Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Past Canucks negotiations suggest Pettersson and Hughes contracts might wait until training camp

Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes haven't re-signed yet but there's no reason for Canucks fans to worry.
The Vancouver Canucks still need to re-sign Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson before the start of next season.

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning has done a little bit of everything this offseason to improve the team, from blockbuster trades to buyouts and signings. 

The lone remaining tasks might be the most difficult. Benning still has to re-sign three restricted free agents, including the team’s two most important players — Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.

The newly-acquired Jason Dickinson also needs a new contract, but the centre has filed for salary arbitration, so there is a clear timeline in place for him to get re-signed. Dickinson’s arbitration hearing is set for August 20, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily happen. The Canucks still have one more week to sign him before he goes through the arbitration process.

For Pettersson and Hughes, however, the timeline is a little less clear. As restricted free agents not yet eligible for arbitration, Pettersson and Hughes have limited leverage in their contract negotiations. The only real leverage available to them is time: they could simply wait to sign a contract, leaving the team without their services until the Canucks improve their offer.

"All you really can do is withhold your services."

That was the tactic of William Nylander in his contract negotiations with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018. Coming off his entry-level contract and back-to-back 61-point seasons, Nylander wanted fair compensation from the Leafs, who were in a tight salary cap situation.

“If you see what other players are earning, and you feel you’re of equal ability, if not maybe better ability, when it’s your time to do your contract, you want to be able to be treated within the realm of what the other players in the marketplace are receiving,” said Nylander’s agent, Lewis Gross, to The Athletic. “And if the team doesn’t want to give you that – if you really believe that number is fair – then all you really can do is withhold your services.”

Nylander ultimately missed 26 games, as negotiations came down to almost literally the last minute. Nylander re-signed on December 1, just an hour before the deadline to get a deal done. If he hadn’t, he would have had to sit out the entire 2018-19 season.

The delay seemed to derail Nylander’s season, as he didn’t score at anywhere near the rate he did in previous years, though he bounced back the following two seasons. Ultimately, the extended contract negotiations were bad for both the player and the team.

"We're not in agreement, but I'm not worried."

Hopefully, the Canucks negotiations with Pettersson and Hughes don’t come to that. Pettersson, at least, doesn’t seem concerned about getting a deal done.  

“My agents do all the talking,” said Pettersson, “and then they inform me about what’s going on. Right now, we’re not in agreement, but I’m not worried that we’re not going to solve it eventually. Both parties need to be happy in order to find a solution, but I’m not worried about that.”

Still, it sounds like a resolution might be a ways off, as he also said, “It's not close to being settled. It is still in discussion but I have my agents working on it.”

Still, there’s no reason to panic. Based on a couple of other Canucks stars coming off their entry-level contracts, negotiations with Pettersson and Hughes could last right up to the Canucks training camp and not be a cause for concern. That was the case for both Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.

"It is stressful because you want to get a deal done."

Horvat didn’t sign his second contract, a six-year deal worth $5.5 million per year, until September 8, 2017. The deal was finalized on the eve of the Young Stars prospect tournament, less than a week before Canucks training camp was set to begin.

“It was right before camp. I am happy we got it done when we did,” said Horvat. “It is stressful because you want to get a deal done, you want to get back with your teammates, and you want to be there for camp and get going before the season starts. It definitely helps that way to get you mentally and physically prepared for the season, so I thought it was huge to get it done.”

Negotiations with Boeser went a little longer. He didn't sign his second contract, a three-year bridge deal worth $5.875 million, until September 16, 2019. That was after the start of training camp and just before the start of the preseason. 

The day before Boeser signed, there reportedly wasn’t any progress in their talks. Then, suddenly, the two sides came together.

Ultimately, the delay in getting a deal done was a positive experience for Boeser, who was able to stay home an extra week with his father, who was recovering from a stroke that triggered heart failure.

“Even just spending that extra week, you know. He just started eating this past week and became really alert,” said Boeser. “That meant a lot to me to be there. And that’s kind of what kept me sane and going through this whole process, just being able to go see him each and every day and be there to support him.

“Seeing him these last couple days, it really let me relax a bit to see how well he’s doing, and how well he’s coming along.”

Contract length is the likely sticking point

The contracts for Horvat and Boeser were both very different. Horvat signed a long-term deal that took up a couple of years of unrestricted free agency and he will be an unrestricted free agent when it expires in 2023. That long-term deal ended up looking like a bargain, as Horvat continued to improve and played above his paygrade.

Boeser, meanwhile, signed a short-term deal that will leave him a restricted free agent in line for a significant raise when it expires in 2022. He ultimately took a little bit less on a three-year deal knowing he’d likely make a lot more money overall.

That’s likely the major element of negotiations with Pettersson and Hughes. Is there room under the salary cap to get them signed to long-term deals like Horvat that will make them bargains for years to come or will they sign short-term bridge contracts that will mean a bigger bill coming due in a few years time?

The Canucks are unlikely to get both signed to long-term deals, but they might be able to do so with one of them, likely Hughes. 

Whatever the end result, don’t be surprised if negotiations are still ongoing on the eve of training camp, set to begin in Abbotsford on September 23.