Richest contract in Canucks’ history provides Pettersson relief, team clarity

Vancouver Canucks' Elias Pettersson (40) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in New York. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

Until they discover or reveal themselves sometime during the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring, the Vancouver Canucks won’t know what they are. But the blockbuster re-signing of centre Elias Pettersson tells us a lot about who they will be.

The 25-year-old’s $92.8-million contract is by far the largest in franchise history, makes Pettersson among the highest-paid players in the National Hockey League and guarantees the Canucks cost certainty and a foundational piece for the next eight years.

“For us to succeed … everything is trending in the right direction,” Pettersson said at a Saturday morning press conference in Vancouver. “And the more I saw it — I always wanted to stay — but the more I saw it, just made it even more clear.”

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Pettersson’s contract dwarfs the 12-year, $64-million deal former GM Mike Gillis gave goalie Roberto Luongo in 2009 that had stood for nearly 15 years as the richest in Canucks history. That agreement ended poorly, with the Canucks on the hook for a $9.1-million cap-recapture penalty when Luongo retired at age 40, three years before the contract’s expiration.

The fundamental difference with Pettersson is that he will be only 33 when his new contract expires. But there is inherent risk in all long-term deals, and Pettersson’s is fairly buyout proof with $47 million, slightly more than half the contract’s value, due in signing bonuses.

Even with an average cap hit of $11.6 million that is slightly less than expected or reported, this is a massive investment by the Canucks, one that will help define the reign of general manager Patrik Allvin and president Jim Rutherford.

“I’m very excited here today,” Allvin told reporters at Rogers Arena before the Canucks practised and flew to Anaheim for the start of a three-game road trip on Sunday. “But I would say that this is something that actually started two years ago, since I got in here, building that relationship with Elias, showing him the vision. And I fully respected him and his agency here for taking their time, getting to know us, getting to know what Jim and I are all about. Get a feel for the team and what we’re trying to build here, and also the partnership with (coach) Rick Tocchet.”

Despite Pettersson’s decision last summer to delay negotiations, Allvin said he never doubted the Swedish centre’s desire to stay.

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“I think it was more about the trust and the vision that he wanted to see clear here,” Allvin said. “We respect that fully.”

Trapped in a slump that has seen him score one goal in 10 games and manage just three points during the Canucks’ current 1-5-1 slide, Pettersson was clearly relieved Saturday to move beyond the burden of contract negotiations and the intense speculation about his future that had become a distraction.

“I mean, of course, I’m human,” he said. “But I know what I was getting myself into, and I know it was going to be a big decision. That’s why I wanted to wait to make sure I make the right decision for my life personally. And I am super happy with that, and super excited to be here.”

Teammate J.T. Miller is in the first season of the seven-year, $56-million contract he signed with Allvin 18 months ago. Miller and Pettersson, as opposite in temperament, style and volume as any two players on the team but both important to its “chemistry,” will be driving the Canucks for the next six seasons.

Norris Trophy-caliber defenceman Quinn Hughes is under contract for another three years at $7.85 million and could become the top-paid player on the team if he wishes to stay beyond 2026-27.

Goalie Thatcher Demko has two seasons remaining on his contract at $5 million, and leading goal-scorer Brock Boeser is eligible for unrestricted free agency after playing next season at $6.65 million. Allvin will surely want to retain both, but now faces difficult decisions on future big-ticket items.

Restricted free-agent defenceman Filip Hronek needs to be re-signed this summer and could nearly double his current salary of $4.4 million.

You can see how tight Allvin’s budget will become if the Canucks commit $36 million to four players — Pettersson, Miller, Hughes and Hronek — with that figure spiking further should captain Quinn re-sign two summers from now.

But at least the GM knows his budget and how much he has available, which is the biggest benefit of re-signing Pettersson now.

How the sides closed the deal this week and not after the season makes for exciting, if now moot, conjecture.

Did the Canucks strong-arm Pettersson into a decision ahead of next Friday’s NHL trade deadline?

Pettersson’s position until this week to wait, with restricted free agency looming July 1, was unpopular with many fans who wondered whether the player loved them back or would rather be somewhere else — possibly with more sunshine and less scrutiny.

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“I mean, it’s a city that breathes hockey,” Pettersson said today of Vancouver. “Fans are passionate. Also, I think it is very similar to Sweden in some way. That’s what I realized right away when I got over here (in 2018). It’s always felt like home and I always felt peaceful living here. So, non-hockey wise, I’ve always been happy living here.”

It is important to remember that Allvin and agent Pat Brisson spoke regularly this season despite Pettersson’s August declaration to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that he was ceasing negotiations in order to focus on playing and helping the Canucks win.

The benefit of all those conversations were parameters that allowed Allvin and Brisson to move quickly toward an agreement this week once Pettersson was ready to re-sign.

In the end, how the organization got to Saturday’s press conference is a lot less important than who was there. Pettersson is going to lead this team, along with Miller and Hughes. That has been the plan all along since Tocchet arrived as head coach last January. Tocchet and Allvin obviously got their alphabet right when they named Hughes captain in September and put As on Pettersson and Miller.

Now all everybody needs to do is win. Yes, there is still that.

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