Contract watchers notice something about how the Vancouver Canucks future stars – or potential stars – second deals go. The young guys, especially ones coming out of college, get some ice time right away. Deals are signed, a few games are played, and at the end of those deals, they lack arbitration rights. Brock Boeser, Adam Gaudette, Quinn Hughes, and now Jack Rathbone all have or had first deals that left them as 10.2(c) status free agents. Not a coincidence.
The Future – Old and New
The 10.2(c) category of free agent has neither arbitration rights nor is available for an offer sheet. This gives the team nearly all the leverage in working a second deal. Boeser’s was notably contentious (for Vancouver) but still got done. It’s one that was typical of bridge deals: by the end, he’s still restricted, but if the team doesn’t want him to walk away, they need to qualify him at the rate of his last year. In his case, that’s $7.5 million. That low-cost first season let the team keep the average value down in return, getting them flexibility under the cap. But things are different now.
All About the Petterssons
In one of the few COVID-19 benefits for the club, a spike at the end of bridge deals isn’t as dangerous as it used to be. Qualifying offers on deals signed after July 10, 2020, are no longer based on the final year but on 120% of their total average value. If, for instance, Boeser had signed after that date, his QO would be $7.050 million. It’s not just the current team that is squeezing every penny under the cap, but the Vancouver Canucks future, too.
As everyone and their dog knows, there are two very big deals coming up that are going to be… well, very big. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are both due for renegotiation, and both are vital to the team. Not far behind in importance is Thatcher Demko, but goalies are, as ever, their own category. Pettersson’s importance to the team is obvious, with his first two years cementing his status as a potential superstar. His payday is going to be substantial, though exactly what shape it will take is still a mystery. He could be the first Canuck to break the eight-figure mark and justifiably so. Even as the Lotto Line searches for their previously-deadly chemistry, his abilities are without question.
Knowing that the salary cap will likely remain flat for at least next year and with very limited increases available past that, there’s only so much money to go around. It’s true that big deals are coming off the books in Alexander Edler and Brandon Sutter. Tanner Pearson‘s and Jordie Benn‘s mid-range deals expire. Likewise Ryan Spooner‘s buyout and Sven Baertschi‘s… whatever it is. Typically teams will pressure young stars as much as possible (see also: Matthew Barzal) and Pettersson’s RFA status excludes arbitration rights.
A Disturbance in the Force
While not exactly going to the Dark Side, Petterson’s move from Michael Deutsch at Eclipse to CAA Hockey exudes power. That selfsame agency has squeezed general manager Jim Benning hard in the past, including deals for Tyler Myers and Loui Eriksson. Don’t be disturbed if you felt a shudder – it was just millions of Canucks fans crying out in terror. While those were J.P. Barry deals, he is a partner of Pettersson’s new agent Pat Brisson. And Brisson’s stable includes the most important player to the Vancouver Canucks future: Quinn Hughes.
In any other year, and with any other player, there’s an expected pattern. A free agent who is 10.2(c) has few options other than withholding his service, but they’re usually too young to have had much of an impact at the pro level. If a team has to negotiate with a couple of different players, the squeeze happens on that one. Needless to say, Hughes has somewhat more clout than the usual free agent, whatever his rights. It’s difficult to picture the Canucks risking his anger by giving him a lowball offer. They can – and will – try to get him to take a lower amount because of the flat cap and uncertain future. And he can – and will – replay that he’s now a core player on a young, skilled team.
And, by the way, Pettersson agrees with him. If anything natural can turn Benning’s hair grey, it’s that.
The Best Possible World
Brisson is obviously going to negotiate both deals at once. These two ARE the Vancouver Canucks future, and Benning’s continued employment relies heavily on their success. He’s probably going to target consecutive five-year deals, bringing them both to free agency while they are relatively young. A successful player at 28 still has a shot at the maximum length deal and will likely be productive for at least the first couple of years of it. Any team looking for “just the right piece” at that time could decide to take a chance at paying for a great three years, even if it costs five mediocre ones later.
What makes this interesting is the tying of Hughes and Pettersson together. Whether that will last beyond this one deal, who knows? But if it does, it means the team can give them the promise of working together for years to come. Perhaps not coincidentally, J.P. Barry was Henrik Sedin‘s and Daniel Sedin‘s agent, so it’s not like the Canucks haven’t dealt with this situation before. More interestingly, Brisson was the one who negotiated the mutual deals of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. The deals may be reviled now, but had the ageing stars signed them when they were 23 years old instead of 26? They’d have been full value all the way through.
Kane and Toews had two Stanley Cup Championships below their belts prior to their big deals, unlike Pettersson and Hughes who can only show two playoff round wins. On the other hand, a team that can get them for eight years now is also buying unrestricted free agency – and not holding them past 30. Pettersson sharing an agent with Hughes is a power move, no doubt. But if the numbers are right, it just might be crazy enough to work for everyone.