31 Thoughts: Making sense of Toffoli trade for Canucks

Elliotte Friedman joined Sportsnet Central to talk about why the Canucks felt the need to trade for scorer Tyler Toffoli.

• Toffoli move a reward for Canucks’ hard work
• Coleman, Greene returns raising bar
• Keefe wants more from Leafs’ top six

I get this one from the Canucks.

From what I understand, they made it clear two prospects are not going anywhere: Nils Hoglander and Vasily Podkolzin. And I think they were worried on Sunday night that they’d lost out on Tyler Toffoli, only to have talks resume Monday.

There’s no vacation time for Vancouver doctors. We won’t see Micheal Ferland until next season. (Take your time, young man. Take all the time you need.) Brock Boeser is out at least the rest of the regular season. Fears are Josh Leivo’s absence is similar.

There is logic in saying, “Yeah, it’s not the time for a rental.”

But sports are about emotion. As Jerry Seinfeld once said: We root for clothes. Those clothes torture us. They make us happy, they make us cry, they drive us absolutely freaking insane, they cause people to tweet out comments they’d never say face-to-face. That’s what sports do to us.

All fans ask is that the people wearing the clothes care as much as they do.

So when Jim Benning plops behind the microphone and says, “Our players have worked hard, our coaches have worked hard, so we want to do something to help them,” I totally, absolutely, 100 per cent get it.

Same goes for Winnipeg. The Jets are hanging in despite a series of blows. You go out and get Dylan Demelo. Your room appreciates the help.

Players, by the way they perform, determine whether or not a GM should add. The Pacific Division isn’t the Group of Death, but all you can try to do is finish as high as you can. The Canucks are in the race, they’ve competed hard. They’ve got their flaws, but they’re deep and possess young, elite talent. Benning knew the reaction if he let the deadline pass without Boeser/Ferland/Leivo and no fresh meat on the grill.

You can’t sell that. That’s a white flag. You’re telling the players, “We’re done.”

They’ve got a goaltender playing at a Hart Trophy level. Bringing him back will take some Simone Biles-level gymnastics. Because of their cap crunch, other key players from Chris Tanev to Troy Stecher could be gone, too. There’s no guarantee they’re going to look the same. Now, there are some in the Canucks organization who feel very strongly that their window is just opening around Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson. They feel these two are scratching the surface of what they are going to be, which is frightening for the rest of the league.

Fine. But unless you can see the future, you only know what you’ve got now. In his media conference, Benning referred to the organization as being in “the black hole, where you have to fight and scratch your way to be a playoff team again.”

I get that, too. The Canucks have missed the playoffs four straight years and have won three post-season games since 2011. It’s where Columbus was last season. It may not be logical, but you look at where you stand, your contract situation, feel your loyal fans need to be rewarded, and say, “I’m jumping off this cliff.”

I do think the Canucks still would consider adding a Wayne Simmonds, but that’s more difficult without a 2020 first- or second-rounder.

“I don’t foresee us trading any more picks,” Benning said, adding he’d consider something with other prospects. What the Toffoli move tells us, however, is he’s going to try.



1. No question the Blake Coleman and Andy Greene trades raised the bar for returns. Los Angeles may get an extra piece for Alec Martinez out of it, since he’s got another year. I’m still not convinced Montreal will move Tomas Tatar, but if this kind of return is available for him, does it make Marc Bergevin think a little more? San Jose wanted two seconds for Brenden Dillon (that’s what GM Doug Wilson got for Douglas Murray in 2013); they got a second and a third from Washington. Meanwhile, New Jersey has been eyeing a second-plus for Sami Vatanen, who needs to get healthy.

I believe the Kings sloughed off one trade for Martinez that did not involve futures, possibly with Carolina.

2. Tampa outbid Boston for Coleman, but Edmonton made a real push. A couple of teams said they heard he was the guy the Oilers would give up a first-rounder for.

3. If the Coleman trade showed the rest of the NHL anything, it’s that the Devils may not really want to part with Kyle Palmieri — but, if you make the right offer, they will do so. You also have to think that trade didn’t hurt Tom Fitzgerald’s long-term position in Jersey.

4. This is good news for the Rangers, who continue to both negotiate with and generate the market for Chris Kreider. Teams I think are interested: Boston, Colorado, New York Islanders and St. Louis (there could be more, obviously).

I think Washington GM Brian MacLellan made a stealth move to see if he could get in on Kreider, but the Dillon trade probably takes him out of it.

5. It might come down to Nolan Patrick’s health, but I think Philadelphia is considering Jeff Carter.

6. Colorado is trying to make “hockey deals” to add up front and on the blue line. But all of the injuries — Philipp Grubauer, Nazem Kadri, Mikko Rantanen — put them in the market for depth at a cheaper cost. The one thing about the Avalanche is they won’t add big-money, big-term deals with extensions looming for Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar. (Remember: They made an enormous short-term pitch for Artemi Panarin that didn’t interfere with their long-term situation.) That eliminates any Carey Price fantasies. Apropos of nothing, that Avalanche/Lightning game on Monday night was dynamite.

7. I do think Colorado checked out Corey Crawford. But Robin Lehner’s future ties into Chicago’s decision. Lehner’s performance during Chicago’s 5-3 loss to Edmonton raised eyebrows. Not because he was bad or anything, but because he was “quiet.” Lehner plays a “loud” game, both in terms of his voice and activity. The Blackhawks and his representatives are trying to find a match, but word is term is going to be a hurdle. Lehner has said that he deserves to be paid “fairly,” and it was so unusual to see him so placid that people were wondering if a lack of progress bothered him. He was back in goal for Saturday’s 8-4 win in Calgary, where he made a big save to preserve Chicago’s advantage when the game was still in doubt.

Carolina, meanwhile, has had a lot of interest in Lehner, and has that extra first-rounder.

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8. Ottawa will wait until after the season to talk contract with Anthony Duclair. Now that Dylan DeMelo is off to Winnipeg, don’t be surprised to see Vladislav Namestnikov go early, too.

In all negotiations — including DeMelo and Jean-Gabriel Pageau — the Senators are wary of term.

9. Big question this week: When will Josh Anderson be healthy?

10. It is rare that top-six centres become available, but Florida’s Vincent Trocheck is generating attention. Age 26, two more years at under $5 million — teams can handle that. Won’t be inexpensive. Trocheck rushed back as quickly as possible from an ankle injury last season, and there is debate about how much mobility that may have cost him. But, again, guys like him aren’t often acquirable.

11. At the morning skate prior to Tuesday’s Toronto/Pittsburgh game, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe pulled aside the forwards who comprise his bottom six. The message: We need more. I don’t even get the sense it was about offence — just winning shifts and driving plays. Even with Toronto’s ideal location for travel, they’re in danger of wearing down their top forwards.

12. I heard the same rumours about Shea Weber’s injury — that it was serious and would, at least, cost him the rest of this season. So I spent some time last week trying to figure out the timeline and how things unfolded the way they did. This is what I pieced together: Weber was hurt Tuesday, Feb. 4, against New Jersey, but played the rest of the game. The blocked shot got a lot of attention, but, because the injury turns out to be a sprain, that instance doesn’t seem to be the actual root of the problem. He might have caught his skate in a rut, but I can’t pin it down.

The next day, he informed the team he was in pain, but an MRI had to wait until the weekend because the swelling was so bad. That imaging was inconclusive, because the swelling hadn’t gone down enough, so all involved decided to wait to do another one. Then someone realized the better path might be to send Weber to Dr. Robert Anderson, who performed the surgery on his foot in March 2018. (Anderson, who works for the Green Bay Packers, is an ankle/foot specialist. He also operated on Ryan Suter.)

Weber saw Anderson last Wednesday, and informed the club at around 1 p.m. that day the diagnosis was not as bad as feared. The Canadiens took heat for how they handled this, but it’s tough to fault them for this one. They repeatedly stated they were going to wait until they knew for sure, and didn’t get conclusive info for eight days. Plus, Weber is notoriously private, and wouldn’t like a blow-by-blow update.

13. There’ve been a lot of rumours about Max Domi, but I did have one source call them “Fake News.” (The source wasn’t Donald Trump.)

14. Trying to imagine what happens if commissioner Gary Bettman referred to the Stanley Cup as a “piece of metal.” (See Rob Manfred.) He wouldn’t even make it back to his office.

15. Claude Julien was fined $10,000 for his anti-officiating outburst following Montreal’s crushing 4–3 overtime loss to Dallas on Saturday. (The Canadiens received no power plays that night.) The NHL is still weighing further punishment for Evander Kane, who napalmed the supplemental discipline process after his three-game suspension for elbowing Neal Pionk. Watching all of the Astros’ fallout in Major League Baseball, it’s clear the players are emboldened to speak out because so many are doing it. Is this a blip, or the start of a trend?

16. Carolina’s outdoor game will continue the trend into locales no one would have considered years ago. Arizona is pushing for a game in Mexico City. Years ago, I asked Bettman if he would put a game in Florida and he said he’d like to, but the humidity was a big concern. I think they’re going to see if they can do it. Edmonton is runaway leader for next Canadian game in fall of 2021.

17. Dallas and New Jersey were possibilities for China exhibition games next season, but that’s in doubt now.

18. Bruce Boudreau loves to coach, and you know he’s going to jump at opportunities that are presented to him. His time in Minnesota was a roller-coaster, and there were several times the past two seasons both Paul Fenton and Bill Guerin considered removing him. (One of the biggest hurdles was owner Craig Leipold, who did not want to owe a ton of money on the contract.) I don’t think it was always harmonious among the coaching staff, and the Wild’s headstrong veterans clashed with the coach. Despite all of that, the young players improved under him and he had them on the brink of the playoffs despite a brutal start. If they pulled it off, didn’t Minnesota have to extend him?

19. In talking to people about Boudreau’s firing, a few brought up the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs and how different things may have turned out if it hadn’t been for Jake Allen. The Blues’ goalie was ridiculous in a 4–1 St. Louis series victory — with a .956 save percentage, allowing just eight goals. That was a 106-point Minnesota team, fifth in the NHL.

20. NHL teams got a note last week that Alexey Marchenko is interested in returning to North America. The right-shot blueliner played 121 games for Detroit and Toronto before going to KHL CSKA Moscow the past three seasons. He’s looking for something around the $1.5-million range.

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21. This may go down as the worst kiss of death ever, but congratulations to NCAA Division III Norwich College goalie Tom Aubrun, who has six consecutive shutouts for the Cadets. Aubrun, a 24-year-old from Chamonix, France (host of the first Winter Olympics in 1924), is being coached by Cam Ellsworth. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Ellsworth recruited lightly regarded Connor Hellebuyck to his former stop (UMass-Lowell) and helped him develop into a Vezina-calibre goalie. There have been a few NHL teams check out Aubrun, too.

22. On After Hours last weekend with Scott Oake and Louie DeBrusk, Milan Lucic revealed that he considered retiring after an early-season benching.

“The first time we played St. Louis here on a Hockey Night in Canada game, I got benched in the third period. Nothing was said to me by anyone. I wasn’t really happy about it, and I even started questioning whether I should hang them up because it just wasn’t fun for me anymore. It had nothing to do with James Neal having success — I just think for myself it was just really hard and especially when you’re getting benched and no one is saying anything to you.” (That was Nov. 9.)

I heard a story that one particular player told Lucic — on-ice — he wouldn’t fight, not because he was scared, but because it didn’t benefit him or his team to do it. That’s never happened before. It can’t be any coincidence that Lucic is playing angry since he was criticized for being overly docile as the Battle of the Alberta resumed.

23. Edmonton’s power play is at 29.5 per cent. According to NHL.com, the regular-season record is held by the 1979-80 New York Islanders, at 29.3 per cent. That’s quite a 59-game run.

24. Julien Gauthier is exactly the kind of player the New York Rangers are ready to take a chance with: a young forward who needs an NHL shot. Fourth in the AHL in goals (26), Gauthier couldn’t crack Carolina’s group and craved a better opportunity. He’s going to get it in Manhattan.

25. If Ryan Lindgren’s getting Brad Marchand’s attention, he’s doing something right.

26. As the Toronto Marlies came off the ice prior to Monday’s Family Day game against Binghamton, a number of players exchanged fist-bumps with a small boy who was there to watch. They didn’t wait for him to show his hand, they initiated. It was nice to see.

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27. At the 2018 All-Star Game in Tampa Bay, the host Lightning included something in its Fan Fair that caught the NHL’s eye: puppy adoptions.

“It wasn’t a core activity the league had planned, but the team took ownership,” Dave McCarthy, the NHL’s Vice-President of Consumer Products, said Tuesday morning. “We saw the reaction, and thought, ‘Maybe we can borrow this idea.’”

The league showcases the lifestyle of its products on the @everydayNHL Instagram page, and hosts a showroom at Fan Fair. The showroom includes outdoor items, kitchen items and things you’d use to decorate your fan-cave.

“It’s more than what you wear, it’s how you decorate your home, what you put in your car,” he said. “We wanted to try something with pets. Puppies and kittens for adoption. We could find them homes and promote our licensed products.” (The pups were dressed in Blues’ blankets, bandannas, sweaters, leashes and collars.)


28. Last August, Delaware became the first “no-kill” state in the U.S.A. (From CNN’s website: “For a state to be deemed ‘no-kill,’ it must achieve at least a 90 per cent save rate for all cats and dogs entering its shelters.”) On Jan. 1, 2019, St. Louis partnered with CARE STL to create such a shelter for its city. One of the first employees was Valerie Strobo, its Director of Development & Marketing.

“Animals create a more compassionate and empathetic community,” she says as we near the end of our conversation.

The Blues aren’t afraid to promote that. When David Backes captained the team, he and wife Kelly founded Athletes for Animals, and the club holds an annual adoption event, “Barking with the Blues.”

Goalie Jake Allen and wife Shannon have adopted in the past.

“(Shannon) told me, ‘There has to be a way for us to get involved,’ and put me in contact with @everydayNHL,” Strobo said, thanking NHL e-commerce co-ordinator Lauren Marinaro. “They told us, ‘We love your mission and we’d love to work with you.’ It was really exciting. We weren’t expecting puppies on a private jet.”

29. The private jet passenger was Mistletoe:

Born in the basement of an abandoned house, Mistletoe was adopted by Nashville captain Roman Josi and wife Ellie. Agent Kurt Overhardt adopted a brother and sister:

Strobo sent photos of puppies, kittens and bunnies in Blues gear. Some of them have hockey-related names, including Harlie Binnington, Harry Pastrnak and Pudge Pietrangelo:

Here’s a gratuitous shot of Connor Hellebuyck holding one:

Most importantly, it was a success for the shelter.

“Our adoption-application numbers tripled on the weekend,” Strobo said.

Added McCarthy, “We will do it again, and at other events, we are encouraging member clubs to do it.”

Here’s a link to the CARE STL website.

30. This is a little long, but I wanted to share it. It’s a text a minor hockey coach sent out a couple of weeks ago. Here goes:

Hello Team, now that the regular season is over and we head into the final weeks, I wanted to take a few minutes to share some thoughts with you. First of all I want to say how honoured I am to be one of your kids’ coaches. We have a great group of kids who love to play and we have a lot of fun together. We are also very fortunate to have a team that wins more often than not. One of the challenges this presents as a coach is that it can limit some good coaching opportunities because I believe that some of the best coaching moments come through facing adversity and yes, losing. I hate to lose and I hope that nobody ever gets used to it, but adversity and losing provide great teaching moments, and reveals character not only in the players, but also in us as coaches & parents. For me the character development of your child is far more important than any pass made, goal scored or championship won.

Hockey and all sports can be a great teacher, if you let it. As a coach, I want to challenge all of us as parents to look for the teaching moments in the game. If you’re spending more time worrying and complaining about missed passes, how much ice time your kid gets, who the first one on the ice should be, how fast or slow kids are, or complaining that someone isn’t good enough to play with your kid, you’re missing the whole point. Think about the opportunity to develop your child’s natural persistence, determination, discipline, dedication, resiliency, work ethic, heart, leadership skills, connection with and respect for others, not only in competition but in life! I had a coach once ask me what the difference between a good player and a great player was. He said good players are just good players, but a great player has the ability to make everyone around him better. I’d ask each of us, are we encouraging our kids to be just good, or great? How can your kid come to the rink and build up those around him and make everyone else better? Just as important, are you as a parent modelling positive behaviour and showing respect towards other kids on the team? I’ve played on great teams with average players, and average teams with great players. The point is that it takes a “team” to win, and the stronger that bond is, the better chance you have.

Hockey will end for our kids whether it be a year from now, after high school, college, or even if they win the lottery and play in the NHL, it will end. When it does, I hope that all of our kids will have learned and developed the character traits that will help them be successful when that time comes. I was blessed to play a lot of hockey in my life beyond minor hockey. I played Division I on a full scholarship, I signed with the Detroit Red Wings out of college at a time they had 15 Hall of Fame players on the team. I signed six NHL contracts over 10 years, and ended up playing more than 600 professional games in the AHL, NHL and Europe.

Many of you probably don’t know that they have a veteran rule in the AHL. Once you play 360 pro games you are considered a veteran and each team is only allowed to carry five of these guys. For a player to keep playing after 360 games is very difficult. The biggest reason I was able to do it was because of character. I was named a team captain eight out of the 10 years I played. I don’t say any of this boastfully, but in hopes that you will understand that there is so much more going on in the game.

It is a very difficult process transitioning out of hockey after 10 years and back into the real world, but it was all the things I mentioned above that enabled me to do it — and end up working for a Fortune 500 company leading the coaching and development for their sales force. Another benefit of playing hockey so long was that I got to see and experience a lot of different coaches and coaching styles. From the most demanding in Mike Babcock, to the ultimate players’ coach in Guy Gadowsky, from some of the best communicators and teachers (Bruce Boudreau), to coaches who had no business being in a position to develop a child or an athlete (these guys are the reason I coach because I see them every time I go to an arena, or I hear them on the benches next to ours, and I would never want them near my kid, or yours).

I don’t include myself when I say this, but I hope you all realize how fortunate your kids are to have the character and experience that your kids are getting at this level. Coaching is not an exact science, especially when you have 20 different personalities that need to be coached and motivated all a little differently. I believe there is a fine line at “10-under travel” because we have to remember that these kids are only 10. They’re not superstars who make every play, every time! They are also playing travel and that means they do need to have demands placed on them, to learn accountability, to be challenged, and to be coachable. As a coach and a parent, I would hope that these are the things being reinforced at home no matter what team you’re on. I’d love for these boys to have the experience of winning another league title, and everything I’ve talked about contributes in its own small or big way.

I hope I’ve provided a little different perspective on the game, and from behind the bench. I want to say again how honoured I am to have the opportunity to coach your kids. It’s not something I take lightly because I do realize how much more is at stake than ice time, how many goals you score, or winning a hockey game. Billy Graham said, “A coach will impact more people in one year than the average person will in an entire lifetime”, and I agree!

31. If you grew up with the original Blue Jays, chances are that one of your first favourites was 1979 American League Co-Rookie of the Year Alfredo Griffin. His reckless base running (which would cause serious social-media fainting today) made him a ton of fans.

I remember being shocked and appalled upon reading that a red-hot prospect was going to take Griffin’s job. His consecutive-games streak of 392 ended on May 27, 1984, when he appeared as a pinch-runner in the back end of a doubleheader. Even though he scored the winning run in a 6-5 win over Cleveland, pinch-running does not extend these streaks as per baseball rules. I still remember the photo in the Toronto Star the next day — Griffin looks angry even though the Jays have won. The guy who started at shortstop that day was Tony Fernandez.

Griffin was traded to Oakland the following winter, and Fernandez began a multi-stint lovefest with Blue Jays’ fans. We imitated his unique swing (well, his and Garth Iorg’s) and tried to make the same long-distance, off-balance flip throws from shortstop to first. (A friend smashed a coffee table in someone’s backyard with one errant attempt.)

I was lucky enough to cover him during his 1998 and 1999 returns to Toronto. One day, one of our producers (Brian Spear) was doing a feature on a coach, who was wearing a microphone. When he reviewed the tape, he started laughing at an exchange between the coach and Fernandez, who was on base. Fernandez took a huge lead and the coach asked what he was doing.

“I’m working on my jump,” was the answer.

It was politely suggested that maybe he work on it in a spot where he wouldn’t get picked off.

There was another game where he was thrown out by miles trying to stretch a double into a triple. A couple of us asked him about it. He didn’t say much, but a teammate piped up, “Tony loves triples. He always goes for them.” (Fernandez led the American League in 1990, with 17.)

But my favourite was one game where he drove in the game-winning run and celebrated like he’d won the World Series. The reason? Someone put up money for the person who did it. He had a smile big enough to drive an 18-wheeler through. Gone too soon.

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