Canucks: Extensions for Markstrom and Toffoli present difficult decisions

Goaltender Jacob Markstrom #25 of the Vancouver Canucks makes a save against the Chicago Blackhawks during the third period at Rogers Arena on Febr(Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images
Goaltender Jacob Markstrom #25 of the Vancouver Canucks makes a save against the Chicago Blackhawks during the third period at Rogers Arena on Febr(Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images /

The Vancouver Canucks have many difficult decisions to make this obvious. The most crucial may come down to Tyler Toffoli and Jacob Markstrom.

Both Tyler Toffoli and Jacob Markstrom played substantial roles for the Vancouver Canucks this season, albeit at different times and in substantially different roles.

Markstrom provided the Canucks with elite netminding through the early and middle stages of the season before a knee injury ultimately forced him out of the lineup. Toffoli, meanwhile, provided an influx of scoring in the latter stages of the season after a deadline deal saw him arrive in Vancouver.

Both players are pending unrestricted free agents for the first time in their respective careers, primed to cash in among league wide interest.

But with the Canucks seemingly up to the cap ceiling coupled with the unlikelihood of the salary cap rising, the team may ultimately be forced to choose between bringing back just one of its impact players.

Tyler Toffoli

Toffoli’s time in Vancouver has been short thus far, but it’s come with no shortage of individual success. Despite his arrival coming under much scrutiny as the team infamously parted ways with Hobey Baker finalist Tyler Madden, Toffoli has more than delivered on his end.

Many expected him to slot in on the second line alongside former Los Angeles Kings linemate Tanner Pearson and captain Bo Horvat. But Toffoli instead found a home – and immediate success – on the first line with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller.

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Toffoli came out to a sizzling start in the blue and green, tallying four goals and six points through his first four games. He not only provided some much-needed scoring punch during Brock Boeser’s injury absence, but it also allowed the team to reunite Boeser with Horvat upon his return and boast an incredibly well-rounded first two lines that could seemingly match up against any team.

His most recent performance prior to the league suspension came in a one goal, one assist effort in a 5-4 shootout victory over the New York Islanders on March 10, bringing his totals up to six goals and 10 points in as many games for Vancouver.

Not only was he a strong contributor on paper, but his advanced statistics also proved favorable. His 53.1 Corsi For Percentage at even strength was third among Canuck skaters (minimum 10 games played), and his career clip at 55.9 percent minimizes any chance of regression.

The 28-year-old is currently coming off a three-year deal signed with the Kings at a cap hit of $4.6 million per season. It will be the first time he hits unrestricted free agency, and he’ll be looking to cash in. A likely comparable from last year’s free agent class could be Gustav Nyquist, who provided similar top-six production to Toffoli and ultimately landed a four-year deal from Columbus at a $5.5 million cap hit.

Jacob Markstrom

It’s no secret that without Markstrom, the Canucks would not have been battling for a playoff spot late into the season.

Among goaltenders with a minimum 40 starts, Markstrom ranked fifth in goals saved above average (11.40) this year, behind only Tuukka Rask (22.51), Connor Hellebuyck (22.40), Ben Bishop (13.29) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (12.13). And for what it’s worth, all four have either won (Rask, Valisevskiy) or been nominated (Bishop, Hellebuyck) for the Vezina Trophy.

Markstrom’s play throughout the season not only kept the Canucks in games, but also singlehandedly won them games, too. Whether it was his 49-save effort against the Kings, or his 49-save shutout against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sedin Retirement Night, he silenced any doubters with his consistency throughout the season. As colleague Joshua Rey most recently pointed out, the 30-year-old Swede firmly arrived as the elite goaltender many expected he would become when the Florida Panthers drafted him 31st overall in 2008.

Coming off a three-year, $11 million deal signed in 2016, Markstrom is slated for a considerable raise from the $3.66M he made this past year. Colleague Alex Hoegler recently took a look at the cap hit Markstrom’s next deal could carry and surmised anywhere between three and four years at $5.5 million per season would be a fair comparable.

Room for both?

It’s no secret that both Toffoli ($4.6 million) and Markstrom ($3.67 million) are due for lucrative extensions beyond this season. While it is well within the realm of possibility that both return to the Canucks next season, the likelihood largely hinges on the team’s ability to move out anchor contract(s) like Loui Eriksson (two years, $6 million), Brandon Sutter (one year, $4.375 million), and Sven Baertschi (one year, $2.29 million), as both are likely headed for raises and eerily similar deals to each other this offseason.

However, in a league where teams have shown a reluctance to take on anchor contracts, the likelihood of the Canucks moving one –let alone two contracts remains limited — unless the team is willing to part with a grade-A prospect or first round draft pick.

All in all, the Canucks impending decision to extend either of these players is far from certain. Numerous expiring contracts including Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher, Jake Virtanen and Josh Leivo will present an intriguing option for management to let a number of players walk, and that coupled with a potential return of compliance buyouts means this all may end up being water under the bridge.

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If they can, should Vancouver make room for both Markstrom and Toffoli to return next season? Does one provide more value to the immediate and long-term success of the franchise than the other? Tell us what you think the Canucks should do.