Canucks, Boeser compromise, but difficult decisions could lie ahead

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning talks about signing Brock Boeser.

VICTORIA, B.C. – A match made in heaven? Ask Brock Boeser and the Vancouver Canucks in three years.

For now, the two sides badly needed each other, which is why the free-agent winger and National Hockey League club ended their standoff Monday and agreed to a three-year bridge deal for Boeser that averages US$5.875 million.

The 22-year-old Minnesotan will rejoin the team Wednesday after missing the Canucks’ three-day training camp and first three pre-season games. Boeser will have two weeks to get ready for Vancouver’s season-opener Oct. 2 in Edmonton.

And general manager Jim Benning and his staff have about the same time to make the Canucks salary-cap compliant after Boeser’s signing, which caps a hectic off-season for the team where Vancouver went $1.72 million over the $81.5-million limit.

“We want him up and going so he’s ready for the start of the season,” Benning told reporters Monday night before the Canucks and Calgary Flames opened the pre-season with split-squad games in Victoria and Calgary. “So it was important we get him done now.

“I talked to him this afternoon. Obviously, he’s very excited. He’s been talking to some of the guys and getting a feel for how camp is going and wanted to be here. He’s happy (negotiations are) over.”

Vancouver coach Travis Green said he always believed Boeser would re-sign.

“I don’t think Brock wanted to be out and we definitely wanted him to be here, so we had those two elements,” Green said after his team in Victoria fell behind by four goals before losing 4-3 to the Flames.

“As coach, you’re always trying to plan your lineup and trying to look ahead. And in the back of your mind, you’re wondering: Is Brock going to be here or not? So I’m definitely happy he’s signed now and will be in town soon.”

Green said he hadn’t decided if Boeser will have to do the gruelling skating test teammates endured on the first day of training camp.

“Oh, yeah,” Canucks centre Bo Horvat said. “He’s coming back, he’s going to have to do it. We’re going to make him. He’s not going to get off that easy.

“He kept saying he wants to be here with us and he wants to be with the team. I’m glad they finally got it done.

“I couldn’t be happier for him and I couldn’t be happier to have him back in our lineup. I’m really happy he’s going to start the season with us because we definitely need him.”

In two-plus NHL seasons, Boeser has 59 goals in 140 games despite serious injuries that ended his rookie campaign and slowed the start to his sophomore season. At this point, his offensive ceiling is unlimited.

But he needs to play. Ineligible for free-agent offers from other NHL teams, his value to Vancouver – as well as his conditioning – wasn’t likely to improve while sitting out. But the Canucks also could not afford to proceed without him.

Adding wingers Micheal Ferland and J.T. Miller, and defencemen Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn make the Canucks a better team. But the organization is far from talented enough to lose one of its best young players without it diminishing the Canucks’ playoff hopes.

An extended standoff looked like a huge lose-lose.

Benning and agent Ben Hankinson never got close to an agreement on a long-term deal, and focused for much of the summer on a bridge contract for Boeser.

Even on a short-term deal, it’s believed Boeser wanted in excess of $6 million annually, while the Canucks were wary of paying more than the $5.5 million Horvat accepted on a six-year-deal signed before the 2017-18 season.

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The sides finally reached a compromise late Sunday, Benning said.

Boeser’s average salary is behind only the $6 million the Canucks are paying to Myers, Alex Edler and Loui Eriksson – all of whom leveraged their deals through unrestricted free agency.

With 26 NHL players on its pre-season roster – three over the regular-season limit – ducking under the salary cap shouldn’t be a problem for Benning. And the inflated salary of $7.5 million for Boeser in Year 3, which will be the launch point on his next contract negotiations, should also be manageable for the Canucks. If Boeser continues to improve.

But there is also an uncomfortable truth after these negotiations: if the Canucks were convinced that Boeser is a long-term cornerstone, they’d have found a way to pay him now on a six- or seven-year deal.

But Vancouver has Horvat, 24, Pettersson, 20, and defenceman Quinn Hughes, 19, to build around, too, and management will have to make difficult value choices in the future. They are not wed to Boeser.

That freedom, however, works both ways. In five years, Boeser becomes eligible for unrestricted free agency, so the three-year bridge deal tees him up for a potentially huge payday.

“We looked at trying to do a longer-term deal,” Benning said. “At the end of the day, I guess doing a shorter-term deal puts some responsibility back on him now to come in and have three good years and then try to sign long-term after that.

“He’s one of our core, young players that we want to build the team around.”

Yes, but will they?

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