The Canucks are one of the highest-spending NHL teams, and one that was going to be tight against the salary cap for next season. And Vancouver GM Jim Benning made things even tighter Wednesday with the signing of right winger Derek Dorsett and defenseman Luca Sbisa to multi-year contract extensions.
Dorsett's new deal is for four-years with a cap hit of $2.65 million per season, up from his current cap hit of $1.63 million; Sbisa's extension runs for the next three years at a $3.6 million cap hit, and that is also a significant raise from the $2.175 million the blueliner is earning this season. Offense isn't everything and the two players bring other positive qualities to the table, but the fact remains more than $6.2 million and a whole lot of term just got spent by Benning on two players who've combined to put up 10 goals and 36 points this season. Gulp.
With the cap ceiling for next season expected to be in the $68-72-million range, Benning's two signings Wednesday put the Canucks' payroll somewhere in the area of $66 million. And although most of Vancouver's key players are included in that total, the organization still has to make room for restricted free agents Linden Vey and Yannick Weber, and, if they want them back, unrestricted free agent forwards Shawn Mattias and Brad Richardson. Something seemingly will have to give between the end of this season and training camp next fall.
That's why giving Sbisa and Dorsett raises of more than 50 percent – and throwing more years at them than other teams on the open market may have been willing to do – is questionable. The 28-year-old Dorsett is an energy player who has never had more than 12 goals in a season, and Sbisa is on his third team in seven NHL seasons because the 25-year-old never has fully realized the potential that caused the Flyers to draft him 19th overall in 2008. Canucks brass may still see upside for both, but these are the type of role players teams are supposed to let drift out into free agency, to be replaced by younger, cheaper talent developed from within the organization.
Moreover, there's something to be said for loyalty and rewarding success, but what success have the Canucks really had with Dorsett and Sbisa? Sure, the team has rebounded from the John Tortorella-authored disaster of the 2013-14 campaign to qualify for the playoffs, but they haven't won a game yet, let alone a series or two. Would waiting a few more weeks, or a couple more months, really have driven up Sbisa's and Dorsett's asking prices past what they signed for? If that would've been the case, the right move for Benning would be to shake their hands and wish them well with their next employer. And maybe the opposite would have been true – maybe, after the Canucks made it to the Western Conference Final or beyond, Benning could have driven the price for the two players down; that sounds counterintuitive to a degree, but if one or both of those players wanted to be on a winning team with which they're familiar, maybe they're more willing to take a two-or-three-year deal, in Dorsett's case, or maybe Sbisa would accept a cap hit of $3 or $3.1 million.
And if not? Adios, muchachos.
Sometimes hockey fans and media focus too much on mammoth contracts as team-killers. Sometimes a franchise can slowly bog itself down with a number of smaller deals that slowly bring it to a state of salary cap rigor mortis. And that's where the Canucks are headed in the wake of the Sbisa/Dorsett extensions. They're unnecessary and an indictment of a Vancouver farm system that isn't producing enough to give management real negotiating leverage with veterans on the fringe of the core.
If the cap ceiling continued rising, Benning & Co. might be able to justify these new extensions. But with the possibility the ceiling may drop a few million dollars from its current $71 million, the deals are questionable, to say the least.