That Pearson Extension…

In my last post, I wrote that as fans, one of only things we can do is hope that management has learned from past mistakes, allowing the Canucks to maximize their challenge to contend in the future. Contracts to players such as Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel immediately come to mind.

With the announcement of forward Tanner Pearson being extended to a 3 year, $9.75M contract, management isn’t giving much hope to the fan base that they’re interested in learning anything at all.

Rich Lam – Getty Images

I have to preface: Tanner Pearson at this current stage of his career is an adequate middle to bottom six winger on the majority of NHL teams. He offers the flexibility of a Swiss army knife.  He can be placed anywhere in the lineup, including penalty kill and second unit power play, without having any glaring issues (so long as your expectations are reasonable). Pearson is the type of player that a contending team can afford to extend, as that team’s core pieces have already been secured with longer term deals at a consistent cap hit.  This gives management the freedom to splurge on a luxury extension (like Pearson) to add a “safe” forward to their lineup. He checks the buzzwords that teams love: Stanley Cup winner, hardworking, amicable.

However… this is not the perspective of the Canucks, and fans can see the red flags.  The team is very clearly not in a contending window at this time.  For the amount of money spent on Pearson, the team needs to secure more than a “safe” forward without a higher risk/reward ratio. Lastly, with a flat cap clearly lowering the cost of quality players through free agency, waivers, expansion protection and trades, the $3.25M dollars that the Canucks have committed could have been better spent addressing multiple gaps in the lineup, rather than on one player.

The team doesn’t need to go too far back to see the flat cap affecting player values. Seven months ago, forward Tyler Toffoli moved from the Canucks to the Montreal Canadiens, signing a 4-year, $17M dollar contract. After the “Canada tax,” Toffoli received a mere million dollars more plus an additional year than Pearson’s contract, with both signed through the prime years of 28 to 32. Toffoli showed a clear chemistry with franchise forward Elias Pettersson, and was one of the NHL’s top goal scorers this year. Pearson rebounded with 21 goals last year after being acquired from Pittsburgh, but has struggled this year, with only 6 goals for 11 points through 33 games while also having the highest average TOI of his career at 16:33. The value is clearly in Toffoli’s favour, but the final nail is that Pearson’s contract contains no trade provisions in the first two years while Toffoli’s does not.

Rich Lam – Getty Images

Management could have used the previous free agency period to predict what they might expect this summer. Cheaper, shorter term deals were offered to talented players that would’ve signed more lucrative contracts in past seasons – a direct result of the pandemic’s effects on the salary cap and budgets. 

Taking into consideration a slight bump in salary due to playing in Canada, $3.25M could’ve been spent on various forwards in the range of Erik Haula (1 year, $1.75M, 4-9-13 in 37 games), Anthony Duclair (1 year, $1.7M, 4-12-16 in 29 games) or Alexander Wennberg (1 year, $2.25M, 11-8-19 in 41 games). Breakout hidden star of the 2021 season Carter Verhaege (2 years, $1M per, 17-18-35 in 41 games) was signed as a 25-year old UFA by the Florida Panthers. Not every value signing is an instant hit or guaranteed success story, but signings like Duclair, Wennberg and Verhaege currently have the Florida Panthers seventh in the overall NHL standings with $3.6M dollars in cap space heading into Monday’s trade deadline.

By extending Pearson, the Canucks have added to their list of long-term, expensive, low ceiling contracts. The majority of contending teams will have one or two of these safe contracts in place to secure players to fill very specific holes in their lineup. The Canucks currently have four of these contracts on their roster (Roussel, Beagle, Sutter and now Pearson) with Sutter being the only expiring deal this off-season. The only other contract is Michael Ferland, but he continues to be on LTIR and his future in the NHL is uncertain after repeated concussions. 

This scenario is nothing more than death by a thousand contracts. The extensions to Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson will take up the majority of the Canucks cap space for next year, and now there is $3.25M less space to play with next off season. These days, your dollar can go so much further…you just have to know the value of your money in this new, flat cap market. 

Management just doesn’t seem to care.

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