There have been some nervous nights for Vancouver Canucks fans since the start of training camp for one simple reason: the team’s two best players weren’t there.
Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes remained unsigned at the start of camp and even through two preseason games.
“I don’t think we’re that far apart,” said Benning prior to training camp. “These are complex and unique deals. These are two good young players and an important part of our group.”
That’s putting it lightly.
How Pettersson and Hughes perform this season likely determines whether or not the Canucks make the playoffs. It can’t be overstated how important each of them is to the team’s success. The longer they went without being signed, the more concerning it was, with both the team and fans having to seriously consider the possibility of starting the season without the team’s franchise centre and number one defenceman.
Fortunately, that won’t happen. The Canucks reportedly re-signed both Pettersson and Hughes on Thursday.
The two contracts are simultaneously similar and very different. Their cap hits will be similar, yes, but the term makes all the difference.
According to multiple reports, Pettersson’s deal is for three years with an average annual value (AAV) under $8 million, with CHEK TV’s Rick Dhaliwal reporting it could be $7.7 million. It’s a bridge contract, which leaves him still a restricted free agent when it expires — under team control but with the leverage to demand a significantly larger third contract, especially if he pays off his potential in the years to come and becomes one of the league’s top players.
Hughes’ new contract will reportedly have a similar AAV of $7.75 million, but on a six-year term that eats up one year of potential unrestricted free agency. When his deal expires, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent, though the Canucks could certainly re-sign him prior to his contract expiring.
The deals are not yet official — there could still be some final details to nail down in regards to bonuses and the structure of the contracts — but really, only one question remains: will Travis Green make Pettersson and Hughes do the bag skate on their own when they report to Vancouver?
Hughes could make his contract look like a bargain
In an ideal world, the Canucks would have signed both players to max-term, eight-year deals that kept them cost-controlled for an extended period of time. The Canucks were not in a position to do so while staying under the salary cap.
Signing Hughes to a long-term contract and Pettersson to a bridge contract is an acceptable compromise. Hughes was able to be signed for a longer term due both to his shorter track record — he has just two seasons to Pettersson’s three — and because he had less leverage as a 10.2(c) restricted free agent.
Essentially, Pettersson had the option to sign an offer sheet with another team if negotiations went south with the Canucks. Hughes did not have that option.
Hughes could easily make this deal look like an absolute bargain in the years to come. Consider that Miro Heiskanen signed an 8-year, $8.45 million deal just two months ago. Cale Makar signed for $9 million per year on a six-year deal a week later.
Certainly, Makar and Heiskanen had better seasons than Hughes in 2020-21 but, the year before that, there was a strong argument to be made that Hughes was better than both of them. Hughes has the potential to be one of the best defencemen in the NHL, which could make his contract one of the best deals in the NHL.
Pettersson could earn a massive third contract
Pettersson’s deal, meanwhile, doesn’t come as much of a surprise. There was no chance he was going to get a long-term deal without his cap hit soaring beyond the bounds of what the Canucks could afford. The most likely result of his negotiations was a three-year bridge deal worth around $7.5 million.
He reportedly got a little bit more than that.
Pettersson’s cap hit will be a little bit higher than Mathew Barzal’s $7,000,000 per year on the same three-year term. Barzal was frequently used as a comparable for Pettersson’s, as the two teams scored at similar rates. Pettersson’s points per game were slightly higher than Barzal’s and he’s arguably a stronger player defensively, so a slightly higher cap hit is understandable.
After a slow start, Pettersson had 20 points in 20 games before a wrist injury ended his season. He has the potential to be one of the NHL’s top scorers and make his cap hit look absurdly cheap. The risk is that he could be significantly more expensive on his next contract.
Of course, if Pettersson plays in such a way that he earns a massive third contract, Canucks fans likely won’t be complaining.
Questions remain for Canucks' final salary cap situation
Technically, the new cap hits for Pettersson and Hughes take the Canucks over the salary cap but several things remain in flux. Will Travis Hamonic play this season or will he opt out, clearing $3 million in cap space? How much will it cost to replace Hamonic if he does opt out? Will either Brandon Sutter or Tyler Motte be ready to start the season or will they go on the injured reserve?
Until those questions are answered, the Canucks’ cap situation remains entirely up in the air.
But, most importantly for the psyche of Canucks' fans, the biggest question has been answered: Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes will be re-signed before the start of the season.