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Photo Credit: © Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

How the Canucks should approach contract negotiations with Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes

Originally, this article was supposed to cover three contracts, but news broke that Jason Dickinson signed a three-year deal with an AAV of $2.65 million just moments before I started writing.

Thanks for spoiling the fun, Benning.

Jokes aside, Dickinson’s new contract makes it easier to predict how much cap space the Canucks have left for Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. By my estimations, the club should have roughly $16.2 million to spare if we assume the following transactions take place:

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  1. Micheal Ferland gets put on LTIR.
  2. Three of Phillip Di Giuseppe, Justin Dowling, Justin Bailey, or Matthew Highmore get sent down to the AHL.
  3. One of Olli Juolevi, Brad Hunt, or Jack Rathbone gets sent down to the AHL.
  4. Vasili Podkolzin makes the team.

There may be some slight differences to what will actually happen, such as sending two forwards and two defencemen down, but the contracts of all those players are so similar that it won’t make too much of an impact. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the Canucks should negotiate contracts for their two young superstars.

Quinn Hughes

After looking at some of the deals that comparable players have signed in recent seasons, it’s evident that the club is a few million dollars short in cap savings to ink both Hughes and Petterson to long-term contracts. However, the Canucks do have the ability to go long with one, and it’s pretty obvious that Hughes should be the choice given how the market for defencemen has recently been altered.

Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen are the two closest comparables to him, and they signed for a nice 6 x 9 million and 8 x 8.45 million, respectively. This then begs the question: should the Canucks offer Hughes the maximum 8-year extension, or something shorter?

Giving him the max extension would be ideal since he’ll be under team control for longer, but the club will also need to pay more. With Brock Boeser’s $7.5 million qualifying offer due next summer and both Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller set to become UFAs the year after, it seems wiser to give Hughes a slightly shorter deal in order to save some cap space that can be used on other core players.

A six-year deal like Makar’s would make the most sense, which only buys one UFA season from Hughes. That definitely isn’t ideal, but the Canucks should have enough cap space to give him a significant raise since Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s contract will expire at the same time.

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The AAV of Hughes’ deal will also be lower than that of his peers given Makar’s Norris nomination and Heiskanen’s longer commitment. That likely gives us a range of between $7.25-$8 million, and it seems reasonable for him to land somewhere in the middle of those extremes.

Prediction: 6 x $7.65 million ($45.9 million total).

Elias Pettersson

With Hughes signed long-term, the Canucks only have enough cap space to offer Pettersson a bridge deal. Although his recent comments was probably made out to be a bigger deal than it should have, it still sounds like Pettersson wants to have as much control over his future as possible.

Translation: he might be pushing for a four-year deal that walks him straight to UFA.

In recent history, Auston Matthews was the only superstar RFA who negotiated a deal that ends with him becoming a UFA, so it’s extremely unlikely (but not unprecedented) for Pettersson to do the same. Ironically, Pettersson’s slow start last season and subsequent injury might’ve actually been a blessing in disguise for the Canucks in terms of his contract negotiations since Connor McDavid was the only player who outproduced Pettersson during their first two seasons over the last five years.

Given that Pettersson didn’t have an offensive explosion like many young stars do in their third seasons, his comparable is now Mathew Barzal instead of McDavid or Matthews. The Canucks should then have some leverage to sign him for three years rather than four and offer him a more lucrative deal once his second contract expires.

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With that said, there is one other factor that needs to be taken into account, which is the chance that Pettersson signs for three years then accepts his one-year qualifying offer that walks him straight to UFA. The only way to mitigate this risk is by structuring his deal to have a low base salary in his third and final season.

However, most RFAs are doing the exact opposite in order to guarantee a higher payday on their next deals. In order for the Canucks to entice Pettersson into signing a deal with a low base salary in his third season, they’ll need to offer him signing bonuses. Paying a huge amount of cash up front might be a hard pill to swallow for ownership, but it’ll be worthwhile if the team believes that there’s a real risk of Pettersson accepting his qualifying offer after his deal expires.

Prediction: 3 x $8 million ($24 million in total, with signing bonuses up front).

Conclusion

The Canucks have approximately $16.2 million left to sign Hughes and Pettersson, which affords them the opportunity to ink one long-term. Given how the market for defencemen has radically shifted recently, Hughes is the obvious candidate for an extended deal and should get a six-year offer so that the team can retain some flexibility to sign other upcoming free agents.

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Meanwhile, they’ll only be enough space left for a bridge deal for Pettersson. If the club believes that there might be a chance of him accepting his qualifying offer after a potential three-year deal expires, they should structure the contract with lots of signing bonuses but a lower base salary in his final season. Overall, the Canucks could go into next year with the following lineup and about $500,000 in cap space.

Miller ($5,250,000) Pettersson ($8,000,000) Boeser ($5,875,000)
Garland ($4,950,000) Horvat ($5,500,000) Höglander ($891,667)
Pearson ($3,250,000) Dickinson ($2,650,000) Podkolzin ($925,000)
Motte ($1,225,000) Sutter ($1,125,000) MacEwen ($825,000)

Extra: Highmore ($725,000)

Hughes ($7,650,000) Hamonic ($3,000,000)
Ekman-Larsson ($7,260,000) Poolman ($2,500,000)
Rathbone ($925,000) Myers ($6,000,000)

Extras: Hunt ($800,000), Schenn ($850,000)

Demko ($5,000,000)
Halak ($1,500,000)