As the season winds to a close, the Vancouver Canucks, both players, and staff will be watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs from home. However, the Canucks’ front office still has plenty of work this offseason.
There are a lot of unknowns heading into the 2021-22 campaign and for general manager Jim Benning and the Vancouver management group, a few challenges that await them. There is the expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken, which will have the Canucks figuring out who to protect and who to expose. They have two very high profile RFA’s (restricted free agent) they need to lock up, as well as the draft and free agency which always presents options for the club. Whatever way you look at it, there is a lot of work ahead.
Seattle Expansion Draft
For the second time in the last five years, the NHL will be expanding to a new location, this time in Seattle. We learned a lot from the latest expansion draft in Vegas back in 2017, and so did every team that gave up first-round picks to protect certain players. This year, while teams will have that experience to go off of the second time around, there will be some interesting decisions made around the league.
For the Canucks, the obvious players come to mind that will most likely be exposed. Players like Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, and Antoine Roussel seem to be on many lists of potential exposures. And while Vancouver may not be able to protect players like Tyler Motte, Zack MacEwan, and Matthew Highmore, their core players and high-end prospects all look to be exempt, which is a huge win for the club.
Pettersson and Hughes Extensions
As far as extensions go, Vancouver will have their hands full this offseason. Both Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes need extensions and will likely both see a sizable pay increase. There is the potential for a bridge deal, but Vancouver will have to bust out the checkbook.
For Pettersson, this one should be easy for Benning. He’s the team’s #1 center, has averaged nearly a point-per-game through his first 165 games with 153 points, and is arguably the best player on the team now and for the future. He also owns two 20 goal seasons and was the Calder Trophy winner in his rookie campaign. Whatever the cost is, Vancouver should line up to pay it.
Hughes is another player Vancouver will want locked up for a long time. Despite being just 21 years of age, he’s already surpassed the 40-point plateau in back-to-back seasons, despite never playing a full 82 games. Defensively, there is still work to be done as he has a career minus-34, but that will come with age, maturity, and experience. Based on the way we’ve seen contracts negotiated with recent young players like Matthew Barzal (three years, $21 million) Matthew Tkachuk (three years, $21 million), a bridge seems likely to take Hughes to his next big contract.
Draft and Free Agency
There is always optimism when it comes to the NHL Draft and the free agency period. It’s a chance to add youth and young talent to the development program and add immediate impact. The Canucks have their first-round pick for the next three seasons, which bodes well for the continuation of developing this program and adding young talent to the pool. Four of their top five players arguably are all drafted by the team, with Pettersson, Hughes, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser, and the Canucks will look to hopefully add another name to that group.
As for free agency, this might be the year where the Canucks maybe don’t spend whatever cap space they have. While Tyler Myers had a nice season in his second year after signing a 5-year, $30 million deal in 2019, there are a few contracts Vancouver would love to not have on the books. Roussel, Beagle, and Eriksson were all free agent signings and make up nearly $11 million in cap, not to mention Michael Ferland ($3.5 million until 2022-23) and Roberto Luongo‘s dead cap ($3.035 million through 2021-22). For this free agency period, it might be in the best interest of the Canucks brass to not spend big this time around.
We won’t know for certain how the team will attack free agency or re-signing their own RFA’s, but we do know that the work is far from over after the conclusion of the regular season.