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Looking back at Horvat's hot playoffs, and forward to the buyout window

September 24, 2020, 2:35 PM ET [390 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final was a thriller on Wednesday night — with Steven Stamkos putting his stamp on the series by scoring a goal in a five-shift first-period cameo — but also showing up to chat with the media after the game.

He didn't reveal much about what has been ailing him, why it has taken him so much longer than expected to get into action, or why he didn't play in the last two periods of the Lightning's 5-2 win over the Dallas Stars. But he did say that a lot has been happening behind the scenes, which he'll share after the series is over.

Though Stamkos was definitely the headline story of Game 3, it's funny to think that the outcome of the game was still very much in doubt when he played his last shift. His goal gave the Lightning a 2-0 lead quite early in the first period. But the Stars pushed back hard after that, and were only trailing 2-1 at the end of the first period.

They've come back so often in these playoffs, I thought they might be able to do it again. But instead, it was Tampa Bay that turned it on in the second period — scoring three times and outshooting Dallas 21-4.

If you'd like to read my game story from Wednesday night, you can do that here:

The big reason why I bring this all up is because when Brayden Point scored his 11th goal of the playoffs in the second period, he became the first player to surpass the 10 goals scored by Bo Horvat this year.

The Canucks were eliminated from the postseason on September 4, nearly three weeks and a round-and-a-half ago. Horvat's 10th goal came one night earlier, the empty-netter in Vancouver's 4-0 shutout win in Game 6 against Vegas. That was his 16th postseason game.

Point has missed a couple of games due to injury in these playoffs, so his 11 goals have come in 20 games. Three other players have also now hit the 10-goal mark: the Lightning's Ondrej Palat and Victor Hedman, in 22 games, and the Stars' Joe Pavelski in 23 — he didn't score in his 24th game on Wednesday night.

Looking at those numbers really underscores just how impressive Horvat's postseason performance was. As a rookie in 2015, he was one of the only Canucks players who was able to raise his game in the six-game loss to the Calgary flames. This year, he got more help. But he showed once again that he can tap into another gear when things get serious. That's a great quality for a captain to have, and bodes well for Vancouver's future.

Speaking of the future, a new phase of the NHL's unusual 2020 offseason begins Friday, when the first player buyout window opens. Between then and October 8, one day before free agency begins, teams will have the opportunity to take bad contracts off their books.

Buyouts free up salary-cap space, but they still cost teams real dollars. I wonder if clubs will be more reluctant to use this option this year, when revenues have come to a virtual standstill?

Over at The Athletic, James Mirtle ranked his top 22 buyout candidates a couple of days ago.

Near the bottom of his list, he includes three Canucks — and one honourable mention.

Highest-ranked is Jay Beagle, at No. 17.

Beagle turns 35 next month, and has two years remaining on the contract that carries a cap hit of $3 million per season. For the next two years, he also has a modified no-trade clause which allows him to specify five teams where he can't be traded.

I never hated the Beagle contract as much as many people did. I appreciated the fact that he was coming off a Stanley Cup win and could help solidify the defensive side of the Canucks' game and be a good influence on the kids, helping to teach them what it takes to succeed.

When Beagle was signed two years ago, Elias Pettersson had yet to play his first NHL game. There's really no way the team could have projected his rise to top-line status would be so rapid or emphatic, but it definitely shuffled the deck down the middle.

It's hard to get a read on how much influence Beagle has in the room. He's a low-key guy who doesn't use social media or do many interviews — and he has missed 49 games due to injuries — so we don't see him engaging with his teammates very often.

Beagle might be one of those older players who benefitted from the pause this spring to get healthier. He didn't miss a game in the playoffs, but he averaged just 12:40 of ice time — although he was still second behind Horvat in total faceoffs taken.

If the Canucks are looking to free up cap space through a buyout, though, Beagle's contract would be one of the most effective to target. According to CapFriendly, in terms of real dollars, he's owed $3.4 million over the last two years of his deal.

A buyout would save the team $1.13 million in real cash. But more importantly, they'd free up $1.6 million in cap space for the 2020-21 season and an extra $633,000 in 2021-22. But they'd be on the hook for an extra cap hit of $567,000 for each of the two seasons after that — seasons which will very likely still be under the flat cap as the league works to restore its revenue streams in what is hopefully a post-Covid world.

It's also important to remember that the NHL's minimum salary will be steady at $700,000 next season, then rise a bit in subsequent years. In other words, the team would need to spend at least this much against the cap to fill Beagle's roster spot. Even a league-minimum player would only free up $900,000 in space for this season, and would leave the team $70,000 behind next season, before the extra costs of a Beagle buyout kicked in.

And that's about the best-case scenario for the Canucks. Mirtle ranks Sven Baertschi at No. 18 on his list, and Loui Eriksson at No. 19, but the structure of both those deals mean that the Canucks would basically be just as well off to send them back to the minors as to try to buy them out. So there's probably nothing doing there.

Mirtle also lists Antoine Roussel as an honourable mention — and while I have enjoyed Roussel's personality and determination during his time with the Canucks, I wonder how much he is still held back from that knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for nine months? Roussel's reputation also doesn't earn him much latitude with the officials — he's still your playoff penalty-minutes leader with 46, thanks to three misconducts in 17 games, and averaged just 7:26 of ice time per game — lower than everyone except Micheal Ferland and Olli Juolevi.

At just 30, Roussel may still have trade value. But so far, most of the trade deals we've seen have been cap dumps. The Canucks might have to offer extra incentive to get another team to take on Roussel's not unreasonable contract, which could make the buyout route more straightforward — especially as the clock ticks toward October 9 and the big decisions that need to be made with the UFAs.

Like Beagle, Roussel also has two years left at a cap hit of $3 million per season. He's owed $4.4 million in real dollars, so a buyout for him would result in an extra $1.77 million in cap space in 2020-21 and $1.17 in 2021-22, then a charge of $733K in the two subsequent seasons.

I like Roussel a lot, but if the Canucks do feel like they need to go the buyout route to free up cap space, his contract structure may offer them the best relief.
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