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Canucks trade for Toffoli as playoff race intensifies in Pacific Division

February 18, 2020, 12:21 PM ET [442 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Vancouver Canucks were off the ice on Monday after dropping a disappointing 5-1 decision to the Anaheim Ducks as they wrapped up Sedin Week with a Sunday matinee.

For a team with one of the best home records in the NHL, that's two four-goal losses to division rivals during this homestand — along with a pair of Markstrom-driven wins against Nashville and Chicago.

Things get tougher from here. The Minnesota Wild come to town Wednesday for their second game under new coach Dean Evason — still gunning for the postseason even though they're now seven points out of the wild card. And the homestand wraps up Saturday against the Boston Bruins, who are 9-1-0 in their last 10 games, beat the Canucks 4-0 in Boston two weeks ago and are currently one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning, in first place overall in the league.

Following next Monday's trade deadline, the team hits the road for four games in six nights, with stops in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Columbus. Those last two games are the first of four sets of back-to-back games still remaining on the busy schedule that rounds out the season, with three of them on the road.

The Canucks are now 2-4-0 in their last six games, so it's no wonder that they've slipped in the Pacific Division standings.

The recent schedule has done them no favours over the past few days, too. Here's how their Pacific Rivals have fared since Vancouver last picked up points, in its win over Chicago last Wednesday:

Edmonton: 2-1-0
Vegas: 3-0-0
Calgary: 2-1-0
Arizona: 2-1-0

The Canucks have had more time off — and didn't win the one game they did play. So, they wake up Tuesday morning sitting third in the Pacific Division — which is starting to bunch back up like it did at the All-Star Break:

1. Edmonton Oilers - 70 pts - 27 regulation wins - 59 games played
2. Vegas Golden Knights - 70 pts - 24 regulation wins - 61 games played
3. Vancouver Canucks - 69 pts - 25 regulation wins - 59 games played

4. Calgary Flames - 68 pts - 21 regulation wins - 61 games played
5. Arizona Coyotes - 68 pts - 23 regulation wins - 62 games played

The Canucks are in reasonably good shape in terms of both games in hand and regulation wins — the new tiebreaker this year, no longer regulation and overtime wins. But that still means that they'll need to keep pace with their rivals. Their winning percentage to date is 0.585. If they can maintain that pace the rest of the way, they'd gain just under 27 more points in their final 23 games. That would put them at 96 for the year — which should be a playoff number.

Among the five Pacific teams, the issue is only placement, for now. The Sharks, Ducks and Kings are effectively out of the running. But on the Central side, Nashville and Winnipeg are still hanging around. Since their loss last week in Vancouver, the Preds have won three straight. They're now 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and just three points out of the wild card, with 65 points.

Winnipeg's also at 65 after snapping a two-game losing streak with a win over Chicago on Sunday. And while all the key Pacific teams are idle on Tuesday, the Preds and Sharks are both in action Tuesday night and could narrow the margin even further. Nashville hosts Carolina while Winnipeg is at home to the Kings. A win for either, or both, would put them one point out of the wild-card, and two points behind the Canucks.

I think this landscape is important when thinking about the context of Monday's trade for Tyler Toffoli. When Jim Benning gave up a first-round draft pick for J.T. Miller at the draft last year, he signalled that he had the playoffs in his sights this season. Now, with the trade deadline less than a week away, that possibility is still on the table — but is far from guaranteed.

Benning has spoken often about wanting to trade for a top-six winger, and Toffoli certainly fits that bill. The 27-year-old peaked at 31 goals and 58 points in 2015-16 and is two goals away from hitting 20 this season, for the fourth time in his career. He's leading in goals on a Kings team that has struggled for a second-straight year. He also has a Stanley Cup on his resume and scored 14 points in 26 games with L.A. in 2014. And, of course, he's best known for playing alongside Tanner Pearson, who is already in the fold in Vancouver and has revitalized his career since joining the Canucks at the 2019 trade deadline.

I tend to think of Pearson and Toffoli playing with Jeff Carter on That '70s Line. It is funny to remember that Benning has always had his eye on them — the centre on their "kid line" when they first came up was our old pal Linden Vey, who's having another terrific season for CSKA Moscow in the KHL this year.

For the most part, I haven't seen the need to acquire scoring help on the wing. The Canucks already have a glut of those players — and a salary-cap crunch. But at this moment, I think the trade makes sense, given the challenges awaiting the team on the road to the playoffs — and this injury news.



I'm mostly glad to hear that Micheal Ferland is being shut down for the season. Sad for him, that his concussion issues persist, but happy that he'll have another long window to try to get better. And, of course, the Canucks can now use his cap space, knowing that he'll stay on long-term injured reserve.

A prognosis of three more weeks for Brock Boeser's rib injury also conveniently takes him to the stage when he and his $5.875 million can be placed on LTIR. That hasn't been reported yet, but CapFriendly did move Josh Leivo, Tyler Graovac and Tyler Motte to LTIR on Monday, after the trade.

Motte was injured January 29 in San Jose, so he's currently at eight games and 20 days on IR. Though he practiced on Saturday in a full-contact jersey, if he's on LTIR now, that would suggest that he won't be available to return until the beginning of the road trip, next week.

I would expect that Toffoli will slot in on right wing with Pearson and Bo Horvat, replacing Loui Eriksson, who replaced Leivo. Boeser's absence makes scoring on the right side even more of a priority — especially now that Jake Virtanen has cooled off again.

Jake hit a new career high with his 16th goal of the year against Nashville last week, but that's his only point in the last eight games, following the surge where he had 2-4-6 in four games between January 16-29, on either side of the All-Star Game.

As for the asking price — yeah, it's kind of a lot. But Kings general manager Rob Blake made it clear what he was looking for. And I saw Elliotte Friedman report on Sportsnet on Monday night that the Canucks thought they'd lost out on Toffoli on Sunday, only to become the winning bidder on Monday.

Did that require a sweetening of the pot? Probably.

I posted my initial thoughts on the deal on a Twitter thread on Monday evening.

Tim Schaller — I figured he'd be gone if they could move him. He's now on an expiring contract, and was never really a fit with the Canucks.

Tyler Madden — I'm not surprised he's the prospect who got moved. I've been a fan of Madden's big heart ever since I saw him at the Canucks' Summer Showcase after he was drafted in 2018, and became even more impressed by what he brought when he played his way onto Team USA at the 2019 World Junior Championship, where he won a silver medal. For a little guy, he plays big. And even though I bought into his own rhetoric about how his 155-pound frame hasn't held him back, I do wonder if that'll be an impediment when he steps up to the next level.

Madden might be a prospect that makes us sad down the road. But I'm not sure his success is a given — and with the Canucks pretty deep down the middle for the moment with Petey, Horvat, Gaudette and Beagle, it's not like there would have been a spot opening up for him with the big club anytime soon — although they sure could use a guy like him in Utica!

After winning his third-straight Beanpot with Northeastern last week, Madden broke his finger in a weekend game. He'll be on the shelf for 4-6 weeks, which probably hurts his chances at the Hobey Baker Award, and may hurt Northeastern's chances of advancing through the NCAA playoffs. There was some talk that he'd turn pro at the end of this season. I wonder if the injury or the trade end up altering that timeline. He's only at the end of his second college season, so he still has some time.

I'm probably most bummed about the second-round draft pick that Benning sent to the Kings. That's what Blake was looking for — but if the plan works out and the Canucks make the playoffs, that'll mean they don't pick till the third round in what's believed to be quite a deep draft. Of course, if they miss, the first-round pick they sent to the Lightning for J.T. Miller — which got flipped to New Jersey on Sunday as part of the Blake Coleman deal — will be deferred to next season. And if they miss, they'd be in the draft lottery this June — although probably with very long odds of moving up to the top three.

Speaking of Coleman, the Lightning gave up a lot to get him, as well — and the fact that the normally reliable Renaud Lavoie of TVA erroneously reported earlier on Sunday that Coleman had been dealt to the Colorado Avalanche suggests to me that there was a bidding war for him, too.

Big picture — with so many teams still trying to get into a playoff spot, there aren't many sellers this year. And when assets are scarce, prices go up.

After Mikko Rantanen crashed into the boards on Monday night and suffered an injury that's expected to keep him out for "weeks," I wondered what Colorado might have been willing to pay for Toffoli today? Joe Sakic has a good team that's looking to take another step — and a ton of cap space. Toffoli would have been a good fit to help replace Rantanen, so Benning might not have gotten his man if he'd balked at the price on Monday, or tried to put things off for another day.

Benning and Toffoli are both speaking at Rogers Arena on Tuesday, where the Canucks are practicing. I'm headed there shortly and will be reporting on the availability; I'll post the link to the story on my Twitter @pool88 when it's live.
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