Ethan Bear might have some regrets about playing for Team Canada at the 2023 World Championship without an NHL contract.
The defenceman came home with a gold medal but also a significant shoulder injury that required surgery. That surgery is expected to keep him out of action for six months, meaning he would not only miss out on his offseason training but would also miss the start of next season.
While Bear had been approached about signing a contract extension when the Canucks traded for him from the Carolina Hurricanes, he said he wanted to focus on hockey and not a new contract. That meant he had no contract for next season but he was confident that a deal would be reached.
The shoulder surgery, however, might have changed things. Not only would Bear miss time on the ice, but shoulder injuries can also cause long-term problems that make a player less effective. That might not be the case for Bear but it added risk to the equation for the Canucks, who have been intent on overhauling the defence for next season with the trade for Filip Hronek and buying out Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
The Canucks needed to give Bear a qualifying offer by 2 p.m. on Friday to keep him as a restricted free agent with exclusive negotiating rights or he would instead become an unrestricted free agent. Friday morning, the Canucks announced they won't be giving Bear that qualifying offer.
Travis Dermott, who missed almost all of last season with a concussion, also didn't receive a qualifying offer. Neither did Carson Focht, but that's less surprising, as the centre struggled to find ice time in the AHL with the Abbotsford Canucks.
It should be noted that both Bear and Dermott could still re-sign with the Canucks. It's possible that the Canucks felt the qualifying offers for Bear and Dermott were too high, particularly given the injury risk for both players, and intend to negotiate cheaper contracts. But if they don't re-sign with the Canucks, they will both become unrestricted free agents on Saturday with free agency opens.
According to ChekTV's Rick Dhaliwal, Bear, at least, will head to free agency.
Defenceman Akito Hirose and wingers Nils Höglander and Vitali Kravtsov did receive qualifying offers and are free to either accept the offer and sign the contract or reject it and continue negotiations. Either way, they remain restricted free agents attached to the Canucks.
Kravtsov won't be signing, of course, as he is intent on returning to Russia. By sending him a qualifying offer, the Canucks retain his rights should he decide to return to the NHL in the future.