It’s been yet another busy week of transactions for Canada’s NHL teams, with the Canucks, Canadiens, and Leafs stealing the spotlight.
The Montreal Canadiens made the first splash of the week on Monday when they dipped into the free agent pool to pickup former Canucks’ winger Tyler Toffoli on a four-year deal worth $17 million. The signing caused as much commotion on the west coast as it did out east, as it marked the fourth and final significant free agent that the Canucks lost this offseason.
If you had asked me ahead of time if the Canucks were likely to lose Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher, and Tyler Toffoli this offseason, the answer would’ve been a resounding no.
At least Vancouver sportswriter Rob Williams saw this coming, even if he asked the initial question mostly in jest. Regardless, five days later, he was given an affirmative answer as the Canucks had officially lost out on all four players. Like most reporters and fans, he was blown away that the team couldn’t find a way to keep at least one of Toffoli or Stecher, considering the club-friendly deals they ended up signing (Toffoli – 4y x $4.25M; Stecher 2y x $1.7M).
For Montreal’s part, they get a hardworking winger with a nose for the net and a Stanley Cup on his resumé. After collecting 24 goals and 20 assists across 68 games split between Vancouver and Los Angeles last season, Toffoli will bring some much-needed offensive help to a Montreal lineup that finished in the middle of the pack last year in goals for.
Not long after Canucks fans were up in arms over losing Toffoli, General Manager Jim Benning pulled the trigger on a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights. Poised to sign UFA defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon was forced to part ways with another good player in order to fit under the salary cap. With no leverage in the situation, the Golden Knights ended up coughing up blueliner Nate Schmidt to the Canucks in exchange for a 2022 third-round draft pick.
Schmidt certainly makes the Canucks a tougher team to play against and provides more offense than either Chris Tanev or Troy Stecher. He’s put up 30 or more points in three seasons with Vegas since being selected in the 2017 expansion draft from the Washington Capitals and is a career +88 to match his jersey number.
What makes things tricky for the Canucks is that he’s yet another left-handed defenseman on a team already that’s quite overcrowded in that area. Schmidt does have experience playing the right side in Washington and Vegas, however, and will likely slot in next to fellow left-hander Quinn Hughes on the top pairing.
The Canucks will still need to add another right-shot player to solidify their backend over the coming weeks, but the Schmidt trade has relieved some of the uncertainty felt in Vancouver this offseason.
Well, that was Monday. Let’s move on.
Tuesday was a quieter day that saw Vancouver re-sign depth defenseman Ashton Sautner, who will likely spend most of next season in the AHL, while Toronto secured goaltender Aaron Dell on a one-year pact at $800,000.
The Habs were the talk of Wednesday, signing forward Brendan Gallagher to a six-year contract extension worth $39 million. The deal won’t kick in until the 2021-2022 season as Gallagher has one year left on his current deal, but it reaffirms the belief in one another between club and player. The Canadiens also handed out a contract extension to goaltender Jake Allen who was acquired from St. Louis last season. With one year left on his existing contract, Allen is set to make $2.875 million per year for two seasons starting in 2021-2022.
200 kilometres west, the Ottawa Senators locked in UFA Evgenii Dadanov for three years at $5 million per season on Thursday. Dadanov, 31, was a late bloomer, bursting onto the scene with 65 points for Florida during the 2017-18 season. He’s been a reliable contributor for the Panthers since then, scoring 53 goals over the past two seasons combined.
Ottawa was one of the worst teams in the league last year and won’t be expected to reach the playoffs next season, but with the offseason they’ve had, don’t be surprised if they end up competing for a spot.
Not to be outdone by their inter-province rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a “jumbo” acquisition on Friday, signing NHL veteran and longtime San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton to a one-year deal at league minimum. Thornton, 41, saw a major drop in production last season on a bad San Jose team, collecting only 31 points in 70 games. It was the second lowest point total of his career, only eclipsing the 7 points he posted in his rookie season (1997-98) with Boston.
Still, Thornton still believes he can contribute to a Toronto team that will look to bounce back from another postseason disappointment this August. He’s certainly slower than he once was and won’t see the ice time he’s used to seeing on a much more talented Maple Leafs team, but he’s been one of the NHL’s premier passers over the last two decades and will fill out Toronto’s bottom-six nicely.
In other news on Friday, the Calgary Flames re-signed 24-year-old winger Andrew Mangiapane to a two-year contract at $2.425 million per year. Mangiapane had a breakout year with the Flames in 2019-20, putting up 32 points (17-15-32) in 68 games, as well as 5 points (2-3-5) in 10 postseason games.
Saturday remained relatively quiet in the NHL, which is likely good news if you’ve made it this far and aren’t sure just how many more names and numbers your brain can handle. Even though hockey isn’t being played this October, Canada’s teams are still keeping busy and giving us plenty to talk about.