We don’t know when, we don’t know how, and we’re not entirely sure we know why, but the 2021 season is coming within the next couple of months and it’s time to start looking ahead. When the Vancouver Canucks skate out onto the ice in January or February, a large number of them could be entering their final season with the organization.
Below, we take a look at those players, and break down the odds of 2021 being their last dance with the Canucks.
One year @$6 mil remaining
Edler comes into 2021 as the franchise leader in all major statistical categories among defencemen — and he’ll remain as such until Quinn Hughes gets at least a couple more seasons in. Whether or not Edler returns beyond this season is, at this point, tough to say. He’ll turn 35 during the 2021 playoffs, assuming they start on time, and the Canucks do have some LHD youngsters in Olli Juolevi and Jack Rathbone eager for some of Edler’s minutes. But when a player has been with the club this long, it’s tricky to just let them walk, and so the reality is that Edler himself will be given the choice to re-up or not — provided he’s willing to take a significant pay-cut, of course.
One thing is certain, however, and that’s that Edler will not be re-signed before the 2021 Expansion Draft. Doing so would require him to be protected, and that would be a waste when Edler could instead re-sign after the draft and avoid the expansion question altogether. Surely, he’s been around long enough to warrant a handshake deal.
Odds of re-signing?: Probably about 65/35 in favour of one more year.
One year @$4.375 mil remaining
There are plenty who expected last season to be Sutter’s last with the Canucks, but he survived both buyout windows and looks to be starting 2021 with his contract intact. Assuming he’s not dealt elsewhere before the season opens, it’s a bit difficult to see where exactly Sutter fits into a crowded bottom-six.
If he’s placed in the role of third line center — perhaps because Adam Gaudette has been bumped up to second line right wing — and excels there, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him re-signed as a 32-year-old. But that’s probably not going to happen, and it seems far more likely that he’ll end up being replaced on the roster by someone like Zack MacEwen or Kole Lind before he’s even officially out the door.
Odds of re-signing?: Slim, but not none. Let’s say between 10-20%.
One year @$3.75 mil remaining
The Canucks have got everything they could have ever wanted out of a player they traded Erik Gudbranson for in Pearson. Some thought his post-deadline performance in 2019/20 was a flash in the pan, but Pearson proceeded to set a career-high in points this past season despite the shortened schedule. His chemistry with Bo Horvat is obvious, and Pearson enters 2021 as a top-six lock.
All that being said, he’s still not an absolute guarantee to earn a new contract with Vancouver. Pearson has been such a perfect fit that letting him walk might seem ludicrous, but then we all would have said the same about Tyler Toffoli. Pearson may have a longer track record with the organization, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be sacrificed in the name of the salary cap.
Of the five players currently inked into the Canucks’ top-six, Pearson is clearly the most expendable, and he does have an heir apparent in Nils Höglander. His post-trade production also puts him in line for a slight raise at the age of 28, and that may not be something the Canucks can afford.
Odds of re-signing?: Right now, it’s about 50/50. Any willingness to stay around the same salary, or even take a cut, would greatly increase the chances.
One year @$3.367 mil remaining
Baertschi has been an absolute pro since an acrimonious demotion, and he’s performed admirably at the AHL level and back in the bigs during limited recalls. Obviously, he and the Canucks are going to part ways next offseason — if not sooner — but the real question centers on whether or not any NHL team will offer him a contract.
One hopes that Baertschi’s positive attitude and contributions to Utica will work in his favour and garner him one last shot, because he truly should have received one already in Vancouver. There’s always the chance that he steals back a spot in the next training camp and thus boosts his own stock, but even then he’d almost certainly choose to take his talents elsewhere.
Odds of re-signing?: Feel fairly confident giving this one a zero.
One year @$2 mil remaining
Benn is another one of those players who most fans expected to disappear this offseason, and who no one expects to be here beyond this year. One has to think that Jim Benning is still working the phones, as we speak, trying to flip Benn’s salary for next-to-nothing.
And yet, there’s still plenty of potential for Benn to rewrite the story of his time in Vancouver. If he doesn’t get traded, he’s going to receive ice-time from Travis Green, and some of it may even be on the right side, where Benn is strongest. Perhaps some more exciting partners in Juolevi and Rathbone might reinvigorate the veteran and help reestablish him as a legitimate depth option.
Odds of re-signing?: At the very moment, almost zilch, but that could change. He won’t be getting a $2 million average again, but he could feasibly earn another seventh defender contract next offseason with an improved performance.
One year @$700K remaining
Sautner’s time as a genuine NHL prospect has probably come to an end, but that doesn’t mean he holds no value to the Canucks. Sautner has been used by coach Trent Cull to help ease rookie pros into the Comets lineup, pairing up with both Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty in recent seasons. For that alone, he’s probably worth keeping around — especially with Jett Woo and maybe Toni Utunen on the way and in need of mentorship.
Of course, Sautner is, at 26, also of the age at which a player might choose to try their chances with another organization, rather than resigning themselves to permanent call-up duty.
Odds of re-signing?: 50/50 sounds about right, but it’s really up to Sautner.
One year (of buyout penalty) @$1.033 mil remaining
Not much to say on this one, other than that it’s always good to end on a positive note, and the Canucks are guaranteed to rid themselves of Spooner’s cap hit by next offseason.
Odds of re-signing?: Given that he’s currently playing for Dynamo Minsk in the KHL, not very good.
Will any of the RFAs go unqualified?
That sums up the Canucks’ list of pending UFAs, but there’s always the possibility that some RFAs go unqualified, and thus become unrestricted. Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Adam Gaudette, and Thatcher Demko (although he has arbitration rights) are all slam-dunks. The same could probably be said for Lind, Rafferty, and Juolevi.
The rest are a bit of a mixed bag. Jayce Hawryluk and Marc Michaelis are new arrivals and unknown quantities, Guillaume Brisebois is in a similar take-him-or-leave-him position to Sautner, and Jake Kielly is probably replaceable. All four are likely to be qualified, but far from guaranteed.
That leaves four on the “likely unqualified” list. Petrus Palmu is already effectively banished from the organization. Lukas Jasek has already gone back to the Czech Extraliga and may not be back. Mitch Eliot has not found much success as a pro hockey player. Josh Teves was a rookie pro last season, but struggled to crack the Comets lineup and is already 25. He’ll get another chance in 2021, but he’ll need a major breakout to stick thereafter.