Elias Pettersson was not to be answering questions about his contract status on the first day of Vancouver Canucks training camp but it was unavoidable.
The Canucks’ franchise forward is entering the final year of his contract and had not done any interviews with local media ahead of camp. It was inevitable that his contract status would come up, as much as Pettersson might prefer to push those questions aside.
The last comment Pettersson made about his contract was to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman while still in Sweden. That’s when he said he’s “not in a rush to sign” and that he still doesn’t know if his next contract will be short-term or long-term.
That’s the kind of talk that might get some Canucks fans concerned. Fans have already seen a fellow Pacific Division team lose a star player at the end of a three-year bridge contract when Matthew Tkachuk forced a trade from the Calgary Flames — losing Pettersson in a similar fashion would be tough to take.
For now, Pettersson has put his next contract out of his mind and has placed his focus solely on training camp and the start of the season. Perhaps that’s why he declined to speak to the media ahead of training camp and, when asked if the contract negotiations might become a distraction, was blunt.
“It’s not a distraction; you guys make it a distraction,” said Pettersson. “I’ve got one more year left. I’m happy now but I just want to focus on the season, my teammates, and just come out with a good start with the team.”
It quickly became clear that he had nothing else to say about his contract situation, as he dodged any follow-up questions with pat answers.
“I’m just here to play to win, I’ve got one year left on my contract. Yeah, that’s all I want to say,” he said, adding, “I’m excited for the season.”
It’s completely understandable that Pettersson would want to avoid distractions. This is a big season for himself individually as it’s a contract year but also a massive season for the team as a whole, which is looking to get back into the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin struck a positive tone on Wednesday prior to training camp about Pettersson’s contract.
“First, he’s an RFA so we have another two years,” said Allvin. “So, that’s where there is no rush, versus if he was a UFA…Elias really wanted to emphasize and focus on having a good summer and he came in here 10 days ago and I believe that he’s in really good shape and excited about where we are, the moves we made this summer, the direction the team and the organization is heading, and how we’re going to play.”
The easiest way to avoid Pettersson’s contract status becoming a distraction would be if he signed a contract extension. That would end any and all speculation in a hurry.
But the second-easiest way would be for the Canucks get off to a good start to the season. That way, all the attention will be on the team’s success. Any worries that Pettersson might not stay in Vancouver long-term will fall by the wayside if the team is successful.
If the Canucks falter to start the season or struggle to the point that they risk missing the playoffs once again, Pettersson’s contract status will take centre stage.
It's as simple as that. A winning Canucks team will have dozens of other stories take the spotlight; a losing Canucks team will have fans and media alike wondering about Pettersson's future with a team that has made the playoffs just once in his NHL career.