Tof­foli play­ing his way into new deal

De­spite small sam­ple size af­ter trade with Kings, team­mate likes what he sees

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BEN KUZMA bkuzma@post­media.com

Voices of real rea­son are hard to find in any NHL locker-room.

Some play­ers talk with­out say­ing any­thing while oth­ers are po­lit­i­cally cor­rect. And there are those who stare at a mi­cro­phone like it’s the bar­rel of a gun and cough up a few clichés be­fore mak­ing quick ex­its.

It’s why tak­ing the true com­pet­i­tive pulse of the Van­cou­ver Canucks — ev­ery­thing from on-ice per­for­mance, off-ice in­tan­gi­bles and why un­re­stricted free agent winger Tyler Tof­foli de­serves a good con­tract ex­ten­sion — falls on those who have a per­for­mance pedi­gree and are wired to tell it like it is. In the past, that was Mikael Sa­muels­son.

He won a Stan­ley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008, had a 30-goal sea­son with the Canucks in 2009-10, and his crit­i­cal edges were sharp when asked to ad­dress team short­com­ings.

To­day, that guy is J.T. Miller. He has been on the gut-wrench­ing side of two East­ern Con­fer­ence Game 7 home-ice losses, with the New York Rangers in 2015 and Tampa Bay Light­ning in 2018. Deemed ex­pend­able last June, he is the NHL’S best trade ac­qui­si­tion in the past year, leads the Canucks with a ca­reer-best 72 points (2745), and ranks 17th in league scor­ing.

Miller is also sec­ond over­all in face­off ef­fi­ciency (59.2 per cent) and the first to give any team­mate ver­bal as­sur­ance or an acid-tongued lash­ing for in­dif­fer­ent play. Cut from an old-school cloth, he has brought an ad­mirable level of ef­fort and lead­er­ship with­out wear­ing a let­ter. Who bet­ter to ask about a new Tof­foli deal?

It’s not just mesh­ing with a tal­ented new line­mate that ex­cites Miller. It’s how Tof­foli plays in the hard ar­eas, how quickly he can take a puck in his skates and find the top of the net with a flick of his wrist. It’s how hard he is on him­self to be de­fen­sively re­spon­si­ble, and how driven he is to be a dif­fer­ence-maker.

“He’s su­per pre­dictable,” said Miller. “It’s when you start play­ing the other way that you start hop­ing a lot and that’s not good. You know the puck is get­ting in deep and (Tof­foli) is go­ing to be in the right spot. That’s easy to play with. And he’s big­ger than peo­ple re­al­ize. He’s a solid dude and good around the net.”

That’s quite the com­pli­ment for a player who has played just 10 games af­ter be­ing ac­quired from the Los An­ge­les Kings in a Feb. 17 trade. Tof­foli has re­sponded with 10 points (6-4), and a snap­shot of his present and fu­ture worth was on dis­play two days be­fore the sea­son was placed on pause March 12 be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

In a 5-4 shootout win over the New York Is­lan­ders at Rogers Arena, Tof­foli scored with a quick re­lease off an Elias Pet­ters­son pass and also set up Bo Hor­vat on a power-play ef­fort.

“Win­ning is fun, it’s con­ta­gious and we’ve got to do more of it,” said Tof­foli. “We’ve been play­ing play­off hockey ever since I got here.”

His quick snap re­lease star­tled goalie Se­myon Var­lamov.

“You’ve got to get (the puck) up be­cause he slides across with big legs,” added Tof­foli. “And with the things that (Pet­ters­son) and (Miller) do, you’ve got to be ready at all times. They’re good at hold­ing on to pucks and mak­ing plays in tight spa­ces and, if any­thing, I can do a bet­ter job of shoot­ing the puck quicker.”

In a sea­son split be­tween Los An­ge­les and Van­cou­ver, Tof­foli has 24 goals and 44 points in 68 games, which places him sev­enth in club scor­ing.

So, what’s all this worth? Miller’s con­tract might be a good start­ing com­pa­ra­ble.

He has three more sea­sons at an an­nual Us$5.25-mil­lion salary cap hit that now looks like a bar­gain, de­spite the con­di­tional firstround pick to be sur­ren­dered in the Light­ning swap, be­cause he is play­ing like a high draft se­lec­tion.

Tof­foli has three 20-goal sea­sons and a 30-goal cam­paign, and is go­ing to get a good bump on his ex­pir­ing $4.6-mil­lion cap hit. But how high?

Two years ago, Ja­son Zucker signed a five-year, $27.5-mil­lion ex­ten­sion with the Min­nesota Wild af­ter amass­ing 33 goals and 64 points. He has also had four 20-goal sea­sons and the con­sis­tency got him money, term and a $5.5-mil­lion cap hit. That should res­onate with Tof­foli and the Canucks on some level be­cause the trade-off for salary is al­ways term.

Tof­foli turns 28 on April 24 and has turned the com­pet­i­tive cor­ner af­ter a rough sea­son start in Los An­ge­les. The 2014 Stan­ley Cup win­ner was scratched Oct. 30 in a 5-3 home-ice loss to the Canucks, and with just 13 points in the first 30 games, he was de­moted to the fourth line. How­ever, he re­bounded with 21 points in his next 28 games to prove his met­tle.

“Def­i­nitely a tough time per­son­ally,” re­called Tof­foli. “I stayed with my game and got through it, and since then my game has been the best it’s been in a long time.”

Win­ning is fun. ... We’ve been play­ing play­off hockey ever since I got here.

ARLEN REDEKOP

Canucks winger Tyler Tof­foli was mesh­ing well with his new team 10 games into the sea­son, with six goals and four as­sists, be­fore it was sus­pended.

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