Jason Botchford: Why Olli Juolevi still hasn’t signed with the Canucks

Vancouver Canucks draft choice Olli Juolevi is the only remaining 2016 top-10 pick waiting on a contract. Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

Jason Botchford   July 26, 2016   http://theprovince.com

At some point, the Canucks will sign their prized first-round draft pick, Olli Juolevi. It just might not be anytime soon.

Juolevi is the last signable player taken in the top 10 of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft without an entry-level contract. There are, of course, two players in that top 10 who have committed to college and won’t be signing contracts this year.

So, what gives with Juolevi? Those with connections to the talks say it’s not hard to figure out. Just look at the numbers. There are a couple of million of them in play here.

In signing entry-level deals, player agents can negotiate two types of bonuses, Schedule A and Schedule B. The maximum is US$850,000 per year for Schedule-A bonuses and every player in the top 10 signed for the max. That’s a lock for Juolevi.

The Schedule B maximum is $2 million in bonuses per year and only one player, Auston Matthews, got that. But every player in the top four had significant Schedule-B bonuses worked into their contracts.

Drafted at No. 4, Jesse Puljujarvi’s contract includes $1.65 million per year in potential Schedule-B bonuses. Interestingly, Matthew Tkachuk, who was taken by Calgary at No. 6, got none in his. That’s a significant drop-off in potential money. Guess who was sandwiched in the middle of those two on draft day?

Asked specifically if the Canucks were taking a hard line on Schedule B bonuses, Juolevi’s agent, Markus Lehto, would say only: “There have been discussions, but I don’t negotiate through the media.”

Asked about Juolevi’s contract status on TSN 1040 on Tuesday, Canucks president Trevor Linden suggested a timeline of a few weeks for a deal. Linden did appear to brush off concern about Juolevi’s contract status as no big deal, and he’s probably right.

But it’s worth mentioning that Toronto general manager Lou Lamoriello was criticized harshly by some when the Matthews talks lagged a bit. It was suggested then that Lamoriello risked alienating Matthews, while delivering a negative message to the rest of the league on how the Leafs treat their stars. Of course, Matthews was soon signed and all that talk was made to look pretty foolish.

Maybe more interesting was Linden’s suggestion that the most likely landing spot for Juolevi this fall is playing back in the OHL. Vancouver, and Lehto, believe the prospect isn’t eligible for the AHL this season. But he could play in Europe and, for whatever the reasons, the Canucks haven’t yet openly said it’s an option, even though it’s something that is being considered strongly by the Juolevi camp. Lehto said teams in both the Swedish and Finnish elite leagues have contacted him inquiring about the possibility of Juolevi playing there.

“All of the European teams see themselves as having a great development program,” Lehto said. “There is interest when they see a Finnish guy get drafted where he did and one who played really well at the U20 tournament, maybe the best defenceman in the tournament.

“Wouldn’t you think that kind of guy is very attractive? But what I’ve said all along, (Juolevi’s) priority is to make the Vancouver Canucks.”

That remains remotely possible. But if he doesn’t, wouldn’t there be more for Juolevi to gain playing in Europe against men in a high-quality league, rather than going to the OHL, where he’s accomplished about all he can accomplish, to play against a lot of teenagers? It’s at least something that should be considered while the Canucks are killing time before they sign Juolevi.

2016 NHL DRAFT TOP 10  — Annual average value of their contract

1. Auston Matthews, US$3.775 million.
2. Patrick Laine, $3.575m.
3. Pierre-Luc Dubois, $3.425m.
4. Jesse Puljujarvi, $3.425m.
5. Olli Juolevi, unsigned.
6. Matthew Tkachuk, $1.775m.
7. Clayton Keller — committed to college.
8. Alexander Nylander $1.775m.
9. Mikhail Sergachev $1.775m.
10. Tyson Jost — committed to college.

Schedule-B bonuses the team and the player can negotiate (maximum total is US$2 million per year)
1. Finishing in the top five for Hart, Norris, Selke and Richard.
2. Finishing in the top three for Calder and Lady Byng.
3. Making the first- or second-team all-star group.
4. Winning the Conn Smythe.
5. Finishing in the top 10 among defencemen in goals, assists or points.
6. Finishing in the top 10 in points-per-game (must play 42 games).
7. Finishing in the top 10 in average time-on-ice (must play 42 games).

Source: Jason Botchford: Why Olli Juolevi still hasn’t signed with the Canucks | The Province