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As of March 10, 2020, the Vancouver Canucks were almost certainly going to do their level best to re-sign Tyler Toffoli. That night, the 27-year-old forward put up a goal and an assist against the Islanders to bring his post-acquisition totals to ten points in ten games – definitely the sort of production that’s worth keeping around, to say nothing of his obvious chemistry with Elias Pettersson.

In essence, re-signing the pending UFA was already a no-brainer.

Then, less than 48 hours later, the NHL went on hiatus – and the necessity of extending Toffoli’s contract became even more dire. As of right now, GM Jim Benning and Co. have given up multiple picks and top prospect Tyler Madden for just ten games of Toffoli, a return that would have fans calling for Benning’s dismissal under normal circumstances.

And even under these strange circumstances we now find ourselves in, the possibility of seeing Toffoli walk away for nothing in the offseason – whenever that happens to occur – is one to be avoided at all costs.

But re-signing Toffoli is also a choice that comes with its own set of consequences. Aside from the increased pressure it will put on the Canucks’ already-stressed salary cap situation, there’s also the 2021 Seattle Expansion Draft to consider.

 

Vancouver Forwards And The Expansion Draft

As it was in the 2017 Vegas Expansion Draft, teams will be given a choice of protecting either seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender from Seattle in 2021. The second option is only really valid if a team has four high-quality defenders that they’d like to keep their hands on – so, suffice it to say, the Canucks will be going with the former.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make their decision on who to actually protect any easier – especially with Tyler Toffoli now in the mix.

Below, we’ll take a look at which forwards Jim Benning and Co. absolutely MUST protect – and which could be on their way to Washington State.

 

Guaranteed To Be Protected

The following forwards are guaranteed to be protected in the 2021 Expansion Draft, barring some serious mitigating circumstances:

Elias Pettersson

Technically, Pettersson is scheduled to be an RFA in the 2021 offseason, but if the Canucks haven’t signed him to an extension by then they will have bigger problems on their hands than the Expansion Draft. Either way, he must and will be protected.

Brock Boeser

Boeser will still have a year left on his current contract at $5.875 million when Seattle comes calling. There have been some ill-advised rumblings in the media about potentially trading Boeser in the near-future but, assuming that does not come to pass, expect him to be given a protection slot in 2021.

JT Miller

Miller will still be signed at a bargain rate for two additional seasons beyond the 2021 offseason, which means he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. GM Jim Benning hit paydirt with the acquisition of Miller, and he looks to be a fixture in the top-six for years to come.

Tyler Toffoli

If Toffoli ends up being re-signed, it’s going to be for longer than one year – a lot longer. That means that whatever contract he signs will have to be protected in the Expansion Draft, and it’s entirely possible that he and his agent demand at least a one-season no-movement clause to guarantee it. Even if they don’t, extending Toffoli and exposing him a year later would just be silly. If he stays beyond this offseason, he’ll stay beyond the next one, too.

Bo Horvat

Horvat had his detractors this season, but the captain isn’t moving on anytime soon. He’s signed for two additional seasons beyond the 2021 offseason at what will increasingly look like a discounted rate, and he’s only just hitting his offensive prime. By protecting both Horvat and Pettersson, the Canucks will ensure they maintain an enviable one-two punch at center through the Expansion Draft. 

 

On The Protection Bubble

With those five forwards already protected, the Canucks would be down to just three remaining slots – which would presumably go to three of the following players:

Jake Virtanen

Virtanen had a breakout campaign in 2019/20, and he might not be done there if this author has anything to say about it. He’s also made himself a valuable commodity in the NHL for perhaps the first time ever. Virtanen seems like a shoe-in to be protected as long as his upcoming contract negotiations go well, and if he isn’t he’ll be traded – he will not be exposed to Seattle.

Adam Gaudette

Gaudette is the same age as Virtanen and in a very similar boat, albeit with less pro experience. He’s also a pending RFA this offseason and due for a raise after an offensive breakout, but he didn’t shoot the lights out quite enough to break the bank. Expect him to be re-signed, and expect him to be protected or dealt. He’s too talented to be left for the taking.

Zack MacEwen

The man they call The Big Fella seemed to be on the verge of nailing down a full-time spot with the Canucks when the NHL suspended operations. Like Virtanen and Gaudette, he’s 23-years-old and a pending RFA, but he won’t be in line for much of a raise – which is good for the Canucks, but also makes him all the more tempting for Seattle.

Antoine Roussel

Roussel started the 2019/20 season late and only seemed to catch back up a few games before the hiatus. He’s not a very high priority to protect at this point, and he’ll likely be even less so a year from now at the age of 31 – though a bounceback campaign in 2020/21 could change that.

Micheal Ferland

At this point, it isn’t fair to speculate much about Ferland’s future and his health remains the priority. If he is able to return to the Canucks and stay in the lineup, he’ll have two years remaining on his contract as of the Expansion Draft – and a healthy Ferland might be difficult to give up on.

Kole Lind

Lind is the Canucks’ top forward prospect in Utica, and he will be eligible for the Expansion Draft. If his development continues to trend in the right direction, he’ll look like a cheap and effective option for Seattle – and one that the Canucks will struggle to find a protection slot for. It would be painful to lose Lind after investing years of development into him.

Tyler Motte

Motte is a pending RFA who will probably be re-signed this offseason, but he’s still a fourth liner by trade – and thus not one to factor into any serious expansion planning. There will be better players to protect, and almost certainly better options for Seattle to choose from.

 

Could Be A Factor

The following forwards are currently set to have their contracts expire before the 2021 Expansion Draft – but any extensions could also put them into the mix for protection:

Tanner Pearson

Pearson will be a UFA in the summer of 2021, which means he won’t be eligible for the Expansion Draft – unless the Canucks re-sign him first. His success with Bo Horvat and ties to Tyler Toffoli might make an extension probable, but the smart move would be to wait until after the Expansion Draft to actually sign him to a new contract, rather than to waste an unnecessary protection slot on him.

Brandon Sutter

Most believe that Sutter will be traded sometime in the 2020 offseason, but everything is up in the air right now. If he continues with the Canucks beyond this year, it’s unlikely that he’d be re-signed thereafter – and if he was, he wouldn’t be protected anyway.

Josh Leivo

Unfortunately for Leivo, his time on the IR corresponded with the continued breakout of Jake Virtanen and the acquisition of Tyler Toffoli. That’s probably squeezed him out of the lineup moving forward, which means he might not even be re-signed. If he does return, he’ll have to do a lot of work to make himself worthy of a protection slot. He might make more sense as a trade chip.

 

Not A Factor

Honestly, Vancouver would be pretty pleased if either of the following forwards were taken by Seattle in 2021:

Loui Eriksson

The Canucks would have to have compromising photographs of Ron Francis to get Seattle to even consider touching Eriksson’s contract.

Jay Beagle

Amazingly, Beagle will still be signed for another year at $3 million after the 2021 Expansion Draft is complete. He’ll be exposed, but Seattle won’t take a look at him unless they’re really, really low on veteran experience.

 

What Is The Most Likely Outcome?

If Vancouver re-sign Tyler Toffoli, the most likely outcome of the 2021 Expansion Draft is that the Canucks lose a valuable player to Seattle – certainly, a more valuable player than Luca Sbisa.

As of now, the most likely to be protected outside of those five guarantees are Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette, which would leave all of Zack MacEwen, Kole Lind, and Antoine Roussel for the taking. Those would represent difficult losses, but not insurmountable.

Of course, there’s also the possibility that Seattle doesn’t choose a forward at all – which becomes significantly more likely if the Canucks hang on to both Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko into the 2020/21 season.

In short, a new contract for Tyler Toffoli will definitely have some impact on the Canucks’ plans for the 2021 Expansion Draft – but not enough of an impact to dissuade them from extending him.