As you read these words, we’re less than 24 hours away from September and a mere three weeks out from the Vancouver Canucks’ 2021 training camp, and — assuming they haven’t inked deals in the space between the typing and the publishing of these words (in which case, you’re welcome) — Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are still not under contract.
Time to panic?
For some in this fanbase, the answer to that question is always a full-throated “yes,” and we accept those people. But for those who dabble in cautious optimism, there’s anti-worry reason to be found in even the relatively small sample size of Jim Benning’s seven-year tenure with the Canucks thus far.
Simply put, Benning has developed a bit of a habit for letting his negotiations with core players drift into the month of September — and everything still seems to work out just fine, at least as far as those contracts are concerned.
Benning’s first opportunity to extend a core player past their entry-level contract came in the summer of 2017, with not-yet-captain Bo Horat an RFA at the age of 22. Though talks never really entered any sort of unfriendly territory, they dragged on long enough to become headline material as Training Camp 2017 loomed.
Then, on September 8, dawn broke and Horvat signed a six-year extension at an average salary of $5.5 million. It was a contract that would age rather well, and rather quickly. Horvat would go on to advance his points-per-game by a half-percentage point in each of the subsequent seasons, peaking at 0.77 in 2019/20, the same season he was named captain.
Clearly, the long summer of negotiating didn’t have much of an adverse effect on him.
Next up was Brock Boeser in 2019, coming off an injury-shortened sophomore season that featured 26 goals and 56 points in just 69 games. Also 22 at the time, Boeser’s negotiations took a very similar, vaguely-auspicious shape to those of Horvat — but they carried on even longer.
Training Camp 2019 opened up on September 13, 2019, at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, and Boeser was nowhere to be seen.
In fact, Boeser would skip Victoria altogether, not signing a deal until September 16, the day the Canucks took the ferry back over to Vancouver.
Unlike Horvat, Boeser didn’t exactly shoot it up in the aftermath of the late deal, but it’s hard to blame the negotiations. Boeser came storming out of the gates to a hot October 2019, notching six goals and 14 points in his first 12 games, but then he slowed down. He would finish with just 16 goals and a PPG of 0.79, lower than his sophomore effort.
Injuries were once again the primary culprit in Boeser’s 2019/20 struggles — which, for the record, were at least mildly overstated by most and wildly blown out of proportion by some. One could argue that missing three days of training camp contributed to those injuries, but they’d probably feel pretty silly doing so.
Then, Boeser bounced right back in 2021, putting an ailing team on his back, leading them in scoring, and making his $5.875 million cap hit look like a bargain.
Which all goes to say that, basically, Horvat and Boeser didn’t sign their second contracts until September and it wasn’t really a big deal at all, so that’s two pretty powerful pieces of precedence for anyone looking to not worry about Pettersson and Hughes.
And those are just the most important instances in which Benning has played it down to the wire and walked away unscathed.
The extremely-online will remember last offseason’s Jack Rathbone drama, in which the promising blueliner came within hours of returning to the NCAA before inking his first contract and joining the Canucks. He’s since skyrocketed up the prospect rankings (ongoing now, only at CanucksArmy!)
Before his departure to Los Angeles, Alex Edler came within a fortnight of becoming a UFA in the summer of 2019, with most having already said their farewells. Instead, Edler signed on June 20 for two more seasons at an AAV of $6 million, and while your mileage may vary on that contract, it certainly wasn’t anywhere near Benning’s most regrettable.
Thomas Vanek didn’t get added to the 2017/18 Canucks until September 1, 2017, and that led to a year of breakaway slapshots and then a trade for Tyler Motte, which is the exact opposite of regrettable.
It’s understandable to worry about the state of contract negotiations for the Canucks’ two most valuable players. It’s reasonable to think that such a situation may lead to an extended holdout, or unfavourable terms, or strained relations, or slow starts, or any combination thereof.
But, given recent team-specific precedence, it also perfectly reasonable to expect that both Pettersson and Hughes will sign contracts in the next couple of weeks, that most will be satisfied with the terms, and that neither player’s performance will suffer as a result of the delay.
It might not make the waiting any easier, but it should make it at least a little less stressful.