Elias Pettersson on Canucks extension talks: ‘I’ve wanted to just focus on the season’


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Vancouver Canucks star centre Elias Pettersson attended the NHL European Player Media Tour in Sweden this week and explained at length in conversations with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and The Athletic’s Mike Russo why he’s decided to slow play extension talks in favour of focusing on his training this summer.

“I’ve wanted to just focus on the season and focus on this summer, to have a good summer of training,” Pettersson told Russo in Sweden on Wednesday morning. “So the contract talks I’ve been wanting to put a hold on for now.”

Pettersson is entering the final season of the three-year bridge contract that he signed in the fall of 2021 after missing training camp. He became extension eligible on July 1.

While extending Pettersson is the most important big-picture line item facing the club this summer, it’s worth noting there’s no pressing time crunch — Pettersson will only be a restricted free agent following the expiry of the contract, still one year out from unrestricted free agency.

Nonetheless, Pettersson’s commentary will get a lot of play in Vancouver, as it should. Getting Pettersson locked up has been a key organizational priority — and some source of internal preoccupation — dating back to last winter.

Back in the late spring, Pettersson’s representatives expressed some optimism that a deal would be worked on in the summer. Progress, however, has been slow and that’s been at Pettersson’s direction, to hear Pettersson tell it anyway.

“We’ll keep talking but Pat (Brisson) is doing that talking,” Pettersson said. “He knows my situation and obviously it’s a big topic, but he just wants me to focus on — and I just want to focus on — the hockey part.”

Usually when we’re assessing the way NHL-level player personnel negotiations sometimes play out in the public eye, we tend to regard artificial deadlines or publicly revealed moments of stalemate — “we’re just focusing on the season” or “his agent has told the team he won’t discuss an extension during the season” are two common examples — with cynicism. Lines delivered by players and their representatives to juke the negotiation one way or the other.

It’s tempting to fit these comments into that familiar box, but Pettersson is a singular person. If any NHL player was going to delay a negotiation primarily for the purposes of keeping a clear head during summer training, it might just be him.

Asked about the presumably over-the-top reaction Canucks fans (and media) were sure to have to his revelation that talks have been on hold this summer, Pettersson reiterated his affection for the madcap Vancouver market and the intensity of the fan support on Canada’s West Coast.

“Of course it’s a passionate fan base, they bleed hockey out there,” Pettersson said.

“Passionate media too,” Russo joked in reply.

“Passionate media too,” Pettersson agreed, laughing. “They try to find everything out. But I like it that way. I like the overall hockey interest. Obviously, they want the answers, but the answer is that I’m preparing to be in the best shape I can for the season and I’m excited.”

It’s also worth unpacking some of the unique dynamics undergirding Pettersson extension talks. In calibrating the length and size of Pettersson’s next deal, both sides will have to weigh the prospect of a salary cap that is going to stay flat for the 2023-24 campaign, but is widely expected to rise a bit the next season and then potentially rise significantly thereafter.

An agreement on a long-term extension made today could easily be out of date by the second season of the contract, relative to where the market may be headed.

Additionally, Pettersson is coming off of a nearly 40-goal campaign in which he also hit 100 points and received serious consideration for the Selke Trophy from the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association. Pettersson’s star-level performances make him a valuable commodity, obviously, but it’s one thing to have hit those heights from the perspective of negotiating leverage and it’s another to have done it twice. Do it twice in a row and you’re negotiating with the promise of consistent, superstar-level production, which is a different thing entirely.

All of this dances around the big question and consternation that simmers in the background in conversations about Pettersson and his contractual future in Vancouver. Canucks fans have been watching closely as situations in Calgary and Winnipeg have played out with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Matthew Tkachuk (among others), who have exercised their leverage as restricted free agents to steer themselves out of Canada and to American-based contenders.

It goes without saying that having a successful, positive season from a team perspective would go a long way toward appealing to a competitive, top-level player considering a long-term (or medium-term) contract extension with the Canucks, but there’s little cause to leap to that sort of conclusion based off of where we sit today and Pettersson’s commentary at the European Player Media Tour.

The fact is, due to completely innocuous structural factors outside the direct control of either party, one can understand why Pettersson and his camp would prefer to be patient this summer.

— The Athletic’s Michael Russo contributed to this report

(Photo: Derek Cain / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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