Fans were elated when the Flames acquired Tyler Toffoli from Montreal in February. It filled one of Calgary’s most pressing needs: a top-six winger with a right shot and didn’t come at an exorbitant price. Toffoli was an immediate hit, too; he scored a highlight reel goal in his Flames debut and was very productive early on before things dropped off down the stretch.
So was Toffoli’s early production a mirage? Or was his drop-off in April and May the abnormality? Those questions, plus ones involving his linemates and usage this season, are why Toffoli is the team’s most intriguing player entering this season.
I don’t know if you could have scripted a better start to Toffoli’s tenure in Calgary than how the first six weeks went. Toffoli had nine goals and 18 points in his first 21 games in a Flames jersey and gave an instant shot in the arm to the team’s power play while also producing at five-on-five. It looked like an absolute home run for a Calgary team aspiring to loftier heights than they had in the prior few years.
But as we got closer to the end of the season, Toffoli’s production dropped off a cliff. He had two goals and five points in his final 16 regular season games and the exact same production in 12 playoff games. For a player acquired primarily to help with scoring depth, Toffoli’s offensive struggles were noticeable.
And it wasn’t just counting numbers that plummeted for Toffoli down the stretch. As you can see below, Toffoli’s five-on-five metrics were dreadful in his final 16 regular season games. Calgary was routinely being outshot, outchanced, and outscored when he was on the ice. Underlying metrics courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
Feb. 15 – Mar. 29
Mar. 31 – Apr. 29
Toffoli’s underlying numbers bounced back in the postseason but, unfortunately, his production didn’t. When things went as poorly for him down the stretch, you can understand why fans lumped the two stretches together despite Toffoli being far more effective in the playoffs. And, to his credit, he scored a massive goal in game seven vs. Dallas.
So what can we expect this season? And how likely is it Toffoli’s struggles in the final month of the season were a misnomer? While obviously not an exact science, there are reasons to be optimistic when projecting Toffoli’s effectiveness this year.
Getting a training camp with the team and not having to adjust on the fly is an easy first place to look. As familiar as Toffoli was with head coach Darryl Sutter going back to their days in Los Angeles, midseason adjustments always present challenges. There shouldn’t be any adjustment needed when Toffoli hits the ice in October.
Toffoli is also looking at more opportunity this season, and potentially in a big way. Playing with different linemates in 37 regular season games, Toffoli seemed to straddle being a “top six” and “middle six” forward. He spent the most time with Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane during the regular season, while Calle Järnkrok and Dillon Dubé were his most frequent playoff linemates.
This year the door is wide open for a defined top six role. Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau have been replaced with Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri for the coming season, which leaves Calgary with a net loss of one top six winger. All of a sudden, top line Toffoli seems like a viable option for the Flames.
Even if Calgary were to sign one of the remaining free agent forwards (Evan Rodrigues or Sonny Milano, for instance), Toffoli’s chances to play higher leverage minutes at five-on-five seem much better than they did last season. Many projected lineups for the coming year have Toffoli on the right side of Huberdeau and Elias Lindholm, which is quite interesting, at least on paper.
Toffoli’s play down the stretch was worrying, but his partial return to form in the playoffs was encouraging. Toffoli shot at 6.1% during the 2022 post-season, which is almost four full percentage points lower than his career average. That’s just not conducive to good counting numbers, but does help us understand his lack of May production.
All of these factors lead to a somewhat optimistic Toffoli projection for the coming season. That’s all it is, though… a projection. But for all the factors we’ve just explored, there’s no question Toffoli is the player I’m most interested in entering 2022-23.