When the Vancouver Canucks traded highly-regarded prospect Tyler Madden and a second-round pick for forward Tyler Toffoli, it’s safe to say there were questions that needed to be answered.
Why is a squad that hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2015 — one with a young core and numerous roster flaws — trading away future assets for a pending unrestricted free agent who could very well jet at season’s end? What was their motivation and expectation?
It does seem odd for a team, one that most would call lucky to be one of the 16 qualifying for this year’s playoffs, to suddenly act like they are bound for a long run. After an organization goes through such a dramatic rebuild like the Canucks did, they are left with a couple of elite players but still need some time to find themselves in a deep playoff run.
The Pittsburgh Penguins with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin found the playoffs in their second year and their first series win in their third — same for the Chicago Blackhawks with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. This is the second year of the Elias Pettersson Experience in Vancouver, but dynamic blueliner Quinn Hughes is in his rookie year and the team is just starting to become competitive.
The Canucks’ cosmic shift in mentality really took its first stride when GM Jim Benning traded a first-round pick for forward J.T. Miller last summer.
JT Miller uncorks an absolute bomb to win it in OT pic.twitter.com/uYvraGrG8t— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) December 7, 2019
Cast as a third-liner for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Benning paid a top price for a 26-year-old that was locked up for four seasons. Luckily for Vancouver, Miller has become one of the top contributors on the team — and the current leading scorer — and all it took was a significant bump into the top-six and averaging almost three minutes more time-on-ice than his previous career high.
Now with the acquisition of Toffoli and the Canucks still shopping around for more help prior to Monday’s trade deadline, it may well be argued that Vancouver has secured itself a close-to-contender role.
Currently sitting second in the Pacific and just one point below the division-leading Edmonton Oilers, the Canucks are in a position that should benefit them this spring. But the only problem is, so are three other clubs within their division.
The Calgary Flames, Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes are all within four points of that top spot. including the Oilers and Canucks, that’s five teams that just need a short hot streak to define their seasons and come out on top in the Pacific. That’s why the Canucks got ahead of the curve in attempting some win-now moves before Monday’s deadline.
Even if Vancouver isn’t crowned winners of their division after the regular season grinds to a halt, they are still in a favorable position to find a path deep into the playoffs.
If they stay within the Pacific — the last wild card spot would most likely see them face the winner of the Central division in the first round — the Canucks can definitely make a run for it.
The Canucks have the same amount (or more) of game-breaking talent as their divisional competition, so by adding some more firepower before the playoff seeding is decided — as wild as it sounds — Vancouver has put itself in a position to find a road to the Western Conference Final.
It can turn into a tournament of mediocre depth considering the other teams, but the Canucks saw an opportunity and are going for it.
For a club that hasn’t made the postseason for four years and has not won a playoff series since their 2011 run to the Stanley Cup Final, an extended journey into spring can mean a whole lot to one of the most dramatic and passionate fanbases in the NHL.
Despite being undecided over the potential impact of the future assets that were given up for forwards currently in their prime, it’s easy to enjoy a rare postseason appearance for the Canucks. And they have the clear inside track compared to their competition to make it a substantial run.
There is no doubt that watching Pettersson and Hughes link up for a game-winning goal in the playoffs and hearing the explosion of sound coming from Rogers Arena will be worth whatever future second- or third-line forward Benning gave up for a few months of offensive depth.
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