VANCOUVER – It is impossible to know how Elias Pettersson will feel in three years about staying with the Vancouver Canucks. But it is vital to know how he feels now.
“I want to be here,” the 22-year-old said Sunday on his first day back with the team. “At the moment, a three-year deal was best for both sides. I'm glad we made it happen.
“I'm ready to go. Wrist feels fine. I'm more hungry than I was before my injury, so I'm very much ready to get the season started.”
On the weekend hockey fans returned to Rogers Arena for a pre-season game against the Winnipeg Jets, the Canucks gave them the greatest reason they could to get excited: officially re-signing Pettersson and Hughes, the team’s best forward and top defenceman, to three- and six-year contracts.
The Canucks did not have the salary-cap space to re-sign both young stars to long-term contracts so Pettersson, who would be the more expensive of the two, accepted a three-year bridge deal that will give him some career choices when he is 25.
He will be in a position to accept a hefty qualifying offer from Vancouver of $8.82 million and be eligible for unrestricted free agency a year later, or simply negotiate a six- or eight-year contract in 2024 that would set him towards being a career Canuck.
Until then, the 22-year-old Swede will make $22 million over the next three years while, everyone expects, continuing to evolve and become an even more dangerous scorer.
In terms of the real world, Hughes, 21, never has to worry about money again after signing his six-year deal that will average $7.85 million per season.
The kids are rich. If they’ve brought any hard feelings back from their training site in Michigan, where the Canucks were professionally coached during their contractual impasse by Quinn’s dad, Jim, Pettersson and Hughes kept it well hidden during their press conference on Sunday.
“I just wanted to get back to the team,” Pettersson said. “I mean, both me and Quinn felt like it was wrong to be Michigan when the team were having a training camp and in pre-season. We just wanted to get the deal sorted as fast as possible. Maybe it took longer than expected, but both of us are really happy with our deals and can wait to get started.”
“Stressful,” Hughes said of the experience, “because, you know, you're seeing stuff online and you want to be there. But it was what it was and we're here now.
“This is probably the best roster we've had in my three years here, so that was another thing -- I definitely didn't want to be at home too long because I think that we have a really good team here and I wanted to be here.”
Now that they are, the challenge for Hughes and Pettersson is to catch up after missing the first 10 days of training camp and pre-season, and get themselves ready over the course of a few practices and a couple of exhibition games to play the Canucks’ season opener Oct. 13 in Edmonton.
This is the start of the Great Redemption Tour for a Vancouver team that collapsed towards the bottom of the NHL standings last season after a playoff breakthrough in last summer’s COVID-19 bubble.
Elias Pettersson’s miserable year was representative: he started poorly, was part of pile of early losses, then got better and got hurt. He missed the final half of the season due to a wrist injury and finished with just 21 points in 26 games, which his why his declaration of full health was reassuring on Sunday.
Now that they are getting paid at the next level, he and Hughes have to take their games there, too.
Pettersson needs to return to his outstanding two-way form, and if he can find a way to score 90-plus points like the elite players he was compared to in negotiations – Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Mikko Rantanen – it would help the Canucks immensely.
And Hughes simply has to be better defensively, while maintaining his mobile, offensive game that is already one of the best among NHL defencemen.
Contemporaries Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen and Charlie McAvoy play in all situations. Can Hughes?
“Not easy being at home last week,” Hughes said. “But I'm glad we're here now and we can put that behind us.
“Me and Petey can get our feet wet and. . . go off and have a good start to the season. I think Jim did a really good job this summer. I think we're both happy we're here. It's a really good roster, so we'll just have to see how it goes.”
The Jim he was referring to was not his dad but his boss, Vancouver general manager Jim Benning.
Since last season ended, the Canucks acquired first-pairing defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and top-six winger Conor Garland from the Arizona Coyotes, traded for versatile checking forward Jason Dickinson from the Dallas Stars, signed Jaroslav Halak to back up starting goalie Thatcher Demko, and added an army of depth players including Stanley Cup-winning defenceman Luke Schenn.
And none of them are as important to the Canucks as Pettersson and Hughes.