VANCOUVER – Let’s be clear: Tyler Toffoli has loved his time in Vancouver. So has his dog, Dodger.
But Toffoli has no idea yet if they’ll be around the Canucks next season because he’s still focused solely on this one.
The 27-year-old winger should be one of the top unrestricted free agents available July 1 or whenever this pandemic-interrupted National Hockey League season is declared over. Canucks general manager Jim Benning made it clear when he acquired Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 17 — in exchange for prospect Tyler Madden and a second-round draft pick — that he wants to re-sign and retain the native of Scarborough, Ont.
And that was before Toffoli scored six goals and 10 points in 10 games for the Canucks before the novel coronavirus halted the season on March 12.
The NHL suspension and the unknown impact of lost revenue on next year’s salary cap shrouds free agency like a fog. Neither managers nor players have any idea what next year’s cap economy will look like, and re-signing anyone to a significant contract is about impossible until there is clarity.
But Toffoli knows this: it’s been a good time playing for the Canucks.
“I had a lot of fun,” Toffoli told Sportsnet this week from his home in the Manhattan-Hermosa Beach area of Los Angeles.
“The guys treated me awesome, the fans were great, the coaching staff … everything was awesome. When that time comes that I’ve got to start thinking about all this — and honestly, I haven’t really thought about any of it — we’ll go from there.
“The only conversation that we’ve really had is to see where this season is going to go. That’s not my decision, where the cap’s going to go. Like I said, nobody could have ever imagined this happening and this scenario.”
Toffoli and his wife, Cat, were comfortable enough in Vancouver that they remained for a couple of weeks after the shutdown before deciding to make a cannonball run in their car home to Southern California.
Before they left, Cat posted a video from their downtown apartment of the 7 p.m. cheer for healthcare workers. She panned the camera to end on Tyler, holding the couple’s toy Yorkie. As if on cue, Dodger barked, making Tyler jump. It has been viewed on Twitter only a couple of hundred thousand times.
“She’ll bark but, it’s kind of funny that when we were in Vancouver, she wasn’t really barking that much,” Toffoli said of the dog, which Cat brought to their marriage two years ago. “Whenever she sees birds and stuff, she’ll go crazy every once in a while. I should have known there was that possibility that she was going to yell. She caught me a little off guard, and my wife usually catches all those things.
“Honestly, we felt that everybody was going to get a little laugh out of it, and I feel like everybody did. I was OK.
The amazing nightly cheer @ 7 pm in #Vancouver for all of the healthcare workers Wait for it.. @tytoff16 pic.twitter.com/QWEFsMPFJ0
— Cat (Belanger) Toffoli (@catbtoffoli) March 24, 2020
“We were really enjoying our time (in Vancouver), actually. But having no idea what was going to happen, we decided to come back home. Coming back to our house, we have a lot more room and there’s some workout equipment here that has come in pretty clutch. We enjoyed the drive. Obviously, not many cars on the road, not much traffic. We drove it in one day. My wife started, drove the first hour and a half, and then I took over until there were about four hours left. We put in a shift.”
Toffoli didn’t take a shift off for the Canucks. He is one of those players with a reputation for offence whose game seems far more complete when you watch him every day instead of three or four times per season.
Toffoli was second behind linemate J.T. Miller in scoring over his 10 games with the club. But Toffoli was excellent defensively, too. He played physically, and was among the veteran Canucks elevating his game during the playoff push as an example for younger teammates who have not been to the Stanley Cup tournament.
When Toffoli talks about finding the best “fit” in trying to decide his next contract, it’s hard to imagine there are many better available than the one offered by the Canucks: an up-and-coming team in a beautiful city that thinks enough of Toffoli to play him with Miller and Elias Pettersson on the top line.
In the Canucks’ last game — a 5-4 shootout win over the New York Islanders that feels about three years ago — Toffoli had a goal and an assist over 21:38 of ice time. He hasn’t played more in one game since Oct. 20, 2016.
“For me, personally, coming to Van and the first time being traded, it was exciting,” Toffoli said. “We had a really good team. I joined a really good group of guys and they all treated me extremely nice and brought me into the group right away. Just the talent, and the fact that everybody just wanted to win.”
He said the transition to Vancouver, aided by close friend and teammate Tanner Pearson, was easier than he expected. Even Dodger liked it, Toffoli said.
“I’ve talked to Ty a bit – nothing hockey-related,” Pearson said Wednesday. “I know they stayed in Vancouver a bit longer after us, and then they actually drove to California. I haven’t talked to him about persuading him (to re-sign). I don’t want to talk for him, but I think he liked his time here.”