Toffoli playing his way into new deal
Despite small sample size after trade with Kings, teammate likes what he sees
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.