Canucks continue to risk their future with short-term thinking

Feb 19 2020, 10:54 am

In a vacuum, the Tyler Toffoli trade makes sense for the Vancouver Canucks.

The 27-year-old right winger should be a perfect fit with the Canucks, who need a player that fits his profile, as a good two-way player with experience that can score. Consider that Toffoli has already shown that he has chemistry with his good friend Tanner Pearson, he’s only 27, and you can understand why GM Jim Benning targeted him in a trade.

When healthy, Vancouver now has two potent scoring lines.

They gave up Tyler Madden, a second-round pick, a conditional fourth-round pick, and Tim Schaller to get Toffoli — but hey you’ve got to give up something to get something, right?

Benning didn’t get fleeced in this deal.

If there was ever a year where a team like the Canucks could go on a run, this is it, with no clearcut favourite in the Pacific Division — although I believe the Vegas Golden Knights are a sleeping giant. There is a path for Vancouver to get to the Conference Final for just the fourth time in franchise history.

Provided they make it to the postseason.

By Benning’s own admission, the Toffoli trade was an effort to ensure the Canucks would stay above the playoff bar, given the long-term injuries to Brock Boeser, Josh Leivo, and Micheal Ferland.

“We want to stay in the race here coming down the stretch, so we figured this was something we could do to help [our team],” Benning told the media on Tuesday.

“This is something to give our team a chance to remain in the pack and to compete for a playoff spot, that’s our goal. When it looked like [Boeser] was going to be out for the rest of the [regular season], we wanted to make sure that we addressed that. We got some help for the rest of the guys on the team so we can stay competitive.”

The problem is that this trade doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and the chances of the Canucks dying by a thousand paper cuts is increasing.

Cap crunch coming this summer

Benning has run out of room for error.

Loui Eriksson is still on the books, and the way his contract is structured, it won’t make sense to buy him out until 2021 at the earliest — and even then, he would still count $4 million against the cap in 2021-22. Speaking of buyouts, the Canucks will have $1.03 million count against their cap again next season because of Ryan Spooner.

Sven Baertschi will probably get bought out, leaving behind a $1.767 million cap hit next season.

Add in Roberto Luongo’s $3.033 million cap recapture penalty (which is no fault of Benning’s), and the Canucks could have nearly $6 million in dead cap money.

The Canucks are also paying an extraordinarily high price for third and fourth liners, with Eriksson ($6 million), Brandon Sutter ($4.375 million), Jay Beagle ($3 million), and Antoine Roussel ($3 million) taking up more than $16 million of the team’s cap.

So while the Canucks could re-sign Toffoli, making the deal seem more palatable, it will come at an opportunity cost.

The Canucks simply can’t bring everyone back.

Lots of raises to hand out

Toffoli currently makes $4.6 million and should receive close to that in free agency. Jacob Markstrom is currently in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy and could command close to $6 million.

Chris Tanev is having a strong season on the back end, somehow managing to remain healthy and productive after a mostly injury-plagued career. He’s going to get paid too — let’s say around $5 million.

Jake Virtanen could eclipse the 20-goal plateau, so he’s in line for a big raise on the $1.25 million he’s making this season.

Troy Stecher is a pending restricted free agent, while Leivo will be unrestricted.

All this is to say that, in a salary cap world, the Canucks can’t pay everyone.

Will it cost them another draft pick to shed salary? Will they be able to tender the $2.325 million qualifying offer necessary to keep Stecher?

Time catches up with everyone

As good as the Canucks’ young players are, they’re going to need help.

Defencemen Alex Edler (33), Jordie Benn (32), Tyler Myers (30), and Tanev (30) are all on the wrong side of 30. Same goes for forwards like Eriksson (34), Beagle (33), Sutter (31), and Roussel (30).

It’s fine to have a glut of 30+ players, but it becomes a problem when they’re all being paid generously.

Vasili Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander look like promising young forwards, but they’re both at least two years away from playing in the NHL at the earliest. As for defencemen, Brogan Rafferty has had a nice season in Utica, but he’s almost 25. Olli Juolevi still exists, and the Canucks still have a lot riding on him, but he’s not going to be a saviour.

In two years, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are going to get very expensive. They’re going to need young players on cheap contracts coming up — and there’s still hope for that. But with every draft pick that goes out the door, it leaves the Canucks with less room for error.

If the Canucks make the playoffs this season, they won’t pick until the third round of the draft. That’s an unusual position for a team like the Canucks, who aren’t seen by any of the experts as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender yet.

You can’t make these moves every year

You can trade your first-round pick. You can trade away prospects. You can go for the big fish in free agency.

But you can’t do it all every year.

Eventually these moves will catch up to the Canucks.

For every “win now” move Benning makes, it takes away a move he can make in the future. For instance, the Canucks were as active as can be in free agency last summer because they had the cap space to do so. It will be a long time before they can spend like that again.

They’ve traded a first and second round draft pick — how many years will they have to wait until they can use that card again without severely depleting their prospect pool?

But maybe this is all fine. Maybe the time to go for the Cup is this year and next, when Pettersson and Hughes are still on their entry-level contracts.

It just doesn’t feel like it.

The Canucks are a nice surprise this season. They look like they’re probably a playoff team at this point, and who knows after that?

But I would suggest that gunning for the Stanley Cup is pretty ambitious when you need to trade multiple draft picks, a promising prospect, and sign multiple high-profile UFAs just to get into the playoffs.

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