Tanner Pearson Is the Vancouver Canucks Forgotten Forward

Tanner Pearson contract
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Is the Tanner Pearson contract a secret weapon for the Vancouver Canucks next season? Or the scapegoat?

Tanner Pearson Contract Still In Vancouver

There are a lot – and a LOT – of Vancouver Canucks players getting looked at this offseason. The most urgent is undoubtedly restricted free agent Brock Boeser, needing a deal or qualifying offer soon. J.T. Miller has been massive for the team, but the Canucks have to decide if they can afford him. If Miller stays long-term, does that push out captain Bo Horvat? The obvious contracts on the Canucks blue line with low return for value stand out, but can a deal be made for either Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Tyler Myers? And who can you bring in to replace either, even if they do get moved? New arrival Conor Garland has a great deal and could bring a good return – if the team can justify moving him.

Then there are the young guys we haven’t even gotten around to talking about yet. Last year was a solid start to Vasili Podkolzin‘s NHL career. A slight regression by Nils Höglander has raised questions in some fans’ minds. Is prospect Danila Klimovich as good as hoped? Jack Rathbone is going to need space on the big club, but the left side’s pretty packed unless Travis Dermott moves over. And, hey! Can they actually land prime free-agent target Andrei Kuzmenko?

And the bottom-six. Hoo, boy that bottom-six. It would be great if Jason Dickinson can find his game again. And the effectiveness of the so-called fourth line collapsed when Tyler Motte left. How much can that get repaired with who’s available? When Alex Chiasson got time in April he finally got points, too. He might be worth another try. Matthew Highmore and Juho Lammikko got some results together. There has to be a contingency plan if Tucker Poolman isn’t coming back.

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Where Not to Worry

At least there are no worries about Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, and Thatcher Demko. Spencer Martin‘s first training camp – and presumably season – as the backup will be worth watching. If Linus Karlsson makes the big club that’s going to be pure gravy, so no concerns there. The team has some solid anchors in place to build from, and assets to move if they decide to go that way. Balancing out those forward lines can be a bit tricky, but if one falters they can always add… Y’know. Whazzisname. Tanner Pearson?

Yup. Tanner Pearson.

Pearson only got into 68 games this season, but still managed 14 goals and 34 points with 16 minutes of ice time. Not as good as his first full season with Vancouver, but better than last year. He was mostly bumped onto the second power-play unit and took a shift killing penalties. Nothing looks particularly exceptional about his play at first glance. But his year really was a very good one.

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Pick a Line

When a forward has a variety of linemates, it means one of two things. Either the coach isn’t quite sure what to make of them or relies on them so much that the forward becomes his “Rut-Breaker” used to get a slumping player out of the doldrums. In Pearson’s case, both Travis Green and Bruce Boudreau kept him in the top six. They had no doubts about his play – even if they gave him different linemates to play with.

Pearson is a featured player on Vancouver’s top three line combinations in expected goals, and it’s not particularly close. He was predominantly on the ice with J.T. Miller and either Brock Boeser or Conor Garland. Those combinations had an expected goals for of 58-59% when they were on the ice and a Corsi of around 56%. And the Tanner Pearson contract, by this measure, looks pretty dang good beside his linemates.

When he was on the supposed second line with Horvat and Höglander, it got even better. Their expected goals hit 60% and their Corsi matched it. That’s tilting the ice in your favour pretty dang conclusively. There was very little in the way of luck involved, either. No unrepeatable shooting percentage, no particularly spectacular goaltending or jinxed opponents. He worked his way to the right spots, retrieved the puck when needed, and ended the season with a +12 goal differential. That’s third on the team, after Garland and Miller.

Earning His Keep

When Benning signed Pearson to his current three-year deal, there were a few interesting notes. One is that it finally put an end to the seemingly endless rotation of wingers for Horvat. The two played well together, and that obviously continued into the 2021-22 season. He is one of the better defensive forwards the Canucks have, and his scoring rebound this season isn’t simply a fluke. Pearson also works the boards pretty well, which suits whichever centre gets to the netfront perfectly.

Tanner Pearson’s contract isn’t without flaws. It has trade protections built in, for instance – a seven-team no-trade list this season, none the next. He’s turning 30 this August with two years left, and Father Time is as yet undefeated. There will be diminishing returns, and his cap hit of $3.25 million is a substantial amount for middle-six numbers. Being one of the “covid deals” it’s backloaded with a big bonus payout before 2023-24 opens.

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Is The Tanner Pearson Contract Worth Keeping?

If the team looks to move him, all of those barriers will have to be negotiated. And there’s no guarantee that whoever they replace him with will work out quite as well. Like with Tyler Myers’ deal, it might be worthwhile to hold him for one more year – or at least until the bonus payments are made in the final year of their contracts. Eating the bonuses can make both players more tempting and bring better returns. Their cap hit would still be too high, but at least the cash payout would be lower.

This offseason is a dramatic one after arguably the most Soap Opera season in recent memory. A single, big deal – Miller or Boeser – can remove a lot of pressure from the next-tier Canucks players. But if that can’t get done, the hammer will likely come down on those just below the stars. That includes, ironically enough, the most drama-free player the Canucks have.

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