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What length of term works best for the Vancouver Canucks on Elias Pettersson’s next contract?

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
7 months ago
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The reverberations of the Auston Matthews contract extension continue to be felt around the National Hockey League, and few franchises are feeling it more than the Vancouver Canucks, who have an elite center of their own to extend in the year to come.
That Matthews will become the highest-paid player in the league with an AAV of $13.25 million isn’t all that surprising. He may not be the best player outright, but he’s the first of the megastar class to ink a deal in the post-pandemic-escrow world, so that gives him a natural financial leg-up on the likes of Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon.
No, the salary on this one is about where everyone expected it to be. It’s that four-year term that is most interesting, and it’s already touched off a serious debate in Leafland and elsewhere.
There are some who believe that the four-year term only serves Matthews’ individual purposes. It allows him to become an unrestricted free agent at the age of 30, right at the tail-end of his expected prime, which should set him up for a lucrative seven- or eight-year “retirement contract” signed under a much higher salary cap. He’s leaving some money on the table now, but he’ll more than make up for it in the future, barring catastrophic injury.
But there are also those who believe that a four-year term serves the Maple Leafs just fine, too. It does bring with it a degree of flexibility and protection. The Leafs have had to watch the 32-year-old John Tavares’ skills diminish to the point that his contract is now an albatross, and if they had the option to get out of that deal a few years earlier, they’d take it.
There are also those who assert that, if the Leafs haven’t got it done by the year 2028, maybe it’s time to move on from the Matthews core anyway.
Regardless, we’re not really here to talk about Matthews and the Leafs. We’re here to talk about Elias Pettersson and the Vancouver Canucks. The Matthews lens is just an entry point through which to discuss our main question of the day, which is:
What length of term works best for the Vancouver Canucks on Pettersson’s next contract?
Below, we’ll go over all the options, and why they either work or don’t work for both team and player. (Remember, any extension Pettersson signs won’t kick in until 2024/25, the season after this upcoming one).
One-Year Term
Begins: 2024/25 season (age 25)
Ends: 2025 offseason (age 26, UFA)
A one-year term for Pettersson is best described as the riskiest of can-kicks. It might be seen by some as just shuffling a difficult decision a further year down the road, but it’s much more than that.
Because the 2023/24 season will be Pettersson’s sixth and the 2024/25 season will be his seventh, he’ll be eligible for unrestricted free agent status as of the 2025 offseason, despite not quite reaching the traditional UFA age of 27.
At that point, the balance of leverage in any future negotiations would shift firmly to Pettersson’s side. He’d be able to barter for his next deal based on the knowledge that, at the end of the 2024/25 campaign, he’ll be free and clear to shop his services around the league. With said services being those of a 26-year-old elite center in the absolute prime of their life, the bidding would be preposterous.
If the Canucks want to hang on to Pettersson long-term, this might just be the worst way to go about it.
Here’s the real worry: if the Canucks don’t ink Pettersson to an extension before the end of 2023/24, there’s nothing stopping him from either accepting his qualifying offer or filing for arbitration, both of which would force the Canucks into giving him a one-year contract and walking him right to UFA.
That’s why so many are so worried about the news that Pettersson and his camp don’t intend to negotiate at all during the season.
Two-Year Term
Begins: 2024/25 season (age 25)
Ends: 2026 offseason (age 27, UFA)
Okay, there’s really not much functional difference here between a one-year deal and a two-year deal. Both walk Pettersson right to UFA status in the prime of his career, and both should be seen as extremely risky manoeuvres for the Canucks.
The only real distinguishing factor is that a two-year term would give the Canucks more time to negotiate that next contract. Extensions on one-year terms can’t be discussed until January 1 of the expiring years, whereas longer contracts can be extended as early as the prior July.
That next contract could be a fine fit in theory. If Pettersson signs for two years now and then eight years in 2026, he would be under contract until the age of 34, which is a nearly perfect capture of what should be his most productive years.
Of course, the risk is that you don’t even get to that next contract because Pettersson walks as a UFA to a red-hot open market.
Three-Year Term
Begins: 2024/25 season (age 25)
Ends: 2027 offseason (age 28, UFA)
At the risk of sounding repetitive, there’s little functional difference for the Canucks between signing Pettersson to a two- or three-year extension. He still becomes a UFA in his late-20s and gets to shop his services around the league.
If there’s one notable factor to explore, it’s that the year 2027 should be a point at which the huge post-escrow leaps of the salary cap have settled back down into a more gradual annual increase, and that could put a slight damper on what previous had been a lucrative open market. Of course, when you’re as good as Pettersson, that doesn’t really matter. A 28-year-old UFA Pettersson still gets paid absolute top dollar as a free agent, and the Canucks really don’t want to be negotiating against that possibility.
The three-year term also ensures that Pettersson and Quinn Hughes become free agents at the same time…again. The Canucks would almost certainly prefer to not go through that experience twice. 
Four-Year Term
Begins: 2024/25 season (age 25)
Ends: 2028 offseason (age 29, UFA)
We’ve arrived at the Matthews term length, but not really. It’s important to remember that Matthews is a full calendar year older than Pettersson, and so while their four-year terms would end in the same year, they wouldn’t end at the same points in their career.
While still not ideal, this length of term does work a little bit better for the Canucks than previous ones. A 29-year-old Pettersson is still presumably putting up big numbers, but getting close enough to age 30 to perhaps slightly cool off the UFA offers.
Still, this situation would put the Canucks in an awkward spot. Surely, someone else would be willing to offer Pettersson a seven-year UFA deal, and he’d be well aware of that, and so the Canucks would probably have to choose between extending him well into his late-30s or letting him walk right when they might need him most.
The only real benefit to a four-year term is that the team will know exactly where it stands with Hughes at that point, but that’s little consolation if Pettersson is out the door shortly thereafter.
Five-Year Term
Begins: 2024/25 season (age 25)
Ends: 2029 offseason (age 30, UFA)
This is the real Matthews equivalent, as it would see Pettersson hit UFA status at the ripe old age of 30. Like it will Matthews, this would theoretically set Pettersson up to sign a new contract taking him right into retirement age, and one that presumably pays him at a premium rate up until his late-30s.
It’s a great contract for a player, but not the best for a team that would still assumedly be trying to compete into the 2030s. A 30-year-old Pettersson is probably still putting up the kind of numbers that would allow him to ask for top dollar, and the realities of the UFA market ensure that at least one team will be willing to give it to him at maximum term, too.
That said, at this point, the Canucks would have got six more seasons in with Pettersson, and should have a much clearer picture of their team’s ultimate quality. Like has been suggested of Matthews, if the Canucks aren’t truly competitive at this point, maybe it’s a fine time to cut bait with the Pettersson core and kick things into a rebuild.
And having a 30-year-old Pettersson on the market as a rental is definitely a fine way to start a rebuild.
Six-Year Term
Begins: 2024/25 season (age 25)
Ends: 2030 offseason (age 31, UFA)
At this point, the differences are really negligible, but they are increasingly in favour of the team side of things. The older the age that Pettersson’s next contract expires at, the greater the chance of the contract after that is a reasonable one, and the more productive years the Canucks have got out of the extension itself regardless.
This one would have Pettersson’s contract end in the same offseason as JT Miller’s, which could leave the Canucks suddenly without their top-two centers. Then again, if they haven’t made the most of those two centers by then, they’re never going to, so that’s largely irrelevant.
Given Pettersson’s desires and the team’s, this length seems like a fair compromise, and would take our bet as the most likely outcome of a long-term extension negotiation.
 Seven-Year Term
Begins: 2024/25 season (age 25)
Ends: 2031 offseason (age 32, UFA)
Okay, now we really feel like we’re getting repetitive. A seven-year term is great for the Canucks because it gives them more guaranteed coverage of Pettersson’s prime, and plenty of flexibility to avoid giving him an albatross contract thereafter.
This would make Pettersson, for the time being anyway, the longest-contracted Canuck.
Of course, it’s not quite as ideal for the Canucks as an eight-year term would be, so let’s just jump ahead to that section now… 
Eight-Year Term
Begins: 2024/25 season (age 25)
Ends: 2032 offseason (age 33, UFA)
An eight-year term is perfect for the Canucks. Obviously, it keeps their best player under contract for longer, and from the ages of 25-33, which is about as perfect a capture of Pettersson’s expected prime years as is possible.
As a 33-year-old pending UFA, Pettersson probably still has a boatload of interest on the open market, but he’s probably slowed down a little at that point, and other teams would be more leery of offering him a lengthy retirement deal. This sort of expiration probably gives the Canucks the option of signing Pettersson to retirement under less onerous, far more reasonable terms.
Then again, if the Canucks haven’t won anything with Pettersson by 2032, it’s probably time to move on. Signing Pettersson for eight years means the Canucks have the option to never deal with him reaching the point of negative value, and that’s always nice.
Of course, on Pettersson’s end, this length of term carries with it some serious job and injury security, but it does remove his ability to cash in as an unrestricted free agent during the unfettered years of excess spending that are set to come shortly. If he’s going to sign for this long, it won’t be for a discounted price, and the Canucks will have to pony up in the AAV.
Still, as far as the overall shape of the franchise is concerned, it’s the longer the better for Pettersson’s next contract — with the longest being the best of all.

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