Elias Pettersson should be the Canucks’ next captain, but that doesn’t mean he should be the captain next year

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 year ago
If you’re the betting type, have we got a hot tip for you.
Lay it all on Elias Pettersson becoming the next captain of the Vancouver Canucks…as long as you’re able to make that bet in an open-ended fashion without a set deadline.
It’s not, we realize, particularly bold to predict that Pettersson will be the next captain. To many in the Vancouver market, it’s all but a guarantee.
Really, there’s no other good answer to the leadership question. And when asked on last week’s After Hours about this very topic, Pettersson responded by saying: “That’ll definitely be an honour. But for me, I don’t want to stress or rush into a decision. I’ve never been a captain. Everyone knows I’m a pretty quiet guy. So it would definitely be an honour, but I want to take my time thinking about it in the summer and make a decision.”
That sounds like someone who has already been told by the organization that he is in strong consideration for the captaincy. Heck, it actually sounds more like someone who has already been offered the ‘C.’
But while Pettersson specifically references “thinking about it in the summer,” we’re not so convinced that this is something that needs to happen before next season.
It may actually be the smarter play to delay Pettersson’s captaincy for at least another year, and for a variety of reasons.
The first, and most obvious, is the likely state of the Canucks in the 2023/24 season. In short, we expect it to be awfully similar to the state of the Canucks in 2022/23.
Right now, the Canucks are closer to a lottery pick than they are to a playoff spot, and there’s no real reason to expect any different next year. They’ll be playing the entire season without Bo Horvat, and they won’t have much cap space on hand to replace him. Even if the Canucks do carve out some space this summer, they’ll have a difficult time finding places to spend it. Really, any money found should be immediately invested in the blueline, but there are precious few quality defenders available on the open market this summer.
If Thatcher Demko returns to health and is not traded, that might be enough to boost the Canucks out of the basement, but not enough for a return to the postseason. Either way, we’re shaping up for another miserable campaign of Canucks hockey.
Making Pettersson’s first year as captain one in which he’ll be constantly faced with questions about the team’s shoddy performance does not sound like a fun plan. It sounds like a way to guarantee that Pettersson spends the season getting more and more frustrated with the local media, and to make him second-guess his decision to accept the captaincy.
Consider the approach taken with Bo Horvat. He arrived in 2014 and it was fairly apparent from the get-go that he’d eventually be captain. But the team still waited until October of 2019 — more than a year after Henrik Sedin retired — to make it official with Horvat. That avoided Horvat being immediately having to answer for what everyone knew was going to be a dreadful 2018/19 campaign. When his captaincy began, the team looked in much better shape, and did indeed return to the postseason in his first season with the ‘C.’
Things didn’t work out well from there on out, but at least the attempt was made to allow Horvat to lead a more competent group.
It’s worth noting here that Horvat was 24 when he got the ‘C,’ the same age that Pettersson is now. But Horvat had 383 NHL games under his belt at that point, whereas Pettersson is just about to crack 300.
Give Pettersson another full season, and he’ll have about the exact same amount of experience that Horvat did when he became captain.
Still speaking of Horvat, his trade is also another important factor to consider. Like was done with Henrik, there may be a desire to have a buffer period between captains to avoid unnecessary comparisons between the two. More than that, however, Horvat’s departure should realistically be the first of many from the Canucks’ current roster.
Over the next season-and-a-quarter, the Canucks can expect to move on from another half-dozen veterans, at the very least. That will almost certainly include leadership voices like Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn, and Tanner Pearson. It could also include JT Miller, or Conor Garland, or even Pettersson’s best pal, Brock Boeser.
That’s an awful lot of turnover and potential turmoil, and it doesn’t sound like the optimal time to be setting up a new leadership group. There’s some impetus to secure Pettersson as captain so that he can see the franchise ship through these rough upcoming waters, but that’s a lot of pressure for a young player.
Perhaps the better option would be to wait until the roster is more settled, and a true long-term vision has been formed, before handing over the keys (and the responsibility) to Pettersson. That would allow others on the team to step and grow into their own leadership roles, as opposed to those duties be taken on by players on their way out.
Which brings us neatly enough to the final and most important point in our argument, which is the spectre of upcoming contract negotiations between Pettersson and the Canucks.
Pettersson is currently signed for this season and next at a cap hit of $7.35 million, after which he’ll become a restricted free agent.
Technically, negotiations on an extension can begin as soon as July 1 of this year, and they probably should.
There’s multiple reasons why the captaincy still being up in the air at that point could aid in negotiations.
On the one hand, it’s one more thing that the Canucks can offer on their end. Some players really want that ‘C,’ and are willing to compromise on salary or trade protections in order to get it. That’s what seems to have happened in Ottawa with Brady Tkachuk, although we’re not about to suggest that he and Pettersson have similar personalities.
In the case of Pettersson, we see the captaincy playing a role of mutual commitment in contract negotiations. The Canucks will no doubt be trying to get Pettersson to commit to an eight-year deal, and offering the captaincy along with the new contract is a great way to show that they’re as dedicated to Pettersson as they’re asking him to be to them. Make it a joint decision, and the results will almost certainly be better.
From a practical perspective, too, waiting until after an extension is signed to hand Pettersson the ‘C’ avoids the possibility of the pressure of the role annoying him so much that he avoids signing in Vancouver long-term. A few too many questions about blown leads, and anyone might start considering offer sheets. Best to get him locked in before he meets the press as captain.
Of course, if Pettersson is willing to sign that extension before the season even begins, this becomes a bit of a moot point, and maybe that’s where we’ll end up.
Really, we’re not here to suggest that it will be a serious problem if Pettersson is named the captain of the Canucks at the outset of the 2023/24 campaign. Honestly, it seems fairly likely at this point.
All we’re saying is that patience has not exactly been a dominant trait of this franchise in recent years, and that this could be one opportunity to play it safe and employ some.
It’s going to happen eventually, anyway. Sometimes, it pays to wait for the right moment, instead of the next one.

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