The Canucks are all-in on making the playoffs this season. If that wasn’t clear when general manager Jim Benning traded a first-round pick for J.T. Miller at the 2019 draft, it became crystal clear when Benning traded Tyler Madden and a second-round pick for Tyler Toffoli.
It’s understandable: the Canucks have missed the playoffs in four straight seasons, something untenable to the Canucks’ ownership and fan base. It’s hard to imagine Benning keeping his job if the Canucks missed the playoffs for a fifth straight year, no matter what progress the team made this season.
Fortunately for the Canucks, Miller and Toffoli are good players, the right type of veterans to complement the team’s young core. An added bonus for acquiring Toffoli is that he and Tanner Pearson are very familiar with each other.
“They’re best friends,” said Benning, and it’s true. The two wingers played together in the AHL with the Manchester Monarchs and both graduated to the NHL at the same time.
Along with Jeff Carter, they formed “That 70s Line,” so named because they each had a number in the 70s.
That line played a key role in the Kings’ Stanley Cup win in 2014, but beyond their chemistry on the ice, Pearson and Toffoli have plenty of chemistry off the ice as well.
“It's no secret that we're really good friends,” said Pearson after Toffoli’s first practice on Tuesday. “We still talk a lot. I think we're probably talking at least once a week. When I actually went to L.A. for bye week, he gave me his house. Just little things like that, he's a great guy.”
It didn’t start out that way. The two wingers were fierce rivals in the OHL, with Toffoli’s Ottawa 67’s butting heads with Pearson’s Barrie Colts. One particular high-sticking incident cemented their status as enemies.
“I don't even remember exactly, I just remember him slashing me in the chin,” said Toffoli.
“We didn’t like each other very much in Junior,” Pearson admitted after confessing to the high stick. “But then we started playing together in [Manchester] and built a pretty good friendship.”
Pearson talked about how excited he was for Toffoli to join the team and said he’ll “fit right in” when it comes to the Canucks’ dynamic in the locker room. What will matter most, however, is what happens on the ice.
“Him and I played a lot of years together and a lot of minutes and we know how each other play,” said Pearson. “Even out in practice, it's two on two but it's funny because I knew where he was going to be the whole time.
“The faster you can build chemistry the better off you are,” he added.
At Toffoli’s first practice in Vancouver, however, he skated on the top line with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller, directly taking the spot of the injured Brock Boeser.
With Boeser expected to miss the rest of the regular season, if not more, it makes sense that the Canucks would try Toffoli on the top line. Where the Canucks need the most help, however, is on the second line, where Pearson and Bo Horvat could use an upgrade on the right wing.
Considering the existing chemistry between Pearson and Toffoli, the Canucks should look to take advantage and upgrade the Horvat line. Toffoli can drive puck possession in a positive direction, which would make him a strong fit for the defensive zone starts and tough matchups that the Horvat line regularly faces.
Pettersson and Miller are a strong enough duo that they should be able to find chemistry with other wingers. In particular, Jake Virtanen has found some success this season on the top line, but the Canucks could try Zack MacEwen or Antoine Roussel on his off-wing.
Making the Horvat line more dangerous would give the Canucks a dual threat to score in the top-six, where right now it’s a little too easy for opposing teams to focus on the top line.
Stick-taps and Glove-drops
- A tap of the stick to the Canucks for providing some clarity on the timeline for Josh Leivo and Brock Boeser, both of whom are now expected to miss the rest of the regular season. The Canucks have been a bit secretive with injuries, but getting that update clarifies the situation significantly.
- I’m dropping the gloves with the Canucks’ reluctance to give Sven Baertschi another shot. Benning made it clear on Tuesday that the team considered calling up Reid Boucher prior to trading for Toffoli, but not Baertschi.
- 18 Toffoli had 18 goals at the time of the trade, which ties him at third on the Canucks with Bo Horvat.
- 165 One area where Toffoli will replace Boeser is his love of shooting the puck. Boeser had a team-leading 166 shots this season prior to his injury; Toffoli has 165 shots so far this season.