Ask it to Bulis: Could Quinn Hughes exploit the NCAA loophole?

Also, buying out Loui Eriksson and a worst-case scenario.

Pass it to Bulis

Ask it to Bulis is a semi-regular feature where I answer your burning questions, because it has been far too hot this summer to hold onto them. I don’t even like to turn on the oven in this heat, so I can’t imagine what burning questions are doing to you.

So let’s quench those burning questions with some cool, refreshing answers. Also, drinks lots of water. Ask it to Bulis will only quench questions, not actual thirst, and I don’t want you to get dehydrated.

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Is there a chance Quinn Hughes stays at the University of Michigan long enough to become a free agent and sign somewhere other than Vancouver?
- Kerrianne

This is a question that always comes up when the Canucks draft a player either already in the NCAA or headed in that direction: is there a chance that he exploits the “loophole” that allows a player to sign with another team after he finishes four years at college?

There are a couple things to address here, but let’s start with Quinn Hughes specifically: there is next to no chance that Hughes doesn’t sign with the Canucks. He will play for the Canucks, possibly as early as this season.

The truth is, there really isn’t a “loophole” for college players. The team that drafts a player has a certain window within which to sign him or they lose his rights. Any player can refuse to sign with the team that drafted them — Eric Lindros famously did exactly that when he was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques — but they can’t sign with any other team either.

College players that refuse to sign with the team that drafted them are no different from any other drafted player. They just have a little more incentive to wait to sign with an NHL team: some players want to complete their degrees at university while on their hockey scholarship.

The window for signing a player changes depending on the league: it’s two years for players in junior and four years for players in Europe. College players have a slightly different rule for their rights. Essentially, they must be signed within 30 days of graduating, which generally works out to around four years.

Here’s the thing: there’s no way Hughes is going to spend four years at college.

Thing about what that would mean for Hughes. He would have to delay his NHL debut for two more years, delaying his entry-level contract, which would in turn push back his second contract. Think about the potential millions of dollars that he would be giving up. It’s not going to happen.

Hughes wants to play in the NHL as soon as possible and his best opportunity is with the Canucks, who desperately need what he brings to the blue line. If he doesn’t play a few games for the Canucks at the end of this coming season, he’ll be on the opening night roster for the 2019-20 season.

Do the Canucks have any buyout options for Loui Eriksson?
- David

Oh boy.

With the Sedins retired, Loui Eriksson is now the highest paid player on the Canucks. Eriksson has 21 goals and 47 points with the Canucks, which doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that’s over the course of two seasons.

So it’s understandable that Canucks fans might see Eriksson as a prime candidate for a buyout. The issue is that his contract is essentially buyout proof.

The vast majority of Eriksson’s contract comes in the form of signing bonuses, which are guaranteed. His actual “salary” is $1 million per season until the final year of his contract, when it goes up to $3 million.

When it comes to a buyout, teams don’t get any relief from the signing bonuses. The Canucks would still have to pay the entirety of Eriksson’s signing bonuses and they would continue to count against the cap. If the Canucks tried to buy out the remaining $20 million of his contract this off-season, they would save a grand total of $2 million in actual money and he would still take up $5.5 million of the salary cap for the next three seasons and $3.5 million in the fourth season.

Seriously: buying out Eriksson right now would mean a $5.5 million cap hit for Eriksson not to play for the Canucks.

All that is to say, Eriksson’s contract is even worse than you think it is.

Honestly, there’s little point to buying out Eriksson, beyond the fact that his contract is so prohibitive. While Eriksson isn’t worth $6 million per year, he’s still a legitimate NHL forward. He’s one of the team’s better puck possession forwards, he’s effective defensively, and he can kill penalties.

Eriksson’s cap hit could be an issue in a few years, but it’s not an issue right now.

Since Loui Eriksson always scores 30+ goals and 63 points in his third year with a team, should the Canucks put him on the first line, or try to establish a Swedish connection with Elias Pettersson on line 2?

If that last question was pessimistic about Loui Eriksson, this one is wonderfully optimistic, to the point that it’s most likely tongue-in-cheek.

It’s true, however, that Eriksson has a tendency to settle in and excel a few years into his time with a team. In his third season with the Dallas Stars, Eriksson racked up 36 goals and 63 points. In his third season with the Boston Bruins, he likewise had 30 goals and 63 points.

Of course, those two seasons were preceded by ones in which he put up a lot more points than he has with the Canucks. So the odds are against him putting up another 63 points next season.

Even if he can’t manage that, he could still play in the top-six next season. He didn’t have much success in limited minutes with Bo Horvat or Brock Boeser last season, but it would make sense to put him with Elias Pettersson. Eriksson’s strong two-way play would provide some insulation for the rookie and putting Petersson with a veteran Swede should help him transition to the NHL.

Eriksson could also play on a checking line with Brandon Sutter or Jay Beagle, but the addition of two bottom-six left wingers in Antoine Roussel and Tim Schaller means that Eriksson isn’t as needed in that role.

Who has the best chance to stick in the NHL this year: Goldobin or Leipsic?
Steve and others

This will be one of the biggest questions heading into training camp. Who will make the team: Goldobin or Leipsic? The one that doesn’t make the team could get waived and potentially claimed.  Otherwise, the Canucks might have to send Elias Pettersson to Utica.

At this point, it’s hard to say who has the better chance. Leipsic seemed to earn a little more trust last season, while Goldobin has been criticized for his play away from the puck. Goldobin, however, is younger than Leipsic and arguably has more offensive upside

Both thrived when given the opportunity: Leipsic had limited ice time with the Vegas Golden Knights, then managed 9 points in 14 games when given a top-six chance with the Canucks. Likewise, when given an opportunity with late-season injuries, Goldobin had 7 points in the final 11 games.

Ultimately, I think it will be up to Goldobin at training camp. If Goldobin comes into camp with great conditioning and a commitment to playing better away from the puck, it’ll be hard to argue against him. Very few Canucks have his vision and playmaking ability.

Hopefully the Canucks will figure out a way to keep both on the roster and avoid putting either of them on waivers.

Horvat breaks his ankle again, Boeser doesn’t have the strength/accuracy in his shot due to taking so many slashes to his wrist. Pettersson injures his back via check into the boards, Benning waives Leipsic/Goldie hoping they get through. They don’t. What’s your lines?
- ShadowTrooper

That’s just cruel.

In other words, what if the worst happens? The Canucks will need everything to go right if they have any hope of making the playoffs, so what if everything goes completely wrong?

So, no Horvat, no Boeser, no Pettersson, no Leipsic, and no Goldobin. Who do they have left to put in their lineup?

That still leaves some good options at left wing, including Sven Baertschi and Loui Eriksson. Centre depth is where it hurts the most. WIthout Horvat, Pettersson might be able to step in, but without both of them? Ouch. Welcome to first-line centre Brandon Sutter.

Gaudette and Beagle will centre the second and third lines, while Tanner Kero, acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks for Michael Chaput, steps in on the fourth line.

The Canucks can call up Jonathan Dahlen, Petrus Palmu, Kole Lind, Lukas Jasek, Reid Boucher, or Darren Archibald on right wing based on who is performing best. Dahlen is more naturally a left wing, so with Boeser out, I’ll call Palmu up to fill in a top-six role and Boucher as the 13th forward.

So that makes the lines...

Baertschi - Sutter - Virtanen
Eriksson - Gaudette - Palmu
Roussel - Beagle - Granlund
Schaller - Kero - Gaunce

Oof, that’s ugly. It could, however, be a lot worse. That’s at least mostly an NHL lineup, albeit a terrible one.

It’s the centre depth that looks the most concerning. Assuming Pettersson starts the season in the NHL, the Canucks won’t have any legitimate centre prospects with the Utica Comets in the AHL. Zack MacEwen is the closest, but he spent most of last season at right wing and has limited upside.

So the Canucks still need to work on the centre depth in their prospect pool. They selected one centre at the 2018 draft, Tyler Madden, but he’s on his way to the NCAA and is still several years away. Getting a centre with their first-round pick in the next draft would help significantly.


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