Josh Leivo was in line for a career year before suffering a fractured kneecap. What should the Vancouver Canucks do with him this offseason?
Leivo was a tremendous fit in Vancouver from the very beginning. In 49 games, he tallied 10 goals and 18 points. Had he played the entire campaign with the Canucks, Leivo would have made a serious push for his first 20-goal season.
The 26-year-old quickly proved that 2018-19 was no a mirage. He recorded seven goals and 19 points in 36 games this season before suffering a kneecap injury in December. Leivo was still recovering before the 2019-20 campaign was suspended.
Leivo is slated to enter free agency this summer, and the Canucks have a difficult decision to make. He’s worked nicely with his second NHL team, but Vancouver has a serious logjam at forward, and they can’t keep everybody.
In an ideal world, Benning would find a way out of Loui Eriksson‘s contract this offseason, but that’s easier said than done. Because Brandon Sutter only has one year remaining on his deal, Benning might not have so much difficulty in finding a trade partner. Perhaps he’ll look to shop Jay Beagle and/or Antoine Roussel, who each have two years remaining on their contracts.
If Benning can create more roster room, then another one-year contract for Leivo makes sense. But he has to move out at least a couple of players. If he doesn’t, it’s hard to see where the Canucks will be able to make room for Leivo.
It’s unlikely that the cap-strapped Canucks will be able to retain Tyler Toffoli. But they’ll still have a quality top-six group in Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen and Tanner Pearson. ‘Big Jake’ and Adam Gaudette need new contracts this offseason, too.
And the Canucks have to start planning ahead for next year’s Seattle expansion draft (which I wrote about here). If they re-sign Leivo in the offseason, Vancouver will probably end up exposing him any way. There are at least seven skaters they would realistically protect over him.
Leivo has enjoyed a short and sweet tenure on the west coast, but Benning can’t keep everybody. That’s why it’s tough to imagine the Canucks retaining Leivo past this season, unless the front office can pull off some magic by creating cap and roster space for him.