Canucks' talks with Hughes, Pettersson accelerating to conclusion

NHL Insider Frank Seravalli joined Sportsnet Central to discuss the Vancouver Canucks' contract negotiation breakthroughs with both Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson.

VANCOUVER -- Long movie, quick ending.

It was like watching the Godfather, except no one woke up with a horse’s head in their bed. Not that we know of, anyway.

The months-long saga of the Vancouver Canucks’ slow negotiations with free-agent stars Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes accelerated dramatically towards conclusion late Thursday after a breakthrough day saw the sides moving towards a six-year deal for Hughes, the team’s top defenceman, and three-year contract for Pettersson, its best forward.

Sportsnet 650 radio’s Satiar Shah reported that Hughes’ contract will be six years at about $7.75-million-US per season, while CHEK TV’s Rick Dhaliwal reported Pettersson’s deal as three years and $7.7 million.

Sportsnet earlier reported that general manager Jim Benning and agent Pat Brisson, who represents both players, could finalize deals as soon as Thursday night. Without confirming or refuting any of the reports, a Canucks official later said there would be no official announcements that day.

Friday looks like a big news day for the Canucks.

Besides seeking closure on second contracts for their two most important franchise players, the Canucks were also awaiting a decision on this season from absentee defenceman Travis Hamonic, who has until 2 p.m. local time Friday to opt-out of the National Hockey League’s third year with COVID-19 restrictions.

If Hamonic, who opted out of the playoff bubble with the Calgary Flames 14 months ago, decides he won’t play this season, it will leave a significant hole in Vancouver’s defence.

But that is a mere crack compared to the abyss in the Canucks’ lineup that will exist if Pettersson, 22, and Hughes, 21, are not re-signed before Vancouver’s season-opener in Edmonton on Oct. 13.

The unexplained, injury-related absence from practice on Thursday of winger Brock Boeser, another of the organization’s foundational players, not only left the Canucks with what looked in print like a glorified expansion roster -- a few excellent players surrounded by some journeyman and promising prospects -- but amplified the ongoing absence of Pettersson and Hughes.

They have been training together near Hughes’ off-season home in Michigan. Until Thursday, there had been little progress in daily talks between Benning and Brisson since the Canucks opened training camp a week ago.

Coach Travis Green compressed his training camp roster into an NHL-size group of 23 or 24 players earlier this week. Without Pettersson, Hughes and Hamonic, as well as experienced fourth-line forwards and penalty killers Tyler Motte and Brandon Sutter, who are out indefinitely due to injury and fatigue, respectively, Thursday’s practice list included Alex Chiasson, Phil Di Guiseppe, Justin Dowling, Nic Petan, Brad Hunt and Luke Schenn.

These are all respected veterans who have had solid training camps and earned the right to continue competing for an NHL roster spot. But the volume of players who might otherwise be trapped in a bubble between the NHL and American Hockey League also reflects how many Canucks regulars are missing.

Pettersson and Hughes are essential. That the Canucks appear to be getting both signed for salaries averaging less than $8 million is an impressive achievement for Benning.

But it also represents the deftness and pragmatism of Brisson, whose challenge all along has been trying to determine how to divide between his clients the $15- to $16-million the Canucks had available under the salary cap without upsetting either player.

When Pettersson changed agents near the start of last season and joined Brisson and J.P. Barry at Creative Artists Agency, which employs Jim Hughes, Quinn’s dad, as a development coach, there was concern about the kind of leverage CAA could wield in negotiations.

But the two-horse entry probably helped Benning. Despite fears that Pettersson could lure a predatory offer sheet in free agency, an option not available to Hughes, Brisson couldn’t afford to hit a home run for one player if it depleted the money left available for the other.

Brisson had to manage the interests of his clients and maximize their individual value within the Canucks’ salary-cap limit. So that means a six-year deal for Hughes at market value, leaving a three-year contract for Pettersson that sets a new precedent for “bridge” deals.

At $7.75 million, Hughes’ average salary will be slightly less than the $9 million AVV contemporary Cale Makar recently received from the Colorado Avalanche, and the $8.45 million the Dallas Stars agreed to pay Miro Heiskanen.

At this stage, Hughes is less accomplished and well-rounded than those defencemen. But he will also be eligible for unrestricted free agency at age 27.

If Pettersson’s bridge salary comes in at $7.7 million, it will easily surpass the $7 million the New York Islanders agreed to pay Mat Barzal, another CAA client, before last season, and the $6.75 million the Tampa Bay Lightning have paid Brayden Point the last two years.

Pettersson’s pay will be less than the $9.25 million Mikko Rantanen is getting from the Colorado Avalanche and the $9 million Kirill Kaprizov receives from the Minnesota Wild. But the Canuck will be up for his next contract at age 25 and positioned then, if he continues to develop, to surpass Rantanen and Kaprizov on his next deal.

These contracts are precedent-setting for the Canucks, and if Benning and Brisson get them finalized by Friday, Pettersson and Hughes should be in Vancouver on the weekend and ready to play the Canucks’ final three pre-season games next week.

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