Now that the 2021 free-agent frenzy has come and gone, teams have a clearer picture of their roster and what work still needs to be done before the start of the 2021-22 season. However, the Vancouver Canucks’ offseason is far from finished with a few integral restricted free agents (RFAs) still unsigned.
Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, and Jason Dickinson still don’t have contracts with about two months to go before the start of the season. While Vancouver has roughly $14 million in cap space remaining, all three players should earn a significant pay raise, especially Hughes and Pettersson. To get them all under contract before October, general manager Jim Benning will have to work some magic.
At just 21 years of age, Hughes has taken the league by storm. In his young career, he’s racked up 94 points over two seasons with the Canucks. He has become the de-facto number one defenseman on the team. He led them in ice time last season with an average of 22:48 per game and finished third in scoring with 41 points in 56 games last season.
What should benefit Hughes more than Pettersson and Dickinson are recent contract comparables. At roughly the same age and both RFAs, fellow defensemen Miro Heiskanen of the Dallas Stars and Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche signed extensions this offseason. Heiskanen earned an eight-year deal worth $67.6 million, with an average annual value (AAV) of $8.45 million, while Makar inked a six-year contract worth $54 million ($9 million AAV). Those numbers are extremely important and will likely come up during the negotiation process between Hughes and the Canucks. The term will determine everything, but with limited cap space, management might be forced to opt for a bridge deal in the $6 million range over a two- to three-year span.
When Pettersson suffered a wrist injury that limited him to just 26 games last season, it exposed the Canucks’ lack of depth at center and secondary scoring. Outside of Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller, who finished with 23 and 15 goals, respectively, scoring was hard to come by. The next highest goal scorer was rookie Nils Hoglander with 13 goals, followed by Tanner Pearson, who tied Pettersson with 10, despite playing 25 more games. While the addition of Conor Garland will help the Canucks next season, Pettersson’s importance cannot be overstated.
Over his career, Pettersson is nearly a point-per-game player at .91 and has a host of accomplishments at just 22 years old. He won the Calder Trophy in 2019 and has finished in the top-25 in Lady Byng Memorial Trophy voting in each of his first two seasons, finished top-20 in Hart Memorial Trophy voting this past season, and was named a 2020 All-Star. He’s the team’s number one center and a lethal threat on the power play. Locking up your top center long term at a reasonable cap hit would be the best-case scenario, and with the Canucks’ cap situation, it’s tough to project his next contract. If it’s short-term, expect a Hughes-like value with roughly a $6-7 million AAV. If longer, it could be anywhere from $8 million to $9-9.5 million AAV.
There is still time before Dickinson’s arbitration hearing on Aug. 20, but he figures to be a key cog in Vancouver’s lineup next season. He was acquired from the Stars in July for a third-round pick in the 2021 Draft, and while Dickinson may not play a huge role offensively, he’ll contribute in other areas.
He was brought in to be the third-line center, which he was for the most part in Dallas. He also has plenty of experience filling in for the top six, something Vancouver desperately needed last season. He chipped in with 15 points in 51 games, averaged 16:12 time on ice, and had a strong Corsi for per 60 minutes (CF/60) of 50.1 percent.
Dickinson received a vote for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 2020. It was only one vote, but it shows that he ranked in the top 50 players (42) in voting. If the number for Dickinson is somewhere in the $2 million range over a three-year span, consider it a win.
It’s not going to be easy getting all three players under contract before the start of the season, as the cap space remaining may limit Vancouver to only being able to offer bridge deals to Hughes and Pettersson, with Dickinson’s arbitration hearing a couple weeks away. However, that’s the situation Benning got himself into, and it’s the final task remaining for him and the Canucks.
I’m a London, Ontario based broadcaster and sports writer for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve done work in the past reporting on the NHL, NBA and MLB. I’ve also covered the OHL including the Owen Sound Attack and am currently involved with the London Knights.