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Elias Pettersson has the right to demand a winning team; so do Canucks fans

The Canucks’ star centre says he’s “extremely hungry for revenge” after frustrating 2020-21 season.
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Elias Pettersson wants to play for a winning team. He also wants that winning team to be the Vancouver Canucks.

The year before Elias Pettersson joined the Vancouver Canucks, he won pretty much everything there was to win in Sweden.

He led the SHL in scoring in both the regular season and the playoffs, leading the Växjö Lakers to the SHL Championship. In the process, he was named the SHL Forward of the Year, the MVP in both the regular season and playoffs, and, of course, Rookie of the Year.

That’s what was most wild about his 19-year-old season: it was his first and only season in the SHL. He won the SHL Championship immediately.

Is it any wonder he’s hungry to win in the NHL?

"I want to play for a team that's winning."

Pettersson said as much this week to Uffe Bodin, a Swedish reporter for HockeySverige.se and NHL.com. Bodin asked about the centre’s ongoing contract negotiations with the Canucks and what kind of contract he’d prefer. One of the major questions for Pettersson’s contract is whether the Canucks will sign him to a long-term deal or a short-term bridge contract.

The ideal term for the Canucks would be as long as 8 years, as it would likely make Pettersson a bargain for years to come. For Pettersson’s side, they’d most likely prefer a 2-3 year bridge contract — it would mean less money now with the understanding that he could sign for a lot more money on his next contract.

An even better deal for Pettersson would be for four years, as it would march him right to unrestricted free agency, where it would be entirely up to him where he signs. That’s a possibility the Canucks will look to avoid at all costs, of course. 

“I want to stay there [Vancouver] now, but I also want to play for a team that’s winning and has the chance to go far into the playoffs every year,” said Pettersson in the translation provided by Bodin. “I feel like we’ve got a chance to do that next year. If we have that chance when my next deal expires...I don’t know. I just wanna play where there’s a chance of winning.”

If the Canucks' current salary cap situation didn't let you know already, a statement like this suggests that a bridge deal is more likely than a long-term deal. Pettersson believes that the current Canucks team can win and go far in the playoffs but if they're not a consistent winner in a few years, it's completely understandable that he wouldn't want to stick around. Anyone would be frustrated with that situation, Canucks fans most of all. 

Canucks fans ought to demand winning as much as the players

Some Canucks fans took umbrage to Pettersson’s statement but there’s no need. Pettersson is right to want to play for a winning team. Quite frankly, Canucks fans should demand a winning team too.

During the struggles of this past season, with no way for fans to make their displeasure known in person, some fans took the skies instead, raising money for a “#FireBenning” banner that flew over Vancouver in April. 

Some fans felt this was excessive or a waste of money but fans should demand success from their team. They shouldn’t be satisfied with mediocrity. If the team falters next season, when fans are allowed to attend games in person, those fans are likely to let the Canucks know how unhappy they are. They’ll be right to do so — the Canucks have missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons.

If fans are frustrated with the lack of winning, how much more frustrating must it be for the players like Pettersson who have devoted their entire lives to hockey?

"I'm getting tired of being out of the playoffs."

In three seasons with the Canucks, Pettersson has seen the playoffs once. He was dominant in the 2020 playoff bubble, putting up 7 goals and 18 points in 17 games, but they nearly didn’t make it into the playoff bubble at all.

This past season, instead of building on that previous year, the Canucks took a significant step backwards. For a player like Pettersson, that has to be concerning. He’s not in the NHL just to play a game and make some money — he wants to win.

It’s the same sentiment expressed by Bo Horvat at the end of the season.

“I want to win,” said Horvat. “I'm getting tired of being out of the playoffs and not being able to fight for the Stanley Cup...I want to be on a team that is going to make the playoffs.”

Horvat has even more reason than Petersson to be concerned. While the Canucks captain made the playoffs in his rookie year, he’s now missed the playoffs in five of his seven seasons in the NHL. 

It’s good for Canucks fans that the team’s stars are sick and tired of missing the playoffs. They should be demanding success and wanting the Canucks’ management to build a stronger and more competitive team around them, because players like Pettersson and Horvat are not the problem.

"Oliver Ekman-Larsson will help us win many games."

With those frustrations in mind, Jim Benning’s aggressive offseason comes into focus. As much as Benning need to push for short-term success for the sake of his own job, perhaps he needed to also show his star players that the team is serious about getting better.

Horvat diagnosed the issue as a lack of forward depth, so Benning acquired a top-six winger in Conor Garland who should provide a significant upgrade and a shutdown third-line centre in Jason Dickkinson who should make Horvat’s job a little easier. 

The team’s defence required a major overhaul as well, so Benning traded for Oliver Ekman-Larsson, brought back Travis Hamonic, and added Tucker Poolman and Luke Schenn. How much the defence actually improved is up for debate, but Pettersson seems happy with at least one move.

“Oliver Ekman-Larsson will help us win many games,” said Pettersson to Bodin. 

In another interview with SVT Sport, Pettersson said, “I've played with him several times in the national team, you know him well. Then we've played in the same division too. But it's better to have him on the same team.”

If the Canucks are not a playoff team next year with all of the changes and additions, they're in trouble, not just because players like Pettersson and Horvat will be frustrated but because of the long-term salary cap consequences of the moves they've made. At this point, they're committed — they have to make the playoffs. 

"I'm extremely hungry for revenge."

As for Pettersson himself, he’s eager to return to the ice after missing so much of last season with a wrist injury, which he described to Smålandsposten as “like trying to shoot with a knife in my wrist.”

Fortunately, Pettersson says he has completely recovered from the injury and is back to one hundred per cent. Now he just wants to play and contribute to the winning he desires so fervently.

“I'm extremely hungry for revenge,” said Pettersson. “I haven't played a single game since March 2. I'm really looking forward to play games again.”