For the first time in a long time the Vancouver Canucks approach the All Star break poised to make the playoffs and perhaps even win a divisional crown. Since their bye time from league play precedes the star-studded weekend, they will have a full eight days of gameless-ness between games.
While the players (except for All Stars Jacob Markstrom, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes) rest and rejuvenate their weary bodies, general manager Jim Benning and his brain trust will make their plans for their final chance this season to improve their roster for a potential long second season starting in April.
Heading into their final pre All Star/Bye week game against San Jose tomorrow, the Orca-wearers are in relatively good health. They have three players currently out of the line-up with injuries.
AHL depth forward Tyler Graovac has been sidelined by a lower body injury since December 2nd, 2019. There has been no recent information on his rehabilitation status but when he is able to play again he will likely be returned to Utica.
Josh Leivo suffered a fractured kneecap on December 21st, 2019 and is expected to be back on the active roster some time between the end of February and the end of March.
Michael Ferland is believed to be suffering from symptoms related to a prior concussion which arose on December 10th, 2019. He is expected to return to the line-up after the All Star/Bye week break is over. However, there is no guarantee if or when he returns that he will be willing or able to play the physical style he needs to play in order to be effective.
If Ferland and Leivo return on schedule and are able to play at their best then the Canucks’ forward group may not need any upgrades. If Loui Eriksson continues his recent strong play with the Bo Horvat/Tanner Pearson duo, they may in fact have many more healthy and capable forwards then the maximum 12 who usually suit up in a game.
However, Jim Benning has previously expressed a desire to obtain an additional top six forward and the likely ideal candidate to play with Horvat and Pearson is said to be available.
Toffoli played with Tanner Pearson on the same line for the Los Angeles Kings’ 2013 Stanley Cup Championship team. Prior to that they had chemistry playing on the Kings’ AHL affiliate together. On paper, it appears a second line of Bo Horvat centering the familiar duo would be an upgrade worth making.
Toffoli has scored 133 goals and 283 points in 505 regular season games to-date and has also notched 21 points in 47 career playoff games. His best NHL season was in 2015/16 when he tallied 31 goals and 58 points. This season on a bad Kings’ club he has bent-the-mesh for 12 goals and added 15 assists for 27 points in 48 games.
The 27 year old Scarborough, Ontario native is still in the prime of his career. However, he is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the season currently making $4.6M a year and is no doubt looking for a multi-year long term contract extension at an increased salary and likely would only be a rental for the Canucks.
Is the short-term upgrade for a better shot at playoff success now worth for example Kole Lind and a second round pick or perhaps even more or better assets? If you think it is worth it how do you make space for Toffoli’s contract under the Canucks’ current Salary Cap? Benning and crew may be faced with a tough decision or decisions if they decide Toffoli is a must add to the team.
The other likely available right winger UFA rental is Wayne Simmonds of the New Jersey Devils but he is now well past his top six forward due date.
The other option would be to target a top six right winger who might be available in a hockey trade i.e. with term left on his contract. One possibility is Kyle Palmieri (currently disabled by a left foot fracture he received on January 12th, 2020) of the New Jersey Devils who is said to possibly be available in a trade. He is a consistent 25 to 30 goal scorer and like Toffoli would be a major upgrade on Horvat’s line. He is under contract for one more season after this one at a $4.65M Cap hit. To make it work the Devils would probably have to take back a Brandon Sutter or Loui Eriksson contract in the deal with some major young talent added including at least one of Tyler Madden, Nils Hoglander or Vasily Podkolzin. Benning and his crew will not have an easy decision to make if they think Kyle Palmieri gives them a real shot now at a lengthy playoff success in April.
The Canucks have a solid defence corps of seven. There are no UFA defencemen rentals that would be an upgrade on the current group. The only intriguing defenceman likely available in a trade is an underperforming and ageing P.K. Subban. But his $9.0M Cap hit for this season plus two more seasons would likely be prohibitive unless the Devils agreed to retain significant salary and take on Loui Eriksson’s $6.0M Cap hit along with Troy Stecher in return. Stecher has an arbitration hammer to play this summer when he is an RFA and will be seeking a large raise on his current $2.33M salary.
The blue-and-greens goaltending is in fine hands along with great depth. No adds or subtractions at this position are likely prior to the Trade Deadline.
The Canucks currently have six UFAs on their NHL squad. The rule-of-thumb is that you should trade pending UFAs so that you get assets in return for them instead of just letting them walk away for no return.
There is zero chance that Jim Benning deals his number one goalie prior to the Trade Deadline. It is far more likely that a contract extension in the neighbourhood of four to six years in a salary range of $5.5M to $6.5M is announced prior to then.
Even if there is no contract extension agreement prior to the Deadline, the Canucks will keep him as an own-rental and continue to try and hammer out an agreement with his agent before he becomes an UFA on July 1st, 2020.
There is also no chance that the Canucks trade away Quinn Hughes’ defence partner, mentor and calming presence on or before February 24th.
I don’t think Vancouver’s management team has yet decided whether to try and re-sign him or let him walk away this summer. But I do think they will definitely keep him as an own-rental.
Josh Leivo, Tim Schaller, Oscar Fantenberg, Tyler Graovac
It is unlikely that the Canucks intend to re-sign any of these four skaters for next season. It is more likely time to replace them with younger and/or cheaper Utica Comets’ graduates and fresh rookies as the club continues to move forward and increase their talent level.
It is also unlikely that any of the group of four would garner anything of substance in a Deadline deal that would be greater than their value as roster depth through the playoffs of attrition.
At the end of the day, it is unlikely that Jim Benning will make a significant trade for a rental skater or engineer a major player-for-player hockey-type deal prior to the February 24th NHL Trade Dealine.
It is also equally unlikely that he cashes in any chips on his pending UFAs.
He is most likely to stick with his current group of players. In the event his troops dwindle in a lengthy playoff season they will be replaced by up-and-coming Utica players like Zack MacEwen, Kole Lind, Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty and late possible additions like Nikita Tryamkin, Jett Woo, Tyler Madden and Nils Hoglander.
While it should be an uneventful Trade Deadline for the Vancouver Canucks and their fans, there is always the slim possibility that an unexpected major trade comes together that makes sense for both parties. Jim Benning will certainly be working hard on his cell phone between now and then to make that happen. It should be a fun month or so in the lead up to February 24th as the rumours start flying soon after the All Star weekend ends.
These guys are accountable, they fight hard for each other, never give up. I like this quote: “It’s not the team with the best players, it’s the players with the best team.”— Francesco Aquilini (@fr_aquilini) December 30, 2019