Monday, December 14, 2020

Habs Preview: Tyler Toffoli Jersey Card

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: 2020 is a different beast and requires adaptability; in my case, it means the joint posts with my "main/personal" blog will not be in the "player here/analysis there" format but rather the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written. Two more caveats: at this point, the NHL has not even confirmed the division make-ups yet despite the season being set to start a month from now, and several impact players such as 25-to-30-goal scorer Mike Hoffman and 20-goal journeyman forward Anthony Duclair, among others, haven't found a team yet. And quite a few teams are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.

That being said, let's start with the one division we're pretty sure is going to happen if only because of the border situation, the Canadian Division, and the Montréal Canadiens.

The Habs surprised many by ousting the Pittsburgh Penguins in last August's Return To Play and fared decently against a much stronger Philadelphia Flyers team in the first round, after finishing 12th in the Eastern Conference during the interrupted regular season - with the very real possibility of falling even lower had the season been completed with the dozen missing games. They had missed the playoffs for the previous three seasons.

They are also the most-improved team this off-season, with the additions of #1B goaltender Jake Allen, 30-goal scorer Tyler Toffoli, 27-goal scorer Josh Anderson, and shut-down defender Joel Edmundson joining the fold, and rookie Alexander Romanov expected to become the next star on the team's blue line. However, whenever a team adds that many new faces (essentially a quarter of a line-up), there are usually growing pains and chemistry issues that take until the Holidays to sort out - or roughly half the year. There will not be the luxury of time this year, as the season will actually start after the Holidays have taken place and will have to end before mid-July because of the Summer Olympics.

What makes their odds look good:
The middle: Phillip Danault is now rightfully seen as one of the best two-way centers in the NHL, Nick Suzuki is looking like an eventual first-line pivot and Jesperi Kotkaniemi has shown enough promise to justify the gamble of using a third-overall pick to select him.

The right side is also now comprised of three 25-to-30-goal scorers in Brendan Gallagher, Toffoli and Anderson.

The defense now boasts eight credible and healthy NHL-level names, in addition to Noah Juulsen who may yet recover from concussion issues and is still a top-level prospect in his early 20s.

The team also had a 10-3-2 record against Canadian teams last season; they had the Calgary Flames' and Toronto Maple Leafs' number, they did well against the Ottawa Senators (a historical anomaly), and split the season series with the Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks. The Edmonton Oilers did a number on them. I figure things will be a little harder in 2020-21 because of the lack of fans in attendance - the Canadiens usually draw huge crowds out West that makes away games feel like home games - but they are built to withstand this exact type of adversary.

Question marks:
Shea Weber has made way for Jeff Petry as the most-used defenseman on the right side for a couple of years now; he has looked slow at times, but his monster shot remains a threat on the powerplay. There will come a day when he is best bought out, which will impact the Nashville Predators' cap because they're the ones who signed the cap-circumventing contract.

Remember when the saying went "as Carey Price goes, so do the Canadiens"? That didn't turn out all that well, as the team has missed the playoffs more than they've been in them since he was appointed as the unquestioned #1, a situation that has been made worse by his current contract. Luckily for him and the team, Montréal has a shot at winning the division if he can simply be the 15th-best goalie in the league and Allen can perform around 20th-best for some 20-to-25 games. There will be a shit-ton of back-to-back games and teams who do not have a good tandem in net will be penalized, either by missing the postseason or by not faring well in them.

My reservations are with the shortened schedule, the lack of preparation time ahead of facilitating the integration of four new important pieces of the regular lineup and one team possibly gaining improbable momentum. I would normally also worry about message fatigue from long-time head coach Claude Julien, but his health issues from the playoffs buys him sympathy and time.

Second in the Canadian/North Division.

Which brings me to Toffoli, seen here wearing the Los Angeles Kings' white (away) uniform on card #GJ-TT from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Series 1 collection and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a superb silver game-worn jersey swatch. Toffoli is not only a former 30-goal scorer but also a Stanley Cup champion (L.A., 2014), co-starring with Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson on the team's top unit, dubbed "That 70s Line". He has also won gold with Team Canada at the 2015 World Championships.

At 6'1", 195 pounds, and 28 years of age, he should remain fairly productive for three of the next four seasons. He is a great addition to this team.

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