For potential franchise defenceman Quin Hughes, earning 105% of his entry level salary of less than $1 million might be the best option this year.
Understanding why a defenceman who should be able to command $6 million per year on the open market might decide to take less than $1 million requires an examination of the roster as signed now, and the arcane rules for a young Restricted Free Agent (RFA). There is also the delicate dance of sensibilities between a young star and the organization who have all the power (for now). Finally, there’s the added factor of sharing an agent with the one man who could help (or hurt) his negotiation, but only if he signs an offer sheet.
According to CapFriendly The Canucks have a signed roster of 22 players, and just over $14 million left in cap space. Since both first line Centre Elias Pettersson, and presumptive third line centre Jason Dickinson are sure to make the team, at least one of the 22 players will be sent to the minors freeing up something under $1 million more in cap space. The final starter for the season? Certainly Hughes. All three of the players are RFA, but they all have VERY different rights.
So: how to dvide up $15 million among these three players?
The nice people at Dobber Hockey have come up with a list of what they think various Free Agents will get. Back in February they said Pettersson gets $7.9M, Hughes gets $5.8M and Dickinson gets $1.5M. That adds up to $15.2M which is pretty darn close to the budget avaialvable to the Canucks, but there’s a little problem: many of those February predictions were a little light, for instance they said Alex Edler would get $2.8M (but he signed with LA at $3.5M) and Tanner Pearson would get $2.6M (but signed with Vancouver for $3.25M). On the other hand, Jaroslav Halak was projected to get $3.7M but he’s signed with the Canucks at $1.5M which only proves that Goalies are voodoo and no one can predict anything about them. These predictions were updated on the eve of the Expansion Draft and the new numbers are: Hughes $7.3M, Petterssson $5.9M, and Dickinson $2M. That’s the same total of $15.2M so I suspect the total budget is known, but it ignores the relative rights of the players.
For a more up to date prediction, let’s consider our three RFAs in order of who has the most rights.
Dickinson has enough years of experience to be eligible for arbitration. That also makes him the most predictable in terms of expected salary. If the two sides don’t agree, either can select arbitration and a one year salary will be set by an independent arbitrator. It usually doesn't come down to that, partly because teams and players may use longer contracts to smooth out the annual salary dispute. How much will Dickinson get? According to Evolving Hockey it should be in the area of $2.7M x 3 years, but let’s be conservative (and make the math easy), to say $3M.
Elias Pettersson can’t ask for arbitration, but he can sign an offer sheet. That is, if another team makes him an offer, he can choose to accept that offer and then the Canucks can either match the offer and keep Petey, or they can let him go but get compensated with a package of draft picks (up to four first round picks depending on the value of the offer sheet). This gives Pettersson more bargaining power, but only if some team does decide to give him an offer sheet, and the Canucks have cleared enough cap space to match any offer sheet so that makes it less likely.
So what is a fair contract for Pettersson? By many accounts, Elias Pettersson is a pretty close comparable to Mathew Barzal and just a couple of weeks ago the smart team of Drance and Dayal at The Athletic reached out to people who should know(paywall), coming up with an expected $7.5M bridge deal for 3 years. This is a likely figure for arbitration, although less than any likely offer sheet.
That brings us to Quinn Hughes. He has no arbitration rights, and he can’t get an offer sheet. Ultimately when the Canucks tell him what they are willing to pay, he can take it or leave it. If he does not take it he doesn't play hockey for at least a year — and earns nothing during that time. Well, not for hockey anyway: I suppose he could try to be a TikTok influencer or something....
But let’s be serious: Quinn Hughes is going to play for the Canucks next year. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who wants to hold out, so the Canucks main goal has to be to negotiate a bridge deal that gets more years of cost certainty before arbitration is an issue. Using the numbers we’ve arrived at so far, the maximum they can offer Hughes is about $4.5M per year, or a little more if they can squeeze Dickinson a bit.
In the same Athletic article, the hockey gurus said that a market price contract for Hughes would be at least $6M per year for two or three years.
So what can Hughes do? This year the Canucks simply can’t offer him what he deserves for a bridge contract. It would be very nice of them to offer him one year at $4.5M and then down the road an extension with more money as the cap space opens up, but that would be a massive overpay by the club since if all they get is a one year deal they only need to pay him less than $1M, and could stay in the market for another $3M player by trade or UFA. Perhaps even another right shot defenceman to play on a pair with Hughes!
It might be that the best move for Hughes is to sign his Qualifying Offer for one year, play a great season in 2021/22, and head into negotiations next summer looking for a bigger paycheque based on how much an offer sheet might be (from, for instance, the team with both his brothers?), or what arbitration might bring.
There is one thing that Canucks fans, and probably the team can hope for: that Elias Pettersson decides to take less money so that both he and Hughes can sign affordable bridge deals. Sadly, it seems unlikely that two young studs would both take less money this early in their careers just to make it better for the team. That’s more of a veteran move to solidify a club’s immediate chance for The Cup, and the Canucks are too far away from that to have unreasonable expectations.
Have your say! Show us what do you think will happen in this poll, and let us know why in the comments.
What will Quinn Huges make in 21/22?
This poll is closed
Less than $1M
Nothing, he’ll hold out