With a quarter of the season gone, off-season moves can be reasonably evaluated. And, given all their moves, it is fair to ask who the Vancouver Canucks miss most and who’s given them the biggest boost. For now, we look at who went.
Easy Come, Easy Go
A quick rundown of who left and a bit of the apparent reasoning, for better or worse. The guys getting talked about most first.
Let’s rip that Band-Aid off right away. Tyler Toffoli was brought in by a team desperate for the playoffs after four straight misses. They got the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent for a good prospect in Tyler Madden, a second-round pick that year, and “utility forward” Tim Schaller to make the money work. A clearly injured Brock Boeser had to be replaced for (what was then) the stretch run. Best laid plans and all, but Toffoli only played 10 games for the Canucks before the postponement. He made an immediate impact on the first line with six goals and 10 points in those 10 games.
Unfortunately for Vancouver, the injury bug couldn’t leave well enough alone, and Toffoli only played seven of 17 games for them in the playoffs. He scored four points, but three of those were in a single game. If Boeser was healthy, could Toffoli perform on the second line? Asking him to produce at a point-a-game pace would be ridiculous, but what he would do was still a mystery. He eventually signed a good-looking deal with the Montreal Canadiens, much to Canucks fans’ eventual dismay.
Clearly, the team was giving the younger, cheaper, and 18-goal scoring Jake Virtanen another kick at the can. So far, it’s a decision that blew up in their face, but you can see why they did it.
This would hurt more if Vancouver were having trouble scoring. They don’t: they need players right now who can stop goals. For all of Toffoli’s short-handed use with Montreal, he wasn’t getting that with the Canucks. Having Nils Hoglander prove himself in the Canucks’ top-6 eases the pain somewhat as well. The Canucks aren’t allowed to play themselves during the season, and Toffoli has only scored one goal in six games against other teams as of February 5th. Let’s pretend that holds true in Alternate World NHL.
Do the Vancouver Canucks miss him? Oh, yeah – but mostly as a preventative measure.
This is a bit tougher to analyze. Chris Tanev signed a four-year deal with the Calgary Flames (we’ll see them again). That’s… a lot for a frequently-injured player who scored a career-high 20 points last year. But his points aren’t the point. He’s a throwback player, a key defensive stalwart who was a big part of the team’s off-ice stability. He paired with Quinn Hughes last season, but more than that was a welcoming face for the new arrival. Hughes’ offence has been great so far this season, but he has some of the worst defensive numbers in the league right now. A big part of that can be attributed to the changing cast around him, including the absence of Tanev.
The tricky bit is putting a price on that. Stability counts for something as ever-changing as a professional sports team. But could the team justify signing Tanev for another four years? He’s getting $4.5 million in each of the next four years, but no one knows how many actual games that will be.
Travis Hamonic, possibly the only player in the league who could be described in the same way as Tanev, was signed as his replacement. Ironically, Hamonic has only played five games for the Canucks so far to Tanev’s ten with Calgary. Jordie Benn has stepped in and been respectable, but not great. With Tanev, Hughes was a Calder nominee, only beat out by another brilliant defenceman.
Do the Vancouver Canucks miss him? This year, so far, absolutely. Next year – or possibly next month? Roll the bones.
Jacob Markstrom was the Canucks’ MVP for the past two seasons. He only solidified that in the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Playoff. And now he’s gone, another free agent grab by Calgary. That Markstrom is missed isn’t even a question, though most observers thought if he did sign with the Canucks it would result in the loss of Thatcher Demko. The Flames’ six-year, $36 million deal isn’t just a promise for this season. The team also gave him a full no-move clause, giving him the stability he wanted. It’s hard to ignore that he’s 31 years old and has spent his last few professional years behind a team that seemed to be punking him every game. “You say you’re good, huh? Well, can you stop SIX clean breakaways?”
Numbers are one thing, the man himself is another. By all accounts, Markstrom was a leader in the room, having gone from an absolute firebrand to a more controlled presence. He’s been through the fires, going from “the best player in the world out of the NHL” to a healthy scratch and waiver-wire pass to an All-Star. He’s a resource for players going through a down spot, and the Canucks could probably use one of those about now.
Everyone worked at getting a deal done with Markstrom done. There were a lot of factors working against it though: expansion, age, cap pressures, his desire for stability, and of course other teams wanting him made this an impossible dream.
Do the Vancouver Canucks miss him? Obviously. But there’s no way the team could justify matching that deal.
There was always a bit of simmering conflict between Troy Stecher and his coaches. Every year, it seemed, he’d start out on the third pair. And every year, it seemed, he would work his way up, either through injury or someone ahead of him going cold. And he’d fill in for as long as needed before dropping back to his usual spot in the rotation. For 2019-20, however, the Canucks were surprisingly healthy and “Troy from Richmond” didn’t get his usual chance. With a qualifying offer over $2 million, the Canucks didn’t want him for that much. The popular assumption was that they would continue negotiating and reach a deal for a bit less.
Unfortunately for Stecher, the possibility of getting Oliver Ekman-Larsson was suddenly dangled in the air. General manager Jim Benning, who had originally signed Stecher out of North Dakota, went chasing, leaving his current free agents hanging while he tried working a deal for the star. Any deal for him would be fantastically complicated considering the upcoming contracts, but there is some suspicion that the Canucks lost both Stecher and Toffoli because they felt snubbed during this time.
Here we have the forward version of Stecher. Josh Leivo has had brutal luck for much of his NHL career. He was either stuck behind a deep Toronto Maple Leafs team or injured just as he was building a contract year. He was found money for Vancouver, traded for a career AHL winger. Coming to a Canucks team desperate for capable forwards, he slid in beside Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson, becoming an effective defensive unit against some of the league’s best lines. For the first half of 2019-20, the trio absorbed the worst rivals could throw at them, freeing up the Lotto Line to do their damage against lesser opponents.
Leivo was equally effective with Brandon Sutter and Jake Virtanen or Sutter and Pearson when required. Even with his defensive use, he scored seven goals and 19 points in just 36 games, easily his career-best offensive output. Then, of course, his – and the Canucks’ – luck kicked in and he broke his kneecap on an otherwise innocuous play. That was the last he played for Vancouver, signing with Calgary (seriously?) and going back to a fourth-line role.
As we’ve been over, the Canucks aren’t having problems scoring. If they could have someone who could stop opponents from going on those blue-line-to-blue-line rushes, that would be nice. Especially if he could sit comfortably in the middle-six.
Do the Vancouver Canucks miss him? That depends: was he going to continue the scoring pace he had with Vancouver, or the one assist in 10 games pace he has with Calgary?
Originally signed as a seventh or eighth defenceman, Oscar Fantenberg either earned his way onto the team or Benn played his way off of it depending on who you ask. He wasn’t much more than a plug-and-play replacement and was fine for it. Benn’s ability to play either side – and having a contract – eventually sent Fantenberg overseas.
Do the Vancouver Canucks miss him? Miss who?
Who does the Vancouver Canucks Miss Most?
Bottom line, the Canucks could use any one of these players back right now. Given the stability he provided, on and off the ice, a good argument can be made for Tanev. In three years, it would be a different story. Markstrom could cut half a goal a game against, but that wouldn’t be enough to change their need. And that contract is impossible to fit in – especially when the Seattle Kraken is coming. Toffoli’s scoring touch is… what, exactly? If the Canucks kept him, that cuts eight goals against directly. Whether they’d score those goals for Vancouver is a different question. Stecher is useful, and wanted to be here, but missed the most? No.
Odd as it sounds, the utility knife that is Josh Leivo might be the piece the Canucks miss most, now and into the near future.