How long does it take to get over an ex? Ask five different people this question and you could get five different answers. For the Vancouver Canucks, it’s now been over three months since Canuck-for-ten-games Tyler Toffoli left town and they are still heartbroken.
“We have a lot of new pieces, we lost some pretty good players last year.” said Quinn Hughes after the team lost 3-1 on Monday night, a game in which their losing streak was extended to five.
It wasn’t just Toffoli who left — Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher and Josh Leivo all moved teams — but Toffoli has been the one on people’s minds after his eight goals in five games against Vancouver.
Toffoli’s redemption tour has thus far played out like a movie, especially when you consider the fact that he made it no secret that he wanted to return to Vancouver this offseason.
To make things even more frustrating for Canucks fans — and players it seems like from recent comments — Jim Benning said the reason why they weren’t able to bring Toffoli back was because he “ran out of time” in a recent interview with Ben Kuzma.
The other players that walked this offseason were significant pieces as well. Jacob Markstrom was arguably the team’s MVP last season and Chris Tanev was one of the longest-tenured Canucks and it’s well known the parental role he played for many of the younger players.
No team would want to lose players and people of this quality, but the Canucks were not comfortable matching the offers and decided to let them walk. For most of them, it was an objectively good decision not to offer a long-term risky contract to players approaching an age where many regress.
The issue lies in the shadow that these players still hold over the Canucks, their names never far from the headlines or post-game press conferences despite the fact that they are no longer members of the team.
The Canucks are a young team with a bright future ahead of them, they need to be moving forward not be stuck in the past.
The Hockey Side of Things
This team relied heavily on departed players but their absence doesn't come close to explaining the current state of the team. Nate Schmidt and Braden Holtby were brought in to try to replace — to some extent — Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev. While they haven’t done it fully, they've both played some solid hockey.
Schmidt has a 47.69 xG% and has helped the Canucks share exactly half of the high-danger chances while he’s on the ice. Considering that the team is 6-10 and has been quite bad for long stretches of time, those numbers aren’t bad. Similarly, Holtby hasn’t been outstanding but he’s been far from the issue.
Toffoli was only in Vancouver for ten regular-season games, didn’t play in the playoff series victory over St. Louis, and Nils Höglander has looked very comfortable helping round out the top-six in his absence.
These absences hurt but it isn't as if the Canucks didn’t address them. Still, game after game where the Canucks look terrible in their own end and someone will somehow find a way to bring up the departure of these players post-game.
The Off-Ice Side of Things
It’s clear that these were well-liked players in the dressing room and that for the young core, it might’ve been tough for them to see team leaders treated so poorly in offseason negotiations.
Yet professional sports is a business first and foremost and that’s a point that needs to be hammered in. If the lackadaisical efforts put forward by some of the players are due to dissatisfaction with the moves of management, that’s something that needs to be addressed immediately.
Everyone was disappointed in losing those players but it’s not a storyline that should be getting this much airtime this far into the season, and definitely not something that players should be brought up after their fifth consecutive loss.
For a young team that’s figuring out how hard it is to keep winning in the NHL, losing streaks like this will happen, especially considering the amount of hockey they have played in the past month. But moving forward the focus needs to shift from the amazing players that left the organization to the bright future waiting for it.
Canucks, It’s time to get over your exes and focus on building chemistry with those that are playing alongside you right now.
Editor’s Note: Tune into the latest episode of the Power of the Towel podcast on the Nucks Misconduct Network, as Noah Strang joins host Nick Bondi.