In this edition of Vancouver Canucks News & Rumors, I’ll focus on what we’ve heard about two key free agents the team could – and I believe wants to – sign. First, I’ll share what I’ve heard and read about newcomer Tyler Toffoli, who came to the Canucks at the trade deadline and looked to fit perfectly into the team’s chemistry and lineup.
Second, I’ll look at the player – goalie Jacob Markstrom – who’s been arguably the team’s MVP for the season and was a huge part of their success getting into the postseason and winning once they got there.
Free Agent #1: Toffoli Moves from Being Willing to Stay to Wanting to Stay
I love the direct approach. Just after the Canucks season was over, Toffoli’s agent Pat Brisson announced that his client was “open to having discussions with Jim Benning at the appropriate time.” Now, a more recent announcement by the Toffoli camp states directly that he wants to stay in Vancouver. I have to believe that the Canucks want him to stay as well. The issue will be working out the details.
Toffoli is eligible for unrestricted free agency, but as far as desire goes he wants to be part of this surprising Canucks team as it moves into the future. In supporting his client, Brisson clarified, “Tyler was a strong addition to the Canucks at the deadline. He loved the city, the team and enjoyed his time in Vancouver.”
A few days ago, Toffoli weighed in to state his desires. He couldn’t have been clearer: “I want to stay in Vancouver and that’s my number one priority as of right now. It’s definitely an exciting time to be in Vancouver and it’s definitely something that people want to be a part of now.”
From the moment Toffoli hit the ice after being picked up from the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline, he was a good fit with the Canucks. For a scorer, he was in heaven. He played on the first line with Canucks’ leading scorer J.T. Miller and young second-year star Elias Pettersson. That line just worked. In addition, head coach Travis Green put him on the top power-play unit and Toffoli contributed effectively and immediately.
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Although Toffoli admitted he wasn’t 100-percent healthy when he returned to postseason play after suffering a lower-body injury, he certainly made his on-ice presence felt anyway. Now he wants more: he wants to a key part of the roster when the 2020-21 regular season begins.
The Canucks – actually any NHL team – needs scoring, and Toffoli showed he could score. During the small part of the regular season he played with the team, he scored six goals and had 10 points in 10 games. During the postseason, even playing hurt, he scored two goals and two assists in seven games.
Perhaps the Canucks offense can help Toffoli bring back some of the scoring prowess he showed early in his career. For example, about five seasons ago the 28-year-old Toffoli scored 31 goals with the Kings (2015-16), and he might be the kind of player who becomes more productive on a team like Vancouver where he could serve as a complementary offensive player and not the main scorer.
Here’s hoping Benning might find a way to allow Toffoli to stay with the Canucks; however, clearing the salary cap might be tough when one considers what other soon-to-be free agents the team has – including Markstrom.
Free Agent #2: Markstrom: One of Two Good Goalies?
With success comes the expectation of more success, and Benning has a lot of work to do as he tries to figure out how to keep this successful Canucks’ core together. The team engaged a postseason and playoff run that saw them surprisingly win two series – one against the reigning Stanley Cup champions – and then lose in the dying minutes of a seventh game to a really strong Vegas Golden Knights team.
Although I’ve written about him second in my Canucks’ free-agent list, Markstrom has to be Benning’s first priority. He admitted as much when he noted, “Jacob’s an important guy in our group because he’s a leader and he was our MVP over the course of the regular season. We’re going to try to figure out a way that makes sense for us and that makes Jacob and his agent happy to get him signed. We want him back.”
Even in the shadow of Thatcher Demko’s coming out party against the Golden Knights, Benning is clear that he wants to re-sign Markstrom so the team can have two good goalies on the roster for next season. His preference is obviously to have both Markstrom and Demko signed as a regular part of the team’s roster for 2020-21, but he acknowledged that might not be the end result.
Benning acknowledged, “Markstrom has earned the right to test the market.”
Although he is probably correct and it would be wise for Markstrom’s agent to test the market, my best sense from tracking both parties all season is that both want the same thing. Markstrom wants to stay in Vancouver, and the Canucks want him to stay.
However, it’ll be quite interesting to see how any negotiations play out – that is if we hear anything about these at all. If Markstrom’s salary demands are too high, will Benning let him walk? And, what is “too” high?
There certainly will be other takers on the market. Furthermore, as I’ve reported in an earlier post, there’s been encouragement from hockey insider Nick Kypreos to give Demko the keys to the bus and let him drive it.
During an interview on TSN 1040, Benning noted, “I learned before I got here, this market needs two good goalies with the amount of travel that Canucks do in a season.”
He added, “Doesn’t say anywhere in the rule book that you can’t have 2 good goalies.”
What’s Next for the Canucks?
Although I’ve only written about Toffoli and Markstrom, these are not the only two free agents I believe the Canucks want to re-sign. Certainly, Chris Tanev said over and over that he wants to be back with the Canucks next season. I believe they want him back as well. Tanev has played his whole career with the Canucks, logging 514 regular-season games and 33 playoff games. He’s a perfect partner for young defensive star Quinn Hughes.
Tanev is on an expiring five-year contract that carries a salary-cap hit of $4.45 million. His agent Wade Arnott also is clear that “Chris has always stated that his desire is to re-sign in Vancouver and that has not changed. We will see how the Canucks wish to proceed.”
In short, it will be a busy and interesting offseason for Benning and the Canucks.