After signing 25-year-old Thatcher Demko to a five-year contract worth $5 million in average annual value (AAV), Vancouver Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning thought the next best course of action was re-signing 29-year-old Tanner Pearson to an overpriced three-year contract worth $3.25 million AAV. No, it wasn’t 22-year-old Elias Pettersson or 21-year-old Quinn Hughes, arguably their two most important core players, it was another bottom-six (on a contending team) forward who will only get slower with age.
With Pearson on an expiring contract and the Canucks on the ropes in the Scotia North Division playoff race, he should have been traded for some younger assets or draft picks, not re-signed. Now they have yet another veteran eating up cap space when that money should have been earmarked for much bigger things, notably the names that start with “E” and “Q”.
Pearson Will Only Decline From Here
If Pearson was consistently producing like a top-six forward, $3.25 million would be a steal. Except he’s not, and he won’t magically turn into someone that will. He did score 21 goals last season, but when you subtract the six that were empty netters, he only potted 15, which is not that impressive for a second liner. This season he only has six goals and has been largely invisible playing mostly on the second line with Bo Horvat and Nils Hoglander. That doesn’t exactly bode well for his production over the next three seasons, that’s for sure.
With Vasily Podkolzin vying for top-six time with Horvat as soon as next season, Pearson could conceivably be demoted to the third line, which would make him another high-priced, low-scoring bottom-six forward. That’s not exactly what the Canucks need in their present or foreseeable future.
Pearson Could Have Netted More Young Assets
After dealing with past mistakes in the offseason and subsequently losing Chris Tanev, Jacob Markstrom, and Tyler Toffoli because of them, you would think that Benning learned his lesson. Except it doesn’t look like he has. By deciding to re-sign an aging veteran in Pearson instead of trying to trade him, he’s just added another problem to the pile that is his team’s salary cap situation.
Of all the viable trade chips Benning had, Pearson would have netted the most in a trade. Considering he’s a veteran Stanley Cup winner who has significant playoff experience, he would have been the perfect rental player for a contender. With his value, he could have fetched the Canucks a first or second-round pick or even a package that included a couple of mid-tier prospects.
Honestly, at this stage of the Canucks rebuild, high-priced veterans should be shipped out, not re-signed. In fact, if they want veterans to insulate their young guys, they should be going after players like Joe Thornton or Jason Spezza for their bottom-six, who sign budget-friendly contracts of under $1 million. As much I hate to say it, the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ construction of their lineup should be the template they follow, not Benning’s inverted pyramid he’s got going on in Vancouver.
Canucks Have Too Many Veterans Tying Up Cap Space
With restricted free agents Pettersson and Hughes potentially demanding close to $10 million each on their next contracts, having the added albatross of another one worth over $3 million will only make things more complicated for Benning to re-sign them. You would think that shedding money would be more important than adding, but I guess he doesn’t believe in making things easier for himself.
Throughout his years as GM of the Canucks, Benning has consistently made mistakes with signing and re-signing free agents. It started very early in his tenure when he re-signed bottom-pairing defenceman Luca Sbisa to a severely overpriced three-year contract worth $3.6 million AAV. Little did we know at the time, it was the start of a long line of bad decisions. Brandon Sutter’s contract followed suit in the offseason when he signed his deal worth $4.375 million to be a “foundational” piece of the team, and the hits just kept coming after that.
From Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle’s overpriced fourth-line contracts to Loui Eriksson and Tyler Myers’ dual $6 million anchors, it has been one bad decision after another. Now the Canucks are faced with a salary cap nightmare when they finally have some elite young talent at the very core of their team. Veterans are great to have and all, but when they tie up valuable cap space that should be used to re-sign your stars, it’s a massive problem.
Benning Takes One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
When Benning made Demko the starting goaltender for (fingers crossed) the next five seasons, it looked like he was well on his way to building a future contender. Now that future looks a little bleaker with his most recent move. According to CapFriendly, with Pearson’s deal added to next season’s salary cap, the Canucks have $17.473 million to re-sign two high-priced RFAs and fill out a competitive roster at the same time. Instead of letting some air out of the balloon, he added more to it, and now it’s about to burst.
Pettersson could conceivably get a massive offer sheet from a team with loads of cap space, and the Canucks would be ill-prepared to match it. Luckily, Hughes is exempt from it due to his Group 2 RFA status, but Pettersson is open season, just sitting there for a team to jump on the opportunity.
Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that and Benning can find a way to wiggle out of the tight crevice he currently finds himself in. Though, considering his past and most recent history, I doubt that will happen. Deciding to re-sign, instead of trade another veteran is just further confirmation that he doesn’t understand the magnitude this offseason will have on the Canucks’ future. Pettersson and Hughes are like the Sedins, where they go, the Canucks go. Until Benning realizes this and puts them on the front burner, the future will continue to be filled with slow, high-priced veterans like Sutter, Pearson, and Roussel instead of the young, high-flying talent of Pettersson, Hughes, and Hoglander.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, editor, part-time journalist, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.