Why the Canucks will have to let Tyler Toffoli walk in free agency

Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

Tyler Toffoli was an excellent trade deadline pickup, but the Vancouver Canucks have little choice but to let him walk in free agency.

For the first time in five years, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning was able to act as a buyer at the trade deadline.

With the Canucks in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, Benning decided to bolster his top-six by acquiring Los Angeles Kings forward Tyler Toffoli in exchange for Tim Schaller, prospect Tyler Madden, a 2020 second-round pick plus a conditional 2022 fourth-round selection.

Toffoli made an immediate impact for his new team, recording six goals and four assists in just 10 games. The 2014 Stanley Cup champion proved to be a valuable replacement for Brock Boeser, who missed a month recovering from a rib injury.

But the cap-strapped Canucks have other priorities in free agency. Top goalie Jacob Markstrom needs a new deal, and if he walks, the Canucks will have to invest in a veteran replacement (possibly Braden Holtby or Robin Lehner) to replace him.

Benning will certainly look to keep at least one of Chris Tanev (a pending UFA) and Troy Stecher (a pending RFA). There is no way he can let both defencemen leave. And finally, Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette require new deals this offseason.

With Boeser healthy, Toffoli wouldn’t get top line minutes with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller. So essentially, Benning has to decide if he wants to pay for a second-line forward who will likely slot in with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson.

Toffoli can probably get around $5 million annually on a new deal. That’s usually the market for a second liner with 20-goal and 40 to 50-point production. And there’s simply no way the Canucks would be able to afford it.

Keep in mind that Pettersson and Quinn Hughes will be up for new contracts after next season. Even if they were to both sign bridge deals, one has to assume they’ll take up close to a combined $15 million in cap space.

Though Toffoli has been a nice fit for the Canucks, they have more than enough scoring depth. Pettersson, Miller, Horvat and Pearson are all legitimate top-six forwards. Virtanen is finally growing into a capable 20-goal scorer, and Gaudette has plenty of room to get better.

And this is without even mentioning the team’s top two prospects, Vasili Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander, both of whom look to be capable top-six forwards down the road.

When you add it all up, there’s simply no way the Canucks can justify signing Toffoli to a long-term deal. That’s unless Benning wants to go bold and trade away someone like Boeser and possibly Virtanen or Gaudette. Hard to envision any of this happening, however.

And if Benning were to extend Toffoli, that would give him practically no room to re-sign Pearson, who’s a UFA next offseason.

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Add it all up, and there’s simply no way Vancouver can fit Toffoli under their cap and long-term plans. The team has bundles of quality scorers up front, and even though Toffoli has delivered tremendous production for the Canucks, management must remember that you can’t afford to keep everybody in the salary cap era.