenery. Taking a chance on Boqvist could pay major dividends if he reaches his potential, as he could be a legitimate top-four defenceman.

Then there are veteran options like Justin Schultz and Travis Dermott. They’re less exciting than taking a chance on a younger defenceman but they might be more comfortable options as known quantities.

Bet on a winger with top-six potential

The Canucks got their big-name top-six winger in Jake DeBrusk and there’s a chance that Danton Heinen can slide into the top-six as well but it sure would be nice to have one more top-six winger to compete for a spot on a line with J.T. Miller or Elias Pettersson.

The only issue is that $2.5 million doesn’t typically get you a top-six winger. That potentially means taking a gamble on a younger player. There are two potential candidates in free agency in a couple of restricted free agents who didn’t get qualified by their teams, becoming unrestricted free agents: Alex Nylander and Kailer Yamamoto.

Nylander is 26 and had 11 goals and 15 points in 23 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, along with some solid production in the AHL. He’s got skill and creativity in abundance and is a shifty skater but his play away from the puck is questionable and he’s had some significant defensive struggles.

If the Canucks could help Nylander sort out his game away from the puck, however, there might be something there. If not, he could at least be a star for the Abbotsford Canucks.

The 25-year-old Yamamoto had a disappointing season with the Seattle Kraken, managing just 8 goals and 16 points in 59 games. That said, he’s just two seasons removed from a 20-goal season with the Edmonton Oilers, though he had the benefit of playing with linemates like Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.

Still, the 5’8” winger is surprisingly good defensively, has a ton of skill, and was snakebitten with a 6.05% on-ice shooting percentage, so he’s a decent bet to bounce back next season. Yamamoto might be worth a shot.

Add centre depth

If Pius Suter winds up back on the wing with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser, then the Canucks’ centre depth becomes a little bit suspect. It’s not terrible by any means — Miller and Elias Pettersson are a high-end one-two punch and Teddy Blueger is a solid bottom-six centre — but it would be nice to have some insurance down the middle.

Chris Tierney is a veteran two-way centre with a strong defensive game. He won 57.2% of his faceoffs last season and has utility on the penalty kill. The Canucks could do far worse at fourth-line centre.

Rourke Chartier is a decent defensive centre who plays a low-event game. He doesn’t have ideal size at 5’10” but he limits chances and protects the middle of the ice. He was also very good on the penalty kill with the Ottawa Senators. He might be worth a league-minimum deal to battle for a spot on the fourth line.

Weaponize it in a trade

It sounds bizarre to say it, but the Canucks are in a position to weaponize their cap space and take on a cap dump from another team, adding a draft pick or two in the process. According to Thomas Drance at The Athletic, that’s something the Canucks are currently considering.

The hope would be to get a useful player who can fill a role on the roster while also adding assets. The trouble is that the players who teams typically want to trade to shed salary are currently underperforming their contracts — there’s a reason why the trading team wants to get rid of them.

Wait for a bargain

The Canucks’ best-value signing of last year didn’t come until mid-August. That’s when they signed Pius Suter to a two-year contract with a paltry $1.6 million cap hit.

There are a lot of unrestricted free agents without a contract and, while that number will dwindle in the coming days and weeks, there could be a few diamonds in the rough remaining in August or even September.

Absolutely nothing

The Canucks’ best option for what to do with their cap space might be to do nothing at all.

For years now, the Canucks have had to start the season with a player on LTIR in order to be cap compliant. That is less than ideal because when a team uses LTIR to be cap compliant, then they don’t accrue cap space during the season, giving them less cap space to work with at the trade deadline.

How cap space accrues gets complicated and involves math but the gist of it is, every day you’re under the salary cap without using LTIR, you get a little bit more cap space for the rest of the season.

The Canucks haven’t been able to accrue cap space for a long time but now they have a chance to do so.

Tucker Poolman isn’t expected to resume his hockey career and is still on the Canucks’ books for one more season. His cap hit happens to be $2.5 million — almost the exact amount of cap space the Canucks have available.

If the Canucks do nothing with their cap space, they could start the season with Poolman on regular IR, counting against the cap, and the Canucks could start accruing cap space, even if it’s just a little bit at a time.

That would mean not signing anyone else or weaponizing their cap space in a trade, but if it means having more cap space to work with to add an impact player at the trade deadline, it may very well be worth it.