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Among Canucks’ free agents, Tyler Toffoli should be priority #1

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Tyler Toffoli says he wants to stay. Can the Canucks make it happen?

Vegas Golden Knights v Vancouver Canucks - Game Six
Tyler Toffoli #73 and Antoine Roussel #26 of the Vancouver Canucks congratulate goaltender Thatcher Demko #35 after he shut out the Vegas Golden Knights 4-0 to tie the series 3-3 after Game Six of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on September 03, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta.
Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

For too long, the Vancouver Canucks littered their top-six with middling players.

That’s one reason why it was so refreshing to see Tyler Toffoli play for the Canucks this season — even if it was just for 17 games.

It clearly cost the Canucks to acquire Toffoli after losing a solid prospect in Tyler Madden, and a second-round pick in a draft where they were also missing a first-rounder.

But that alone isn’t why the Canucks should acquire Toffoli. Aside from the fact that it can be a fool’s folly to double-down on signing players after trading for them (i.e.: the Brandon Sutter contract), there are a few reasons why the Canucks should push hard to sign Toffoli.

1) He’s a solid play driver and an effective two-way player.

2) His work down low on the power play helped a strong unit become even more dangerous

3) This heat map is nice

4) If Toffoli leaves, the Canucks will have a pretty large hole in their top six for at least two more seasons.

I say at least two more seasons, because that’s when I realistically think Vasily Podkolzin could push for a top-six, if everything goes according to plan. Podkolzin’s KHL contract expires in April, so he could theoretically join the Canucks sometime later in the 2020-21 season.

However, I think on paper, you’re penciling him into a third-line role for at least one season before contemplating moving him up the line-up. A lot can change, of course, but the point is that you shouldn’t be banking on Podkozlin (or Nils Hoglander, for that matter) to become a top-six performer in the NHL immediately after making this team.

Now, depending on the report below, the idea that you should push hard for Toffoli makes even more sense if this is the ballpark for his next contract.

Tyler Toffoli is just coming off of a three-year contract with an average annual value of $4.6 million. He made $4.8 million this season in actual salary, so it’s fair to wonder if he would actually sign a contract where he doesn’t really get a raise.

However, you can look around the NHL, where two-thirds of the league are facing some serious cap crunches, and make an educated guess that a lot of players won’t be getting the raises they once recently expected. No cap increase = no guarantee of raises.

Of course, there are some teams who could realistically swoop in and offer Toffoli a better contract than the Canucks could offer. If you’re Toffoli though, you’re probably eyeing that spot alongside Pettersson and thinking, “this guy can extend my career.”

If the deal is something around that four-year, $5 million per year range, it think it makes sense for both the Canucks and Toffoli to make a reunion happen.

Of course, with any free agent deal, there’s a risk of Toffoli being less effective towards the end of that deal. However by then, at least some of the other onerous Canucks contracts will be vanquished.

Yes, even Luongo’s contract.

The 6’6” elephant in the room

So you might be wondering, why should Toffoli be the Canucks number one priority over Jacob Markstrom?

For me, that’s simply because the Canucks have an heir apparent to Markstrom in Thatcher Demko. They don’t have anyone to comfortably step-up into a top six role if Toffoli walks in free agency.

There will certainly be doubters that believe Demko is not ready for a starting role. Markstrom was also deservedly the Team’s MVP this season, and losing him would create a hole.

Markstrom is also 30 years old, and all reports suggest that him and his agent are pushing hard for expansion draft protection. If that’s the case, I think you have to put trust in the younger goaltender, especially one who’s been a highly-touted prospect and a successful goaltender at the college and pro levels for the last six years.

One other interesting stat between Markstrom and Demko as well is their quality start percentage (the number of games in which the starting goaltender had a save percentage above league average, which was .910). Demko has a quality start percentage of 60%, while Markstrom’s was at 58.3%.

That’s not to say Demko was a better goaltender, but I think many look at his 3.06 GAA and his .905 save percentage and think “damn, this dude is average.” In reality, he had a few bad games this season that skewed his stats, but overall he was putting up strong performances with the same consistency as Markstrom.

So, what you’re saying is...

That if you do believe, like me, that Demko is ready to be a number one goaltender, that means Markstrom can be replaced by a back-up goalie, or even a solid 1B netminder.

Do you know what’s harder to find than a backup netminder? A top-six forward.

It’s certainly a weird situation to be in if you’re a member of the Canucks management. Your MVP is essentially a spare part if you believe Demko is a number one goaltender, something Benning clearly reiterated after the playoffs concluded.

In a perfect world, the Canucks keep Markstrom and Demko, everything is hunky dory, and we forget that there’s a looming expansion draft.

That’s not the reality, of course. The reality is that the Canucks are facing a serious cap crunch with their two best players potentially 12 months away from taking up $20 million under the cap.

It means that there’s some tough decisions coming, and one of those is ranking the Canucks priorities among their free agents. If you look at how they’re constructed, with a top-heavy line-up and a talented young back-up goaltender who’s ready for an increased role, it only makes sense that Tyler Toffoli remains priority number one for the Canucks this offseason.

Well, aside maybe from shedding cap space, but that’s a rant for another day.