Canucks restricted free agent winger will be absent when camp opens in Victoria
Troy Stecher knew the player and the person long before Brock Boeser burst on to the NHL scene.
The Vancouver Canucks’ defenceman was always of the belief that his former University of North Dakota teammate possessed a rare blend of ability, attitude and accountability. And everything Stecher predicted about Boeser’s humble nature and pro transition came to fruition.
It’s why Stecher, who has been in daily contact with Boeser, knows the stalemate in a contract extension for the restricted free-agent winger isn’t about the player. It’s about contract comparables, poker-face negotiations and, most importantly, the true value the Canucks place on Boeser.
“We all go through contract negotiations and understand where he’s at, but at the same time he obviously feels he’s worth something,” Stecher said Thursday. “I just told Brock as a friend that if you’re not here (at camp), don’t feel stressed and continue to work hard and make sure you’re prepared to come back.
“Make sure you’re not a step behind. But don’t feel bad. Your dad (Duke) is very ill right now (with cancer) and it might help your family if you’re close by. But at the same time, don’t compensate your work ethic just to be around them. I do get a sense of excitement and he’s itching to get back.
“I saw him a couple of times and he looks good and he says he feels good. He’s had a good summer. Everybody always complains that he’s not the fastest skater or not the quickest off the start. But people forget he has that special ability to find the soft areas and when he gets it, he’s able to shoot and he doesn’t need to be fast.”
A year ago, Boeser had limited off-season training, added weight and a slow start produced a nagging groin strain that morphed into an adductor inflammation and hernia scare in early November.
After missing 11 games, the winger returned and in the next six games responded with two-goal and three-goal efforts. It would be the catalyst to turn a season of much angst into reason for optimism. He would finish with 56 points (26-30) in 69 games.
The Boeser contract-talk pendulum has swung from shorter to longer extensions and there are several avenues to travel to navigate only US$4.1 million in available cap space. However, if the Boeser camp has drawn a line with an appetite for an annual average value of $7 million, then the number may be more vital than term to the Canucks.
“Nobody wants Brock here more than I do,” said general manager Jim Benning. “We’re going to continue to talk to his agent (Ben Hankinson) and again at some point today (Thursday) and figure something out.”
Canucks coach Travis Green runs a hard three-day training camp by design. It’s about systems, the power play and gauging fitness levels. And with a top-six that should have symmetry to push the offence from 26th and the power play from 22nd, it doesn’t help that Boeser isn’t in Victoria.
“I want him here,” stressed Green. “Training camp is really important and missing the time is hard, depending on how much it is. It’s hard to simulate camp and practices and games.”
With Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Sebastian Aho, Mathew Tkachuk and Patrik Laine among unsigned RFAs, there’s usually a points-per-game (PPG) component to slot the compensation field.
Rantanen, Point and Marner were ranked 12th, 14th and 15th respectively in PPG last season at 1.2 among those who logged at least 60 games. Rantanen had 87 points in 74 games, Point had 92 in 79 and Marner 94 points in 82 games.
Aho and Tkachuk were ranked 29th and 35th at 1.0 in PPG — Aho had 83 points in 82 games and Tkachuk 77 in 80 games — but everybody is waiting for another domino to fall because agents have leverage by not committing their clients to deals.
Is that by design? Is this a league-wide blinking contest?
“That’s a tough question,” said Benning. “Every team has its own internal cap structure and we’re no different. We have good players coming up (for extensions) in the next couple of years (Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes) and we talk about that a lot.”
Tim Meier was at 0.9 PPG and ranked 62nd last season while Boeser was at 0.8 PPG at 66th. The San Jose winger agreed to a four-year, $24 million extension on July 1 and his $6 million annual cap hit on a heavily backloaded contract that looked like a Boeser comparable. But the Canucks are wary of Meier’s $10 million qualifier in Year 4 and want to structure a contract that’s more balanced.
When Bo Horvat signed his six-year, $33 million extension on Sept. 8, 2017, there were comparables with those who signed six-year deals the previous year — Vincent Trochek, Rickard Rakell, Victor Rask and Aleksander Barkov — and a 20-goal season by Horvat in 2016-17 was going to set a good negotiating bar.
Horvat’s $5.5 million hit is trumped by the contract breakdown. His annual actual salaries are $6.5, $7, $5.7, $3.5, $5.7 and $4.4 million. There was money up front for faith and a clawback in the fourth and sixth years.
“When I signed it was either a two- or three-year bridge or six years,” recalled Horvat. “I just wanted to get a deal done.”
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