When Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning looks at the Western Conference, and more specifically the Pacific Division, what he undoubtedly sees is opportunity. And not without reason. As the Canucks awoke Monday morning, they found themselves one point off the division lead, only five points behind the top team in the conference and with a goal differential bested by only two clubs who could be potential pre-Stanley Cup final playoff opponents.
And so, with the opportunity arising and the deadline approaching, Benning paid the price he deemed necessary to upgrade his roster and made the first of what could be a few pre-trade deadline splashes for Vancouver. In a swap with the division rival Los Angeles Kings, the Canucks have acquired winger Tyler Toffoli in exchange for winger Tim Schaller, prospect Tyler Madden, a 2020 second-round pick and a conditional fourth-round selection in 2022 contingent on Toffoli re-signing in Vancouver.
Without question, this is a void-filling acquisition for the Canucks that provides an instant top-six upgrade. Despite a group that consists of Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat, Tanner Pearson and Brock Boeser – and more on him in a second – solidifying the top two lines was a necessity for the Canucks. There has long been a hole on the second line, one that has been filled by a rotating cast of characters that has included everyone from Josh Leivo to Jake Virtanen and even maligned veteran Loui Eriksson, who was considered a prime buyout candidate in the off-season.
Toffoli should put an end to the ever-changing composition of the second unit, however. In the midst of a campaign in which he was on pace for 25 goals and 47 points with a bottom-of-the-barrel Kings team, the 27-year-old possesses all of the characteristics the Canucks could want in a second-line winger. He skates well, he’s versatile and he can play in all situations. More than that, though, Toffoli is an excellent piece to add to the top-six puzzle because Vancouver is sure to benefit from the readymade chemistry that exists with past Kings teammate Pearson. The former ‘That ’70s Line’ duo will have a chance to rekindle that old chemistry, and if they round into that same form it’s sure to be a boon to the Canucks’ offense.
As much as the swap was about rounding out the top two lines, however, what surely pushed Benning to pull the trigger was the post-trade news that the Canucks will be without Boeser for at least three weeks. Almost immediately after the trade was made official, Vancouver announced the winger has suffered a rib cartilage fracture and will be sidelined for at least three weeks, at which point he’ll be re-evaluated. That’s a massive loss for the Canucks, who lose a top-line winger and first-unit power play scorer.
And while Vancouver is fighting for a spot atop the Pacific, the Canucks also aren’t all that far from falling out of the post-season entirely. Though Vancouver has games in hand and the second-best points percentage in the division, the Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes are a single point behind the Canucks in the Pacific standings. Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators are four points back with a game in hand. The Western Conference playoff picture is far from decided, and the last thing Vancouver could afford was to drop meaningful points because they failed to find a suitable replacement for Boeser during the stretch run.
To be sure, too, the Canucks paid a high price to add the top-six forward they sought and mitigate the loss of Boeser, especially as it pertains to the second-round choice and Madden. If Vancouver makes the post-season, they were already set to be without their first-round choice in 2020 as a result of the summer acquisition of Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning. (That pick has since been sent to the New Jersey Devils as part of the Bolts’ acquisition of Blake Coleman.) Monday’s deal means the Canucks could be left without draft choices in either of the first two rounds.
And Madden is by no means a minor asset. The 20-year-old Northeastern University standout was considered one of the only blue-chip center prospects in the Canucks’ system and his broad skillset gave him potential to be an NHL roster fixture sooner rather than later. It could be said, though, that Madden was among the more expendable of the premiere prospects in Vancouver’s system. If he would have cracked the big club as a pivot, he would have been stuck behind Pettersson, Horvat and quite possibly Adam Gaudette on the depth chart. Miller, too, has the ability to play down the middle. There was a logjam.
But the payment is a bit easier to stomach when considering there’s a legitimate possibility that the second, Madden and the other two assets, which amount to cap-balancing and pot-sweetening throw-ins, will balance out the Canucks’ acquisition of a legitimate long-term asset for their top six. Again, Toffoli possesses the attributes necessary to be that player, and with $18-million and change in projected cap space this summer and a need to supplement the existing pieces with another high-quality scorer, Vancouver should be able to fit him into their salary structure should they so choose. And if he’s a fit in the present, a fit in the future and can help the Canucks punch their ticket to the post-season – and maybe even win a round or two – you can rest assured this will be looked back upon as a deal that was well worth making.
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