Jim Benning’s list of off-season signings is lengthy.
In fact, after the inking of Micheal Ferland to a four-year, $14-million deal earlier this week, the Canucks GM’s count is up to 13, the highest of any team-builder in the NHL since July 1. And as we noted when Ferland put pen to paper, Benning’s additions have been wide-ranging. Top talents and coveted free agents Ferland, Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn have all arrived in Vancouver. Depth additions such as Josh Leivo, Oscar Fantenberg and Zane McIntyre have been made. The Canucks have even brought aboard some AHL-NHL tweener talent such as Francis Perron, Justin Bailey and Tyler Graovac.
But despite all of Benning’s work, it’s the one signing he hasn’t made that’s become the talk of the town. Twelve days into free agency and three months since the campaign came to a close, Vancouver has yet to sign restricted free agent sniper Brock Boeser to a new deal.
The good news, of course, is that this doesn’t at all have the feel of a negotiation that’s going to drag on into the start of the season and result in Boeser missing any time. Benning has expressed positivity about negotiations. Boeser has been saying all the right things. And in speaking with NHL.com, Boeser’s agent, Ben Hankinson, said the two sides continue to work towards a deal and that it’s just a matter of hitting the “sweet spot” that works for both sides. That doesn’t, however, mean figuring out a new pact for Boeser is going to be easy, which probably goes without saying given we’re now in mid-July and the 22-year-old isn’t under contract for next season.
As it stands, the Canucks are facing a few hurdles, one of which – the salary cap crunch – is entirely of their own making. Indeed, as Vancouver goes back-and-forth with Boeser about his next contract, they do so with a projected $5 million with which to work given the current makeup of the roster. That has resulted in some handwringing about how exactly Vancouver is going to make the numbers work, to be sure. The reality, though, is that the cap situation isn’t as dire as it might seem. In the off-season, teams are allowed to exceed the spending limit by up to 10 percent, and given next year’s cap is set at $81.5 million, Vancouver actually has an additional $8.15 million with which to operate or a total in the $13-million range.
As much as that may alleviate the concern about Vancouver’s ability to get a deal done right now, though, it doesn’t get to the meat of the issue, which is hammering out term and dollars with an RFA scorer who is in line for big bucks. And while Boeser may not get mentioned with the likes of top-tier RFAs Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine, Brayden Point or Matthew Tkachuk – heck, it has seemed he’s hardly even mentioned in the same sentence as Kyle Connor, though that likely has much more to do with the Winnipeg Jets’ cap situation than it does the players themselves – he shouldn’t be all that far behind in earnings.
Over the past two seasons, Boeser has scored 55 goals and 111 points and compared to other players exiting their entry-level deals in the past several seasons, that puts him in some exceptional company. There are only 14 other players who have scored at least 50 goals and 100 points over their second and third NHL campaigns since the 2014-15 campaign. (Technically, Boeser’s first was a nine-game run in 2016-17.) Included in that group are Laine, Point, Tkachuk, Connor, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Sebastian Aho, among others. Of that group, though, Boeser’s .42 goals per game ranks fifth and he’s in the middle of the pack at .85 points per game.
So, what is Boeser worth? Well, as one might imagine, that depends on term, and Hankinson hinted that all kinds of deals have been discussed. Let’s assume, though, that when a deal is eventually signed, it’s of the long-term variety, maybe a six-, seven- or eight-year pact given Boeser’s position as a cornerstone player and a key piece of the future in Vancouver. And if that’s the case, there is one notable comparable.
At the time he signed his six-year pact with the Flames, Johnny Gaudreau had higher point totals to his name, but his per-game production was similar to that of Boeser. To wit, the Canucks winger has the edge in goals per game, but Gaudreau’s .89 points per game over the final two years of his entry-level deal rate is the higher of the two. And when it came time to sign Gaudreau, Calgary got it done with a six-year pact at $6.75-million per season. If that deal, which was valued at 9.25 percent of the spending limit at the time, is translated to present-day dollars, it works out to about a $7.5-million cap hit. That doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable price for Boeser, either, particularly at a time when Aho, another similar-though-slightly-higher producer, inked a five-year pact that carries a $8.454-million cap hit. Granted, that deal was goosed somewhat as a result of the Montreal Canadiens trying to pry Aho away from the Carolina Hurricanes on an offer sheet, but a rising tide lifts all boats and all that.
Getting Boeser locked in around $7.5 million long term, too, would actually work out quite well for the Canucks and limit the size of the salary-cap rabbit Benning needs to pull out of his hat. With the $5 million in cap space, Vancouver would only be tasked with moving out an additional $2.5 million or so in order to become cap compliant. And there are options for that, including dealing a player such as Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle or Tim Schaller or finding a new home for Loui Eriksson. Even sending Eriksson to the minors, which isn’t an entirely unrealistic scenario, would save the Canucks a shade over $1 million.
Those are decisions that can be made once Boeser’s deal is done, though, and it’s a debate Canucks fans are surely hoping to have once Benning makes his 14th signing of the summer.
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