The Canucks have some key restricted free agents to re-sign this off-season. Forwards Jake Virtanen and Sven Baertschi need new contracts, as do defencemen Troy Stecher and Derrick Pouliot.
Before a restricted free agent (RFA) is re-signed, however, they are normally given a qualifying offer. This qualifying offer doesn’t have to be accepted by the player, but it is a formal indication that the team wants to re-sign the player and keeps him as an RFA. The Canucks gave qualifying offers to Virtanen, Baertschi, and Stecher, but not to Pouliot.
This means that Derrick Pouliot becomes an unrestricted free agent (UFA) that no longer needs to exclusively negotiate with the Canucks. Any team can interview him leading up to free agency and any team can sign him come July 1st.
Pouliot’s qualifying offer would have only been $850,000, so it may seem like a nonsensical move for the Canucks to let him become a UFA, but there’s a method to the madness. Pouliot was eligible for arbitration, one of the few pieces of leverage available to an RFA.
As per Article 10.2 (ii) - the QO for Pouliot would've been 105% of current deal - so $840,000. (deal was $800,000)— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) June 25, 2018
By not qualifying, it avoids the arbitration rights that he has.
As mentioned -can now speak to other teams but Canucks may come to a deal before July 1#Canucks pic.twitter.com/rLoXO7teHG
If Pouliot filed for arbitration, it would put the Canucks in a bind. As long as the contract decided upon by the arbitrator was under a certain threshold — $4.22 million according to The Athletic’s Ryan Biech — the Canucks would have no choice but to accept the ruling and sign Pouliot to that contract.
There is a limit on the types of evidence each side can present in an arbitration case. Certain statistics are eligible, along with some more intangible elements, like leadership. The most important evidence, however, is found in comparable players.
A player’s agent and the team will try to find comparable players who bear the most similarity to the player in question, including position, age, and statistics. If the contract was signed by that particular team, it becomes even more important: why wouldn’t you sign a comparable player to a comparable contract?
That’s where it becomes an issue for the Canucks, as a directly comparable player for Derrick Pouliot is Ben Hutton. Hutton was a year younger than Pouliot when he signed his contract extension, but their situations are otherwise similar.
The season before Hutton re-signed, he had 25 points in 75 games. Last season, Pouliot had 22 points in 71 games. “Fancy stats” like corsi and fenwick are also eligible to be used in arbitration, and Pouliot’s 2017-18 season looks far better than Hutton’s 2015-16 season by those metrics: 50.27% corsi compared to Hutton’s 46.18%.
With all that in mind, it’s easy to see an arbitrator awarding Pouliot a similar or better contract than Hutton’s: $2.8 million per season. It seems pretty likely that they don’t want to pay Pouliot that much.
Before you panic, don’t. This doesn’t mean that Pouliot won’t be a Canuck next season.
In fact, the Canucks went through this same process with Yannick Weber a few years ago. Weber was an RFA in 2015, but the Canucks did not give him a qualifying offer. On July 1st, however, they signed Weber to a one-year, $850,000 contract.
The Canucks are the lone team that can sign Pouliot to a contract prior to July 1st, though that is only their most obvious advantage in negotiations right now. Others include Pouliot’s familiarity and comfort with the Canucks and head coach Travis Green, who also coached Pouliot with the Portland Winterhawks.
Even if Pouliot tests free agency, he may find that his best option for a contract is still with the Canucks. Even if 7th overall pick Quinn Hughes goes pro this year, the Canucks still have a significant need for puck-moving defencemen, and Pouliot provides that, even if the defensive side of his game sometimes suffers.
The Canucks also refrained from qualifying offers to Cole Cassels, Mackenze Stewart, Griffen Molino, and Anton Cederholm. All four will become UFAs, though it’s possible one or more will re-sign with the Utica Comets on AHL contracts.