At last. After 10 days, the news around the Vancouver Canucks is no longer focused around positive tests for Covid-19.
Thursday was the first day since last Tuesday, March 30, that the Canucks did not have a name added to the NHL's Covid Protocol list.
Thursday was also the day that the Canucks got back to a spectre of normalcy, officially announcing their contract extensions for both Thatcher Demko and Tanner Pearson.
As we heard last week, Demko is extended for five years, at an AAV of $5 million per season. According to CapFriendly
, there is no trade protection and payments do vary — he'll receive just $2.5 million next season, rising to a maximum of $7 million in Year 3, followed by $6 million and $5 million.
Demko would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency following the 2022-23 season, so the contract does buy three of his free-agent years.
As for Tanner Pearson — his new deal is for three years, at an AAV of $3.25 million per season. That's a drop of $500,000 a year from his current contract.
CapFriendly shows that the dollar value increases over the duration of the contract: $2.5 million next season, $3 million in 2022-23 and $4.25 million in 2023-24, including a $1.5 million signing bonus that offers him a degree of buyout protection.
Pearson also gets a no-trade clause for next season, and a modified NTC for 2022-23, where he can list seven teams he doesn't want to be traded to.
During his media availability on Friday, Jim Benning emphasized how important Pearson is to team culture.
"He's a real good pro," Benning said. "He does things the right way, on the ice off the ice. He plays the game the right way. He's a good role model for our younger players to show up, to do things the right way, to develop the right habits on a day-to-day basis."
Asked about the decline in Pearson's on-ice stats this season, Benning blamed the strangeness of the shortened season.
"I think with him, hopefully in the fall, once we get back to play to all the teams and our regular season, he's going to be as effective as he's always been," Benning said. "He's a guy that plays the right way. He's strong on the walls, he goes to the front of the net, and him and Bo have been really good together.
"I know his production is down a little bit this year. But next year, when are things are back to normal again, I expect him to continue to have strong seasons for us for the next few years."
After the hit that the Canucks' dressing-room culture took following the departures of Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev, it sounds like Benning wasn't willing to risk losing another glue guy to unrestricted free agency. He mentioned that, during his discussions with Pearson's agent, the number they settled on was basically what they thought Pearson's value would be on the open market.
No hometown discount here.
When Benning was asked whether these new deals would create salary-cap pressure when signing Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes to their new deals this summer, he said he thought they'd be fine. He also said he didn't expect any expansion draft issues.
As for Monday's trade deadline, he said he didn't expect to be very active — and that the challenges that the team has gone through with the virus over the last couple of weeks played a big role in that decision-making process.
"I think it's more the human side of things," he said. "They've dealt with a lot here the last couple of weeks, getting the virus themselves and running through families and stuff. I just don't think it's the right thing to do at this point in time."
Canucks team physician Dr. Jim Bovard was also on the call, answering questions about the Covid outbreak and next steps.
He emphasized that protocols were followed and that no one is to blame in this situation — and said that there's still no timetable for re-opening the Canucks' facility. That's a decision that will be made by public health authorities.
So, we still don't know when the Canucks will get back to practice, or when they'll be able to resume their game schedule.
As for which players will be available when that happens — it sounds like that's the next order of business. Benning said he'd be meeting with John Sanderson later on Friday to review the status of the team's injured players, and that would lead to decisions on potential callups from Utica on either Friday or Saturday.
For the first time since March 10, the Comets are set to play a game on Friday — in front of a small group of fans on home ice at the Adirondack Bank Center.
That'll be a nice opportunity to see what kind of lineup they're icing after their own month-long outbreak.
One expected addition is 20-year-old winger Ethan Keppen. He was drafted by the Canucks in the fourth round in 2019 — and has not played at all so far this season.
Any callups would need to serve a seven-day quarantine in Vancouver before they could be added to the Canucks' roster.
As for what we did learn about the injuries — it sounds like the recovery process is continuing with Elias Pettersson, but he is expected to be back before too long.
And while Benning did not address a question about Jay Beagle's status, there has been some chatter on Twitter that his injury is long term — like, possibly stretching into next year long term. So that'll be something to keep an eye on.
Agent J.P. Barry was also on the new Donnie & Dhali show on Friday, talking about how he'd do the contracts for Pettersson in Hughes in tandem, like he did with Kane & Toews in Chicago. And also offering an update on another one of his clients, Loui Eriksson:
Eriksson is owed $3 million in real dollars next season. If he's bought out, the Canucks save $1 million in real dollars. But his cap hit would drop from $6 million to $4 million in 2021-22, with an additional hit of $1 million shifted to the 2022-23 season.
So — there could be some cap room opening up; that'll be something to watch.
One final contract note: still nothing new on the coaching staff.
"Like I've said all along, our intention is to work with them to try to bring them back," Benning said, "but I got nothing to report on as of right now."
And to wrap up today — yes, the league's intention is still to get the Canucks to 56 games this season.
"I would think, probably, that the end of the league schedule as it stands right now could be changed," Benning said, "allowing more days to get in our games."