VANCOUVER – A trade-deadline seller for most of his time in charge of the Vancouver Canucks, general manager Jim Benning couldn’t wait to be a buyer this season. Seriously, he couldn’t wait.
Benning made his big move on Monday when he acquired winger Tyler Toffoli and his expiring contract from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for college star Tyler Madden and a second-round draft pick. The trade came after a weekend in which Canucks winger Micheal Ferland’s aborted comeback from a concussion coincided with medical news that sniper Brock Boeser was likely done for the regular season with a rib injury.
Benning told Sportsnet in December that he wanted to add another top-six winger, but Toffoli is more of a replacement than an add. He became a necessity, not a luxury, which is why Benning paid a steep price to get the 27-year-old former Stanley Cup winner who has been in excellent form the last two months.
Since Toffoli essentially replaces Boeser on the top line, it stands to reason the Canucks could still use another winger. But Benning has now spent the most valuable assets he’s probably willing to give up, which makes another impactful move before Monday’s trade deadline highly unlikely.
The GM sent a first-round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning last June to land winger J.T. Miller, although Vancouver can defer payment until the 2021 draft if the Canucks miss the playoffs in April for a fifth-straight season.
They’ve also been looking for a defenceman to strengthen the bottom half of their blue line, and the Toffoli trade means Benning will have to shop for that in the clearance bins.
“We’re going to continue to work the phones and look at the market,” Benning told reporters on Tuesday. “We could be done. We don’t have our first- and second-round pick right now for the draft, so I don’t foresee us trading any more picks. But if something makes sense maybe with one of the young players (in the system) where we feel we have enough depth at that position, we’d maybe look to do something like that.”
The Canucks need to be careful there. They’ve got some excellent young players working their way towards the National Hockey League, but the franchise isn’t at the point where it can afford to sacrifice more prospects like Madden for short-term help.
Pending Free Agents
Tyler Toffoli, RW, 27, $4.6 million
Chris Tanev, D, 30, $4.45 million
Jacob Markstrom, G, 30, $3.67 million
Oscar Fantenberg, D, 28, $850,000
Troy Stecher, D, 25, $2.33 million
Jake Virtanen, RW, 23, $1.25 million
Tyler Motte, LW, 24, $975,000
Adam Gaudette, C, 23, $917,000
Zack MacEwen, RW, 23, $848,000
Potential Assets to Move
Nikita Trymakin, D, 25
The six-foot-seven blueliner had an NHL career laid out for him by the Canucks, but bolted home to Russia after his 2016-17 rookie season. Now he’s unhappy there, too, and wants to return. The Canucks still like him, but have a couple of defence prospects ahead of Tryamkin and may be able to leverage a draft pick in exchange for his NHL rights.
Troy Stecher, D, 25
Now in his fourth NHL season, Stecher has shown he is a solid defenceman with enough skill to perhaps earn a bigger role somewhere else. The Canucks aren’t looking to trade Stecher, but may not qualify him in June at $2.33 million with their salary-cap issues and so risk losing him for nothing, as they did last summer with Ben Hutton. Better to get something than nothing. But Stecher is a lineup regular on a team trying to make the playoffs, and trading him could be a toxic blow to the dressing-room environment.
(See Benning above). Already without first- and second-round picks, it is hard to imagine the Canucks further handicapping themselves at the 2020 draft. Unless they can acquire more picks, the team is down to four selections in June because its seventh-rounder went to Anaheim last season in the rental of defenceman Luke Schenn.
2020: third, fourth, fifth, sixth
2021: first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh
One Bold Move
The Canucks will soon be the next up-and-coming team faced with difficult choices about which young stars to keep, and Boeser looks to be in an uncertain spot long-term with Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Quinn Hughes ahead of him. A trade involving Boeser, who comes with the cost certainty of two more seasons at $5.88 million ahead of restricted free agency, would be a blockbuster. But Boeser is injured, which removes the trade deadline as a pressure point, and the Canucks hope the winger who scored 55 goals his first two seasons may yet be able to help them in the playoffs this spring. Given the ramifications of trading one of the NHL’s top young scorers, the Canucks are far more likely to contemplate this kind of blockbuster in the off-season.
I Think the Team Should Not…
… sacrifice an asset for Wayne Simmonds. After Toffoli, Simmonds is the player who has been most linked to the Canucks in trade conjecture because Vancouver could use more toughness and playoff experience in its lineup. But the hard miles Simmonds has logged as an NHL warrior is evident in his sharp decline by age 31. He scored once in 17 games after a deadline trade to Nashville last season, and has seven goals in 59 games this season for New Jersey after signing a one-year, $5-million contract. Seriously, how is Simmonds supposed to help?