On February 17, 2020 – days ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline – the Vancouver Canucks acquired Tyler Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings for the hefty price of Tyler Madden, Tim Schaller, a 2020 second round pick, and a conditional 4th in 2022.
Just 25 days later, the league put the 2019/20 season on hold, perhaps indefinitely.
But what happened in between? That, valued reader, was magic.
Those Ten Games, Though
Tyler Toffoli wasn’t just a perfect fit for the Canucks, they were also a perfect fit for him. Toffoli’s ten-game audition in Vancouver probably stands as the best hockey he’s played in his career thus far – as far as the regular season is concerned, that is. With six goals, he led the Canucks over that limited stint, and added four assists for an even ten points in ten games.
If JT Miller hadn’t put up 15 points in those same ten games, Toffoli probably would have been considered the team’s late-season MVP.
It should be especially noted that seven of those points came at even-strength, which means that Toffoli wasn’t just benefitting from a plum assignment on one of the league’s best powerplays.
To say that Toffoli’s advanced numbers with Vancouver were positive across the board wouldn’t be hyperbole, but an exact description of his fancy statline. Just take a look at this chart, put together inconveniently customizable fashion by our friends at NaturalStatTrick.
Toffoli had better-than-average percentages in Corsi, Expected Goals For, Scoring Chances Generated, and High-Danger Chances. He also ranked among the team leaders in all of those categories.
In other words, the Canucks became more dangerous with Toffoli than without him, and controlled the play whenever he was on the ice. The fact that his staggeringly high points-per-60-minutes of 3.3 ranked highest on the team is further proof of that.
Even among his teammates, Toffoli compares well. His Relative Corsi score of 5.1 places him just behind the team’s truly elite talents – Elias Pettersson, JT Miller, Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser, and, of course, Sven Baertschi.
The next highest on the list is Justin Bailey, he of two regular-season games. No one else is even close, which is a good indication that Toffoli has himself already become one of the Canucks’ top talents – and a legitimate piece of their core moving forward, if they can manage to re-sign him.
Toffoli may not have been a mere complementary addition to Vancouver’s top-six, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t benefit heavily from the chance to play alongside the likes of Pettersson and Miller on a regular basis. According to Dobber’s, Toffoli spent roughly 13.1% of his even-strength minutes – and almost the entirety of his time in Vancouver – riding shotgun with them, and it resulted in 17.6% of his even-strength production.
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools
Then again, the Canucks averaged 3.19 goals-per-game before Toffoli’s arrival and 3.60 with him on the roster.
So, it’s fair to say that Toffoli benefitted from coming to Vancouver, but also that the Canucks received a major boost from him in return.
Toffoli averaged more ice-time in Vancouver than he’d ever received in Los Angeles, and that also has something to do with his increased production. However, there’s also some reason for caution when projecting any future scoring totals with the Canucks – he did score on 15.8% of his shots in Vancouver, way over-and-above his career average of 10.3%.
That suggests at least some degree of unsustainability – but then that raises the question of whether the Canucks really need Toffoli to stay at a point-per-game pace to remain an important part of the moving forward?
More on that later! For now, we’ve got to spend some time looking at what happened before Tyler Toffoli pulled a Snake Plissken and made his Escape From L.A.
The King Of LA
Tyler Toffoli was probably the best forward traded near the 2020 Trade Deadline, and he was definitely the one having the best 2019/20 season to that point – despite toiling away on a dismal Los Angeles roster.
He was also the Kings’ second-best forward overall, after Anze Kopitar.
Even having missed the last 11 games, Toffoli still sits fifth overall in LA scoring with 34 points in 58 games – a far cry from his Vancouver production, but still not bad. His points-per-game average of 0.59 ranks third among LA regulars, and his points-per-60-minutes of 2.1 trails just Kopitar and his score of 2.5.
For a significant portion of the season, Toffoli had some of the best possession numbers in the NHL, made all the more impressive in the context of the players around him. His Relative Corsi percentage of 4.4 is still the highest among all regular Los Angeles players – and, for the record, significantly above Kopitar’s negative rating of -1.8.
True, Toffoli’s 2019/20 performance was not his very best in a Kings’ uniform, but it was actually a lot closer to it than it might seem at first. He scored the same amount of points and five more goals than he did the season prior, and he did it in 24 fewer games. Across a full season with LA, Toffoli was on pace for 25 goals and 48 points, which would have been the third-best statline of his career and his best since 2016.
Compare the roster of the 2015/16 Kings with the players Toffoli had to play with this year, and his 2019/20 output might actually be the more impressive of the two, all things considered.
And the fact that Toffoli immediately started scoring more when he arrived on a more competitive team only gives further credence to the notion that Toffoli was at his absolute best both before and after being traded to Vancouver.
In the interest of fairness, we should note at this point that the Los Angeles Kings did go on an 8-2-1 run directly after Toffoli’s departure, but that’s probably a combination of coincidence and Tim Schaller’s winning attitude.
Was The Price Right?
Really, that already stands as a pretty fair summation of Tyler Toffoli’s season, but it’s impossible to go any further without addressing the elephant in the room.
Toffoli cost a boatload to bring to BC, and GM Jim Benning and Co. only got 10 games out of him – and that might be all they get.
Of course, that’s really not anyone’s fault. No one could have predicted that the NHL season would be put on ice figuratively instead of literally, and every team that “bought” at the 2020 Trade Deadline is now experiencing buyer’s remorse – though it’s significantly worse for the Canucks than most.
There are basically two ways of looking at this. A top-flight prospect and a second-round pick is a steal of a deal for what turned out to be the single best deadline acquisition in the entire league. The trade worked out as well as it could have, given the circumstances.
But that package is also far too much to give up for ten games of any player, regardless of their quality, and if that’s all the Canucks get out of it there’s no way to spin it as anything but a setback for a young franchise on the rise.
If, however, that ten-game stint ends up convincing Toffoli to re-sign in Vancouver – perhaps even at a favorable, flat-cap-induced rate – that would change the equation considerably. Toffoli’s performance for the Canucks in 2020 is the definition of a small sample size, but the early results are extremely positive, and he looks like he could be a core component of the roster for years to come.
To put it bluntly, this transaction will only have been worthwhile if it leads to a non-terrible extension for Tyler Toffoli, and otherwise, it will be a total waste – so Benning had better get on that!