Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve taken looks at the UFA market for both Chris Tanev and Jacob Markstrom in an attempt to determine which teams the Vancouver Canucks could be competing with when they try to sign them — if they make it all the way to unrestricted free agency, that is.
Now, in the third and final episode of this miniseries, we’re going to tackle the pending UFA that this author, and at least a handful of others, thinks is the most important of the bunch — Tyler Toffoli.
After arriving in a near-deadline deal, Toffoli played ten games for the Canucks, putting up six goals and ten points. Even better, he meshed amazingly with Elias Pettersson and JT Miller on the top line, giving the Canucks what could be the perfect top-six once Brock Boeser returned to join Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson on line two.
Now, the onus is on Jim Benning and Co. to make sure Toffoli’s success in Vancouver isn’t just limited to a cameo appearance. Unfortunately, the 28-year-old’s status as a right-handed scoring winger that won’t break the bank also makes him mighty appealing to plenty of other NHL teams, too.
Teams With An Obvious Need For A Top-Six RW
These are the teams that have a gaping Tyler Toffoli-shaped hole in their lineups.
The Sabres are a mess, and it’s no surprise that they’ve shown up in all three parts of this series. But while Buffalo could benefit from the addition of either Jacob Markstrom or Chris Tanev, the best UFA fit for them is undoubtedly Toffoli.
Sam Reinhart is the only real NHL-level right winger the Sabres have signed beyond this season — unless you count Kyle Okposo, which you absolutely shouldn’t. With Jack Eichel hinting that he’ll leave town unless some serious improvements are made in the offseason, a scoring winger will be high on new GM Kevyn Adams’ priority list, and that means Toffoli.
Of all the teams on this list, the Avalanche are probably the best fit for Toffoli. They’re already a strong contender, which is something he’ll be looking for in a destination, and they’re on the lookout for a “missing piece” in their potent top-six — preferably on the right side.
Swapping out Vlad Namestnikov for Toffoli would be a dream come true for Joe Sakic and the Avs, and it’s one they’d be able to afford, even under a flat cap. From Toffoli’s perspective, losing Elias Pettersson as a linemate only to gain Nathan MacKinnon is probably an acceptable swap.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets have plenty of wingers signed beyond this offseason, and yet only a few of them truly belong in the top-six of an NHL team. Behind Cam Atkinson on their right side, they’ve got the notoriously inconsistent Oliver Bjorkstrand and the even more notoriously inconsistent Josh Anderson, who is probably on the move.
That leaves plenty of room for a Toffoli-type. In any case, adding at least one more scoring threat to the mix is probably necessary in order for Columbus to stay afloat in the increasingly competitive Metropolitan Division.
The top-six of the Stars is a bit in-flux at the moment. If Joe Pavelski stays at the second line center position for now, it opens up a big hole on the right side — one that presumably-departing UFA Corey Perry struggled to fill in 2019/20. Enter: Toffoli.
Like Colorado, Dallas has already established themselves as contenders and have now moved on to the fine-tuning stage of their roster-build. Toffoli is the exact sort of piece that could put them over the top — and the Stars don’t really have any onerous contracts that would get in the way of him signing there.
The Panthers were one of the highest-scoring teams in the league in 2019/20, but they’re still going to have to do some serious restructuring of their top-six this offseason. Both top right winger Evgeny Dadonov and frequent left-handed right winger Mike Hoffman are UFAs and expected to depart, which would leave Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly as the top two RWs on the depth chart — not exactly inspiring for a team hoping to make noise in the playoffs.
Given their reported mandate to cut budget, it’s unlikely that the Panthers will be major players in the free agent market this year. With that being said, the reality of life in Florida — and the low income tax that comes with it — could allow them to make Toffoli an enticing offer without digging too deep.
The Canadiens should really be rebuilding right now, but with Carey Price and Shea Weber both signed to retirement contracts, that’s just not possible. Instead, they’ll be trying to retool once again this offseason, and prominent on their shopping list will be a right wing with scoring prowess — like a Toffoli, for instance.
Behind Brendan Gallagher, the Habs have Joel Armia, a player better suited for a bottom-six role. Their next highest-ranking right winger is Dale Weise — and if that doesn’t say enough about their need for Toffoli, nothing will.
Like the Sabres, the Senators have shown up on all three of these lists. And, like the Sabres, Toffoli should have no interest whatsoever in joining the Ottawa organization — but that doesn’t mean they won’t want him. The Sens have a collection of solid but unspectacular right wings in Bobby Ryan, Connor Brown, and the left-handed Anthony Duclair, and there’s little doubt that Toffoli would slide right into the top of that particular depth chart.
Ottawa also has a major negotiating advantage when it comes to cap space. If they’re serious about transforming into a contender, they could do worse than throwing a ton of money at Toffoli — but it’s still hard to believe the Senators are serious about anything.
Teams That Could Use An Upgrade In Their Top-Six
These teams are probably fine with their right wing depth going into 2020/21, but wouldn’t mind an upgrade in the form of Tyler Toffoli.
The Flames have plenty of nice pieces already in their top-six, but something just doesn’t seem to be clicking, so expect them to shake things up this offseason. More than anything, they’ll be on the lookout for a right-shooting forward — they only have two at the NHL level in center Elias Lindholm and Sam Bennett — which means they’ll be on the lookout for Toffoli.
Some shuffling would have to be done in order to fit Toffoli into Calgary’s cap structure. Sure, a couple of departing defensemen will open up space, but they’ll also have to be replaced. If the long-rumoured Johnny Gaudreau trade finally goes down this offseason, that would certainly do the trick.
The Hurricanes are an increasingly potent team, but they still had to drag Justin Williams out of retirement to complete their top-six in 2019/20. With Williams presumably skating off into the sunset again, there’s still a hole at right wing — and no guarantee that youngsters like Martin Necas will be able to fill it.
On the whole, Carolina is probably best off maintaining the strength of their blueline and supplementing their offence from within. If they do end up going shopping for a forward, however, it would make sense for them to zero in on Toffoli.
The Oilers aren’t really going to saddle Connor McDavid with Zack Kassian for his entire prime, are they? Obviously, McDavid has been doing just fine in his current circumstances, but it’s hard not to wonder what he’d do with more talented linemates — like Toffoli, for instance, who just demonstrated a serious aptitude for complementing a creative center in Vancouver.
Fortunately for Canuck fans, Edmonton’s salary cap limitations should prevent them from targeting Toffoli in the offseason. Unless they unexpectedly shed a contract or two, they just won’t have room for him — and they’ll be searching the bargain bin for upgrades instead, again.
Los Angeles Kings
This is an odd one. The Kings are clearly rebuilding, and thus not likely to spend heavily on UFAs this offseason. But their wing depth is extremely weak, and they could be on the lookout for a veteran or two to insulate their prospects — and who better than a player who already knows the organization intimately?
There hasn’t been a hint of any bad blood between Toffoli and the Kings, and his spouse still works for the Dodgers, so a return to LA definitely isn’t out of the question.
You may notice something when and if the Canucks face the Wild in their impending play-in series — a complete dearth of right-shooting forwards on the Minnesota roster. They’ve only got two in Ryan Hartman and Luke Kunin, both of whom occupy bottom-six roles.
While some of the Wild forwards, like Mats Zuccarello, prefer to play on their off-side, they could still definitely benefit from a natural right wing. No one really knows what new GM Bill Guerin plans to do this offseason, and Minnesota doesn’t seem like an incredibly appealing destination for Toffoli, but stranger things have happened.
San Jose Sharks
It would hurt LA fans to see Toffoli slide next door to suit up for the Sharks, but it’s a more likely outcome than many realize. From all accounts, San Jose is set to make one last run with their veteran core — and, if that’s the case, they’ll need some serious reinforcements.
Aside from the possibly-departing Melker Karlsson, the Sharks’ only quality right wing is Kevin Labanc, who is coming off an abysmal season. A major upgrade is needed in their top-six, and Toffoli looks to be the best option on the market. At the very least, we know he’s comfortable living in the area.
The Pool Of Other UFA RWs
Last time around, we talked about how the Canucks might want to play hardball with Jacob Markstrom, given the small pool of teams looking for a new goaltender and the bevy of other goalies on the market.
Unfortunately, it’s the exact opposite when it comes to Tyler Toffoli.
As we’ve outlined above, almost a full half of the league should be interested in the services of Toffoli or another winger like him — and there just aren’t that many wingers like him available on the open market this year.
The aforementioned Evgeny Dadonov is really the only other UFA right wing who even belongs in the same tier as Toffoli. One could also put the left-handed, but frequently right wing Mike Hoffman there, as well. But beyond them, the well is pretty dry.
The next tier of UFA RWs contains names like Craig Smith, Vlad Namestnikov, Wayne Simmonds, and Ilya Kovalchuk. They’re all fine supplemental pieces, but none of them belong in a competitive top-six.
In other words, the Canucks should be hopeful that Toffoli really, really enjoyed his time in Vancouver — because, if not, he clearly holds all the cards in this upcoming round of negotiations.