VANCOUVER – If you didn’t understand the Tyler Toffoli trade when it was first reported, it made a lot more sense at 6:04 p.m. PT on Monday.
That’s when Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning, after confirming he had surrendered Tim Schaller, a solid prospect in Tyler Madden and a second-round pick to get Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings, announced in a press release that heavy forward Micheal Ferland is out for the season with a concussion and first-line winger Brock Boeser will miss another three weeks – minimum – with fractured rib cartilage.
The Canucks may need Toffoli to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Benning, who will explain the trade at a press conference Tuesday morning, told Sportsnet in December that he hoped to add another top-six winger this season. That search became a little more urgent when Boeser’s injury on Feb. 8 against Calgary was followed six days later by another failed comeback by Ferland, who lasted only one period of an AHL game before going back to the injured list with concussion symptoms that have limited him to just 14 NHL games this season.
Boeser has played 56 games — without any goals in the last 11 of them — and there is no way to know when he will play his 57th.
Toffoli was always one of the Canucks’ preferred options because he is a proven supporting scorer who plays the fast, direct, heavy game that Vancouver coach Travis Green preaches, and should fit instantly alongside Bo Horvat and former Kings linemate Tanner Pearson.
After enduring his worst season last year in the NHL, with just 13 goals and 34 points in 82 games, Toffoli is having a bounce-back campaign. His hat trick in his final game with the Kings, Saturday’s 3-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche, gave the 27-year-old 18 goals and 34 points in 58 games.
His 18 goals would be third on the Canucks, one ahead of Horvat and Pearson.
Toffoli has been among the NHL’s most active shooters the last 10 weeks and led the Kings with an even-strength shots-for percentage of 57.4, which is backed up by an expected-goals-for percentage of 57.3.
Toffoli is on an expiring contract paying him $4.6 million, which is why it was important for the Canucks to pass on to the Kings depth forward Tim Schaller and his bloated $1.9-million cap hit. But the newest Canuck is young enough to re-sign, and the team hopes that if Toffoli is successful with Horvat and his old buddy, Pearson, he will want to stay in Vancouver.
The Canucks, however, need to re-sign starting goalie Jacob Markstrom and would like to re-sign defenceman Chris Tanev, another potential unrestricted free agent, so it would be naïve for now to think of Toffoli as anything but a rental.
He should make the Canucks better, and he could prove vital if Boeser stays on the injured list. Green has replaced Boeser on the first power-play unit with checking centre Brandon Sutter. We’re pretty sure Toffoli is an upgrade.
But unless you win the Stanley Cup, all rental trades must be gauged by costs in the future.
After all, Derek Roy for a second-round pick and Kevin Connauton seemed like a reasonable idea for the Canucks as a deadline rental back in 2013.
Madden, a 2018 third-round pick who is having an outstanding sophomore season at Northeastern University, is a good prospect. But he is also a 160-pound centre who wasn’t going to play ahead of Horvat, Elias Pettersson and Adam Gaudette anytime in the next several years.
If you listed the Canucks’ top-five prospects, Madden doesn’t make it. Vancouver is keeping Vasily Podkolzin, Nils Hoglander, Olli Juolevi, Kole Lind and Mike DiPietro. There are probably at least another couple of prospects ahead of Madden.
The real cost to the Canucks is that second-round pick, which was not expected to be in play this deadline because Benning surrendered his first-rounder to get J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning last June. Miller has merely been one of the best three Canucks all season, so no one is asking for a do-over on that one.
Toffoli was one of the better rental wingers available and Benning and his staff obviously felt in the wake of Boeser’s injury that this was a deal the Canucks needed and could afford.
The right winger is expected to practise with the Canucks on Tuesday. Vancouver plays the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday and is just 2-4-1 in its last seven games.
The Canucks were passed in the Pacific Division by the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday and the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday. Vancouver’s playoff cushion has deflated to just four points, which may be another reason Benning was motivated to move for Toffoli now rather than waiting until nearer Monday’s trade deadline to check on NHL inventory and prices.
But beyond the Canucks’ present scuffling, remember they are still further ahead in their evolution than most people expected them to be with 23 games to go. They led their division for a month, boast a potent attack driven by rising stars in Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, and still have a goalie in Markstrom under contract who should be a Vezina Trophy candidate this season.
They’ve also beaten nearly every top team in a Western Conference that is without a formidable giant. No team is fearful of what they’ll find should they make the playoffs. They just need to get there. The Canucks believe they have as a good a chance as anyone. And on Tuesday they got a little bit better.