Looking at the future for Tanev, Toffoli, Markstrom and more.
Though the Vancouver Canucks fell one game short of the Western Conference final, it is clear that something impressive is brewing with the organization. How good this team will be in 2020-21 and beyond will hinge largely on what happens in this off-season and that is the challenge in front of GM Jim Benning.
Due to the limits of the salary cap, the Canucks will have to part with some of their current personnel. But which ones? In his exit press conference with the media (via Zoom, of course), Benning made reference to potential deals and even raised the spectre of trading one of the franchise’s young players.
Now, there are clearly some untouchables on the roster: Elias Pettersson isn’t going anywhere, nor is Quinn Hughes. But could Brock Boeser be dangled in order to help the Canucks in other areas? You’d certainly have a long line of suitors for the dashing sniper and Vancouver could use some high draft picks: as of right now, they won’t be picking until the third round of the 2020 draft.
There’s also veteran defenseman Chris Tanev to consider. Tanev is a pending unrestricted free agent and will certainly command both dollars and term on the open market: he’s a right-shot blueliner who can take on tough minutes and move the puck. Though Benning didn’t address Tanev specifically, it’s hard to see the Canucks making it work if they want to hold on to a couple of other pending UFAs, star netminder Jacob Markstrom and winger Tyler Toffoli.
“Jacob is an important guy because he’s a leader,” Benning said. “He was our MVP during the season. We want him back and we’re going to start having those talks this week.”
The intrigue surrounding Markstrom is the fact that when the big Swede went down with an injury against Vegas in the playoffs, his understudy blew the doors off and almost won Vancouver the series over the bigger, faster and more experienced Golden Knights. That would be 24-year-old Thatcher Demko, of course. But the rise of Demko doesn’t necessarily mean the exit of Markstrom in Benning’s mind, especially since coach Travis Green is always mindful of Vancouver’s travel schedule during a normal season.
“He was excellent in all three games; he gave us a chance to win,” Benning said of Demko. “Travis is a big believer in having two good goalies, but it was nice to see him rise to the occasion.”
As for Toffoli, he was a big trade deadline acquisition from Los Angeles, where he had won a Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2014. Held back by a lower-body injury, Toffoli only played seven of Vancouver’s 17 post-season games, but his drive to return early and his influence on players such as Pettersson impressed Canucks brass.
“He’s a veteran player who was supposed to be out twice the amount of time, but he wanted to help,” Benning said. “I talked to Petey and he said he really helped in the room thanks to his Stanley Cup experience.”
So if much of the roster stays status quo, we must look at the Canucks’ defense as an area ripe for upheaval. Vancouver does have a number of kids and prospects pushing up from below, including recently-signed Harvard standout Jack Rathbone and breakout AHL star Brogan Rafferty.
“They’re going to be in the mix,” Benning said. “I thought Olli Juolevi had a good (Return to Play) camp, Jalen Chatfield had a good camp – they could have played games for us. I like the depth we have on the blueline.”
But subtracting Tanev and adding more youth would carry risk, as there wouldn’t be a ton of experience outside of Alex Edler, Tyler Myers and depth guy Jordie Benn. Perhaps it’s a risk the Canucks have to take.
On the positive side, the group as a whole really benefitted from their run in the post-season.
“It’s invaluable experience,” Green said. “It’s one thing to play three or four playoff games, it’s another to play as many as we did. We have a group that wants to win badly. And we have players who are still young who will continue to improve.”
The coach saw a group of players who enjoyed hanging out with each other in the bubble and a group that gave him a lot of buy-in. The Canucks grew more confident as they marched past Minnesota and then the defending champions from St. Louis before taking Vegas to the hilt. If Benning and his Vancouver brass can conjure the right roster alchemy this off-season, the Canucks will be a contender to go one – or even two – rounds further in the 2021 playoffs.