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Despite dropping salary cap, Canucks have enviable options

Photo from Flickr/bridgetds

News of gradual progress in the NHL collective bargaining talks continue to seep out, and one of the spicier nuggets this morning is the leagues proposal to grant two compliance buyouts per team prior to the start of the 2013-14 season. If that comes to pass the coming off season will be a frenzy of page-turning and slate-cleaning, league-wide. 

And despite the consternation in these parts about a dropping salary cap limit and a Canucks team already up against it with only 12 roster players signed (not including Roberto Luongo), the Canucks could actually enter that frenzy with over $20-million dollars in cap space. 

Impossible? Hardly. 

According to James Mirtle at The Globe and Mail, the Canucks have $55.4-million committed for 2013-14, with the salary cap expected to drop to $60-million at the lowest. That would leave Vancouver with $4.6-million in cap space. 

But that's without factoring in the certain departure of Roberto Luongo, the likely departure of Keith Ballard and possible departure of David Booth, and the decision to not re-sign Manny Malhotra and Mason Raymond. A five player loss which — at it's most extreme end, with no large contracts coming back in return — could net $18.5-million in cap space. That would give the team around $23-million dollars in space to "play with." 

That's a grand hypothetical. It's only speculation that David Booth could be traded or that Malhotra and Raymond won't be re-signed at discounts, but it's evidence of how flexible the Canucks cap situation is heading into an off season where so many other teams will be making painful buyouts and salary dumps on the need to quickly become cap compliant. 

General Manager Mike Gillis and his salary cap wizard Assistant GM Lawrence Gilman are in an enviable position here. Their salary baggage is expendable yet still desirable. Luongo, Ballard, and Booth are derided in Vancouver but they're far from being untradeable salary dumps or buyout options either.

Keith Ballard has been the prime candidate for a Mike Gillis mulligan for some time now, but in a league where Jay Feaster retains front office employment it's almost certain that Ballard's hefty contract is movable. Cap floors will remain in the new CBA, as will the operational insanity we've all come to love and applaud around the NHL. So Ballard and his $4.2-million dollar cap hit have to be appealing to at least a few General Managers desperate to fill roster holes and hit the cap floor. 

David Booth is the wildcard. He's not the useless waste of cap space that so many fans make him out to be. As Thomas Drance wrote yesterday at Canucks Army, his per-game scoring numbers last year were on a respectable second-line winger pace of 20 to 25 goals. At a $4.25-million cap hit that's not unreasonable. But his disappearance in the playoffs and on-again off-again physical presence soured many, as have his comments on twitter regarding abortion, gay marriage, and the role of religion in the recent Sandy Hook shooting. Nolan Kelly wrote extensively about those antics in a recent blog for The Province. 

Off-ice theatrics and buffoonery aside, the Canucks should be looking to shed Booth's contract purely on the basis of his on-ice play and potential. His growing disfavour with fans simply doesn’t help his cause. With the team approaching a new era and an off season bazaar of free agent options (potentially) the cap space his departure would produce is just too valuable.

The team still has key players in Alex Edler, Chris Higgins, Maxime Lapierre and Chris Tanev to re-sign, as well as find a legitimate and experienced backup goaltender for first-time starter Cory Schneider.

Certainly the Canucks won’t be starting the 2013-14 season with a comfy cap cushion. Even with a significant trimming of the fat the team will be up against it once the madness of this coming off season settles. But they should weather this storm well, and could likely come out of it looking better than when they first put their shoulder into it.

Few other teams can say the same, and most of those will be jumping on the ability to buyout one or two of their players. It will be shocking if the Canucks buy out any of their players. 

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