Wednesday February 19 - Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild - 7:30 p.m. - Sportsnet Pacific, Sportsnet 650
Vancouver Canucks: 59 GP, 32-22-5, 69 pts, third in Pacific Division
Minnesota Wild: 58 GP, 27-24-7, 61 pts, sixth in Central Division
With trade rumours flying and news bombs exploding around them, the Vancouver Canucks will hit the ice with new acquisition Tyler Toffoli and try to collect two important points against the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday night at Rogers Arena.
Note the late start time — the game gets underway at 7:30 p.m.
After being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night, Toffoli made his way to Vancouver from Winnipeg, where the Kings dropped a 6-3 decision to the Jets on Tuesday. He was in uniform for the Canucks' practice on Tuesday morning, and spoke to the media afterward.
To read up on that, as well as Jim Benning's press conference from Tuesday morning, you can click here
to read my summary of the day's activities, written for the Canadian Press.
The short version:
• Jim Benning wants to get out of the 'black hole' and give his team a chance to make the playoffs this year.
• He sees the Toffoli acquisition as a reward to his players and coaching staff for the job they've done this year.
• Despite how much he has talked about wanting to acquire a top-six scorer, he said he probably wouldn't have acquired Toffoli if not for the severity of Brock Boeser's current injury. The timeline is now eight weeks — from the date of injury — which basically runs to the beginning of playoffs.
• He felt he could afford to part with Tyler Madden because he believes, "conservatively" that the club has seven legitimate prospects who could be with the team in the next 2-3 years. When added to the young players who are already on the roster, that could mean more than half the team will be under 25 in three years' time.
• Now without a first or second-round pick in 2020 if the Canucks do make the playoffs, Benning said he'd try to acquire more picks in the offseason, heading into the draft.
• Oh yeah: in addition to Boeser's new timeline, Benning also said that Josh Leivo is expected to be out for the rest of the regular season and that Micheal Ferland has now officially been shut down for the year.
• And one other thing: contract negotiations with impending UFA Jacob Markstrom are now on hold until the offseason. Benning said Markstrom wants to concentrate on hockey between now and the end of the year.
Benning was non-committal about whether or not he'd make more deals before next Monday's trade deadline, but admitted more trades would be difficult to make without a first or second-rounder to offer up.
Benning made it crystal clear that he sees Toffoli as a replacement for Boeser — and Travis Green treated him likewise, running him on a line with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller and on the first power-play unit at practice on Tuesday.
It certainly wouldn't be surprising to see a Ferland replacement come in as well — and Wayne Simmonds' name is still being connected to Vancouver.
Troy Stecher is also rumoured to be available. Stecher's an RFA with arbitration rights this summer, who is making $2.325 million this season. There has been plenty of chatter that the Canucks won't have room to fit his next contract under their current cap structure, and think they can fill his role more inexpensively.
As for whether or not the Canucks *need* a replacment for Ferland — I do think we have seen a good overall increase in Team Toughness since Matt Grzelcyk's late hit on Elias Pettersson in Boston a couple of weeks ago. That's the attitude that'll be needed down the stretch and into the playoffs. As I've said previously, I do like Simmonds' snarl and his team-first attitude — and I tend to agree with Benning, that the prospect cupboard is pretty full.
The trick is deciding *which* prospects you think you can part with. It's still a gamble, trying to determine who will pan out and who might not do as well. I think Canucks fans are still scarred by the Cam Neely trade to Boston, which took place nearly 34 years ago!
As Ed Willes of The Province
points out in his latest column
, the seeds of the Toffoli trade "were planted two summers ago when the Aquilini ownership group rejected Trevor Linden’s vision for a rebuild and endorsed Benning’s. Linden told the owners it will take four years for the Canucks to challenge in the West. Benning said it could be done in a tighter window.
"The Aquilinis liked the sound of Benning’s plan better."
Since Linden parted ways with the team, Benning has been true to his word and gotten the Canucks back into playoff contention.
It should be no surprise that he's now pushing in all his chips. The Pacific Division remains wide open and he's getting world-class goaltending from Markstrom — who might not end up being with the club long-term if either (a) his contract demands get too high or (b) the Canucks do sign him, but then decide to go young and expose him in next year's expansion draft.
The Markstrom situation does create some urgency. Goaltending might not be in the same space a couple of years down the road, when Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are hypothetically expected to be "more prepared" because they'll be closer to their prime years.
Also — if the Canucks fall short this season, Benning's tenure as general manager could very well come to an end.
That could still happen — the Jets' win over L.A. on Tuesday night moved them just one point behind Calgary and Arizona, who are currently in the wild-card spots, and two points behind Vancouver. With Vancouver's light schedule over the next week, it's not a stretch to envision them falling out of a playoff spot over the next few days — even if they do beat Minnesota on Wednesday.
The game to watch on the out-of-town scoreboard tonight is Arizona at Dallas. The Coyotes have won their last two games and if they beat the Stars tonight while Vancouver loses to the Wild, they'll bump the Canucks into the first wild-card position.
With all that in mind, I feel like the Canucks' second season begins tonight. Let's see what they can deliver against the Wild.
As I'm sure you heard, Minnesota GM Bill Guerin said he had a playoff spot in mind for his team when he pulled the trigger and fired head coach Bruce Boudreau late last week.
That's a tall order. Heading into Wednesday's action, the Wild are seven points out of a wild-card spot in the West, with two teams to pass, although they do have some games in hand.
Guerin complained about his team's lack of urgency in Boudreau's last game, when the Wild blew a 3-1 lead and lost 4-3 in a shootout to the New York Rangers on home ice last Thursday.
The Wild's first game under new boss Dean Evason didn't go any better; they were shut out by San Jose on home ice on Saturday. Evason has now had a few days to work with his team, but there isn't a lot of intel yet on changes he's made.
Thanks to the presence of Mats Zuccarello, the line listing I found on Twitter this morning is in Norwegian.
When I ran it through the translator, it basically says "Since we haven't heard anything different, we'll assume the lines will run like this against Vancouver." So, take that for what it's worth.
I do know that the Wild are kicking off their annual Dads' Trip on Wednesday against Vancouver — and that the Canucks have gone 1-1-0 against the Wild this year, beating them 4-1 at Xcel Energy Center in January, then losing 4-2 in Minnesota a couple of weeks ago.
After a couple of aborted attempts over the last year, Jason Zucker was finally traded last week — to Pittsburgh — in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk plus a prospect and a pick. And keep an eye out for Kevin Fiala. He's pointless in his last two games but before that, he'd gone 5-5-10 in Minnesota's previous five games and scored the game winner against the Canucks on February 6.
Wednesday's morning skate is optional for the Canucks. It's now confirmed that Jacob Markstrom returns to the net after getting a day off Sunday in the loss to the Wild. Also, Tyler Motte is back and Oscar Fantenberg skated for a second-straight day, in a full-contact jersey.
To close today — something very cool. The Utica Comets are getting an outdoor game next season!
I'll leave it there for now. Enjoy the game!