In the modern-day NHL, there is an increased focus on getting the highest value out of players. Taking up as little cap space as possible, while also earning some MVP-calibre seasons might just make some front offices ecstatic.
That way, entry-level contracts should be treated like the executives are getting away with murder — especially for a player of Elias Pettersson’s status.
Pettersson has established himself as one of the most entertaining and skilled players in the sport. Flashes of brilliance every game, he will soon be worth much more than he is currently making and is taking up on the Canucks’ cap.
But before that happens, most likely starting in the 2021-22 regular season, the Canucks front office should make it one of their priorities to take advantage of the 20-year-old being so inexpensive.
It won’t be the end of the world if Pettersson’s entry-level contract ends and they’re in the same position as now, but taking advantage of such a gift would reap massive benefits.
Long-term success is great, but this is a small window heading into this summer that they can make certain moves that can extract a short-term profit. With how the current playoffs are going, it proves that all you need is to get lucky and not mess up royally to go far into the playoffs.
How they could do that is not certain, but there are certain strategies and philosophies that can help them achieve that.
Make Smart Trades
The highest of highs and lowest of lows — Jim Benning’s trade history is essentially a rollercoaster through misevaluation and getting lucky with some terrible general managers on the other side.
A prime example of more trades that could happen is the Erik Gudbranson/Tanner Pearson one-for-one trade that happened last deadline. Pearson is expensive, coming in with a $3.75-million cap hit for two more years — but the term is there and he’s shown that he’s a capable NHL player. Through well-thought placement of the player and taking advantage of the tools he possesses, Pearson can turn into someone that can contribute.
One example would be the Josh Leivo trade. Giving up someone that still has some years of control, but no NHL experience, for a player that is not finding space on his team is low-risk for a high-reward and Leivo’s play last season showed that. He’s a capable middle-six player, conservatively.
Hypothetical trades for this offseason should follow a similar path. What players those low-risk potential acquisitions could be is generally unknown, but following that train of thought will go a long way.
Especially with the cap situation the Canucks are in currently. Heading into this offseason with around $30-million in cap space with just a couple important pieces to sign could free up some potential for trades Benning could make.
Acquiring players that are slightly overpaid but still skilled players under contract for 1-2 years, helping a team in cap trouble, could be another way management could make a trade focusing on this short window.
Focus on Timeline with Signings
There is a two-year window and the Canucks should understand more than anyone how a window of success could come and go like nothing happened.
They have the cap space — especially if they’re able to clear out players like Sutter and Eriksson — which they could use to their advantage. Regardless of acquiring players already under contract, there might be some interesting options in free agency this offseason.
Balancing cap hit and length of contract must be imperative for the Canucks’ approach to free agency. Signing players that will produce over their contract value has been the focus on sports management in the modern world, but the Canucks have a rare opportunity to spend a little more to have the term to their liking.
They might be older, into their late-20s or early-30s, but that will hopefully determine a shorter contract.
Some unrestricted free agent examples are, but not limited to, players like Carl Hagelin, Joonas Donskoi, Tyler Ennis, Carl Gunnarsson, and Tim Heed. All five of these examples are projected by the EvolvingWild twins to carry an AAV of under $3-million and sign for a term under four years.
Not going after the prime free agents like Erik Karlsson or Artemi Panarin, but looking to fill this roster with players that can play anywhere in the lineup and most likely succeed.
There are holes everywhere in the assumed 2019-20 lineup for the Canucks. Only Quinn Hughes has a contract beyond next year for defensemen and only Boeser, Goldobin and Leivo should receive a contract for forward free agents.
On the blue line, there are only three NHL-capable players signed for next season, while the forward group is just a mess of contracts that shouldn’t be on the Canucks anymore.
Whether or not some players will be returning, this team has an opportunity to sign a low-cost player to a reasonable contract that should bring up the floor and push this team beyond where they finished last season.
Utilizing the 30 other teams and where they are for their cap, while also signing low-cost free agents could see the Canucks make use of having a superstar for barely anything.
With the direction some teams in the Western Conference are heading, it’s not out of the question that Pettersson could drag a team with some slightly better players into the playoffs where the concept of anything happening has been proven this postseason.
If just making the playoffs can be considered not wasting the entry-level contract of Pettersson, there is a high probability the Canucks will do that in the next two seasons if they make the correct decision. But if the goal is a deep playoff run or their first championship, that is extremely distant.
No one wants to see Pettersson’s contract get wasted, so considering where this team has been, any appearance in the postseason could be acknowledged as a success in the short three years of an inexpensive star.
Read also: Pettersson’s top plays from 2018-19