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Pearson’s New Contract and its Future Implications

Trent Leith / April 9, 2021  

On Thursday afternoon reports came out that Tanner Pearson has signed a 3 year $3.25M deal. Prior to the signing, the 28-year-old winger was the main focus of trade speculation for the Canucks heading into the April 12th, trade deadline. Pearson has been a staple on Bo Horvat’s wing over the course of the 3 seasons he has been with this team, putting up 36 goals during that time with the club. Here is a first look breakdown of Pearson’s new contract and its future implications for the team.

The Breakdown

Tanner Pearson ended up taking a $500K hit on his yearly salary to stay with the team into his 31-year-old season. While not formally on paper, Tanner Pearson has an agreement with the team to not be exposed during the expansion process according to Thomas Drance of the Athletic. Tanner Pearson also has a full no-trade clause in the first year of the deal and a modified, seven-team no-trade in the second year. In the third year, the contract is backloaded (buy-out protection) but in exchange, has no-trade protection for the player.

In a vacuum, this is not a bad deal for a low maintenance player, that can play in your top six in all situations. However, we are not in a vacuum and this contract raises some concerns for the long-term outlook of the team. The general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, Jim Benning, has said he expects the team to be competitive in 2 years, yet signing an ageing winger to a 3-year deal with a rather significant cap hit doesn’t seem to jive with that plan. 

Tanner Pearson has had a poor season to his standards, with only 6 goals and 11 points in 33 games this season. While this season is well documented as one of the most challenging and difficult on record for players, it’s tough to say if his numbers are a sign of age-related regression or just due to an off year. 

The Cycle Game

The Vancouver Canucks have a reputation of signing ageing players to contracts slightly too long, and slightly too large and it hurts the team. Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Brandon Sutter, Loui Eriksson and even Tyler Myers can be categorized as contracts that are too rich for the betterment of the team. If Pearson can’t get back to and maintain his prior season’s pace he will likely be mentioned in the same breath as the previously mentioned players. The Canucks are going to be hard-pressed to get themself out of the cycle of kicking the competitive window down the road until bad contracts are off the books, when they keep signing more bad contracts.

On most competitive teams, Pearson would likely be a third-line player, who could play up the lineup if needed. On the Canucks though, he is a mainstay on the second line. This deal is also odd as far as overall team trajectory is concerned when you consider Vasily Podkolzin is likely to make his NHL debut to start next season. Many believe Podkolzin has the ability to be a top-six winger along with J.T. Miller, Brock Boser and Nils Höglander. While Podkolzin is unlikely to immediately step right into that top-six role, as Canuck’s fans have become used to seeing their rookies do, it still is a strange choice to lock up Pearson for 3 years. If everything goes right, Podkolzin will take his job in the top six long before the deal has expired. 

Jimmy Vesey was playing in Pearson’s spot in the top six while Pearson was out due to injury, and while Vesey is likely playing a little too high in the line-up, it’s worth noting he was acquired at no cost and is making $900K on a one year deal. That shines a light on how value can be found easier than ever in these strange times, and you don’t have to commit term and money to complementary pieces. Remember, Tyler Toffoli (30 points in 33 games and top 10 in NHL scoring) is only making $1M more than Pearson (11 points in 33 games) until 2023/24, when both contracts expire. 

Of course, this Pearson contract has every chance to be perfectly acceptable should Pearson get back to his previous production rate. But it just seems like an ill-advised bet when he was your biggest trade asset heading into the deadline, and heading into what is expected to be another incredibly buyer-friendly offseason. While not the worst contract this management regime has signed, it’s another notch in the “moves with no clear vision for the future” column, and that column is getting sickenly long for fans.