The Vancouver Canucks organization has openly expressed their eagerness to secure an extension with Elias Pettersson, indicating a desire for a prompt agreement. However, this contrasts with Pettersson and his camp's consistent preference to negotiate post-season, and amidst Pettersson's outstanding performance in another career year, the intriguing questions loom: How significant will his cap number be, and what duration will he commit to?
In the entire history of the NHL, only 20 players have penned contracts with an AAV of $10 million or more, all with a commitment lasting four years or beyond. Remarkably, only two of these lucrative deals boast fewer than six years, signed by Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The striking reality is that the average term for contracts surpassing the $10 million threshold is a substantial 7.4 years, underscoring that securing desirable term becomes a consideration when you're shelling out top dollar.
Negotiations in the NHL are a unique song, with each player's deal taking on its own distinct rhythm. While no two contracts are identical, using other players as comparables is useful. In this case, three notable contracts include William Nylander's eight-year, $92 million, Nathan MacKinnon's eight-year, $100.8 million, and Matthews's four-year, $53 million.
These comparables provide valuable context for understanding and framing negotiations, helping both players and teams find that sweet spot between pay and commitment on the contract front.
Nylander secured a significant deal, officially signing on Jan 8th, 2024. His extension gives him the league's fifth-highest cap hit for the upcoming season. Despite not being considered a top-five player in the league, the long-term nature of his deal, coupled with the expected notable increase in the salary cap limit over the next few seasons – a shift not seen in half a decade – will push this contract way down the pecking order in short order.
Nylander's output since the start of the 2022-2023 season places him at an admirable 12th in the league in terms of production and 15th in points per game. Nevertheless, Pettersson holds the 7th spot in both categories during this timeframe. Considering Pettersson's youth, higher production, and premium position, it suggests that Nylander's contract will serve as a negotiation baseline.
MacKinnon, recognized as one of the world's premier players, secured his 8-year contract extension on Sept. 20, 2022, valued at $100.8 million. This came on the heels of an exceptional season where he tallied 88 points in just 65 games (a 111-point pace), contributed an impressive 24 points in 20 playoff games, and led his team to a well-deserved Stanley Cup victory.
Despite becoming the priciest contract in NHL history at the time, many considered it a discount, given MacKinnon's exceptional performance. Upon signing, MacKinnon's contract consumed 15.27 percent of the cap, over 1 percent less than McDavid's 2017 extension. MacKinnon stands out not only as a superior player compared to Pettersson but also as a more accomplished one. His willingness to accept a hometown discount ensures his team's long-term competitiveness. On the contrary, it appears increasingly probable that Pettersson may not have similar intentions.
Matthews, unlike MacKinnon, opted not to take a hometown discount. On Aug. 23, he penned the most substantial contract in NHL history by AAV, securing a 4-year, $53 million extension. Although Matthews doesn't boast the same point production as Nylander, MacKinnon, or Pettersson—ranking 17th in points and 13th in points per game over the last two seasons—he is one of the most prolific goal-scorers in NHL history.
When Pettersson's contract expires on July 1, 2024, he will become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. In the event an extension isn't reached, a qualifying offer becomes essential, mirroring a one-year contract with a value of $8.82 million. Players facing this scenario can opt to accept their qualifying offer and in Pettersson's case, this would mean committing to a one-year deal at $8.82 million.
While accepting the qualifying offer might mean forgoing some compensation in the 2024-25 season, it could substantially bolster Pettersson's bargaining power with the Canucks as he approaches his age-26 season as a coveted pending unrestricted free agent.
Pettersson could sign a shrewd 3-year extension with the Canucks with a $12.6 million AAV. This calculated decision paves the way for him to pursue another substantial extension in his late 20s but also aligns with becoming an unrestricted free agent simultaneously with teammate and Canucks captain Quinn Hughes, both of whom share the same agent.
Although management might not secure the desired term, Pettersson's 3-year, $12.6 million AAV extension will only consume 14.36% of the salary cap, putting him at a lower percentage than Matthews and MacKinnon. While this extension might not meet the long-term commitment sought by Canucks management, the AAV being lower than Matthews's record-setting extension could be viewed as a positive outcome.
Opting for an 8-year extension, the Canucks might ink Pettersson to a record-breaking deal: an eight-year, $108 million extension. This not only secures Pettersson a significant pay raise but also ensures long-term stability for the Canucks. With a rising cap and impending extensions for players like Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, its record-breaking stature may be short-lived. Pettersson is poised for back-to-back 100-point seasons before turning 26.
The Canucks are bound to make a substantial investment, be it through a long-term contract or another bridge agreement. The critical question remains: do they have the cap flexibility for an extended deal, or will they choose a bridge agreement once again?
Note: Contract info is courtesy of CapFriendly