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The Curious Case of Tyler Toffoli 

I miss you Tyler Toffoli

One of big issues for a fan base dealing with the Los Angeles Kings is one of narrative.

Mostly this is because the mass of media covering the Kings isn’t overly critical. They tend not to pick players apart every day. Patience is preached in tough times. The ole Brooklyn Dodgers’ “Wait till next year!” motto has been frequently invoked.

The honeymoon has largely been in effect since that magical playoff run in 2012. It’s lasted through two coaching changes, a captain’s change, two seasons of missing the playoffs, two others where only one victory combined was produced, overuse of rental players, and an inability to score goals.

You see that nitpicking in other cities—Montreal, Boston, Chicago, New York, Toronto—but not really here.

Instead, trade seeds are planted in the narrative of players. Trades actually don’t happen, but trade talk always surrounds this team (Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, et. al). You can count on one finger any sort of significant trade that has occurred since 2014 (Milan Lucic for Martin Jones), and please don’t say the Tanner Pearson trade was a game changer.

What you actually get is a trade narrative assigned to players that they have a hard time shaking and have to answer to again and again and again. And again.

This year is a much different. The honeymoon has officially ended. The backlash from the fans cost John Stevens his job. And, if Kings Nation had their way, Willie Desjardins would have been booted a day later once Coach Q. became a free agent. Everyone wants to blow it all up now and get a top draft pick (preferably Jack Hughes). They are louder than most of the media who point out regularly that the Kings are only 7-11 points out of a playoff spot, depending on the time and day.

Last year the Kings were fighting for a division crown. This year? They are fighting not to stay in 31st place.

Everyone is supposed to be traded. With the exception of Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Jonathan Quick.

One player having a tough time with narrative this year is Toffoli. Like the team as a whole, Toffoli’s honeymoon (his playing honeymoon, not his real-life relationship honeymoon) has also come to a screeching halt this year. He burst into the hearts of fans in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. I mean, 14 points (7G, 7A) in 27 games with a shiny trophy being raised by you in that last game goes a long way to making you beloved.

What’s not to love? He has immense skill, and has a great shot, and most experts feel he could excel at an even greater rate if he was on a fast-skating team with skill and not the “old and slow” Kings.

Despite the underachieving narrative assigned to him, statistically speaking Toffoli wasn’t exactly a flop last season. After signing a three-year, $13.8 million contract extension in 2017, his 47 points (24G, 23A) were below projections and the expectation that he would return to the thirty goal plateau once again. Not bad. Not great. However, we did get this:

Not helping that underachieving moniker is that he went 13 games without a goal in January and February and scored just one goal in the final 15 games. He also led the team with 251 shots (21st in the NHL), so you’d think the puck would be going in much more. He also went scoreless in the four-game playoffs sweep by Vegas, but since the team only scored three goals altogether, Toffoli earned another pass.

“Wait till next year!”

In pre-season, Toffoli addressed his critics: “I’m worried about playing good hockey and doing the best I can. Obviously, what my coaches and general manager and people in the organization have to say, I listen. But other than that, everybody else, the things that they say, I definitely am not worried about that.”

Next year has arrived once again and he has 12 points (5G, 7A) through 27 games and has only one goal in his last thirteen games. That kind of production got one-time linemate Ilya Kovalchuk pushed to the fourth line. Through his struggles, Toffoli has remained firm with center Jeff Carter. Even a bunch of Desjardins double talk can’t mask Toffoli’s downward trend in production.

  • 2018-2019—27 GP, 12 points (5G, 7A), 0.44 points per game
  • 2017-2018—82 GP, 47 points (24G, 23A), 0.57 points per game
  • 2016-2017—63 GP, 34 points (16G, 18A), 0.53 points per game
  • 2015-2016—82 GP, 58 points (31G, 27A), 0.69 points per game
  • 2014-2015—76 GP, 49 points (23G, 26A), 0.64 points per game
  • 2013-2014—62 GP, 29 points (12G, 17A), 0.46 points per game

Toffoli is marketed as a scorer. A sniper if you will. But he’s simply not anymore. But maybe it’s just a factor of a bad Kings start, a coaching change, and his current coach’s aversion to putting a system into place that values goals and special teams. He’s producing at his lowest levels in his entire career and 23% less than last year. In other words, his narrative is that he’s struggling.

Scoring aside, the fact that his two-way game has disappeared is something that should alarm even the most hardened Toffoli supporter. Once an NHL plus/minus leader (2015-16 plus 35), he’s now a minus six on the season. To make it worse, his plus/minus is in a freefall since that peak year:

  • 2018-2019—minus 6
  • 2017-2018—plus 9
  • 2016-2017—plus 6
  • 2015-2016—plus 35
  • 2014-2015—plus 25
  • 2013-2014—plus 21

Not only has the scoring dried up, but his presence as a 200-foot player has gone away as well.

Yes, the honeymoon is over.

After the 2015-16 season, Toffoli was about as an untouchable player as any team had. You would have been hard pressed to find an equal value. Today, the pundits are saying he should be the first one sold off now that everyone is hurt and the Kings are needing some sort of new look.

What’s worse is the market seems dry for a sniper in a perpetual slump. The best deal I can see in the world of hockey trade gossip is with the New Jersey Devils. Talk is sending multiple NHL-ready prospects (John Quenneville, Nick Lappin and/or Brett Seney) or shipping a player like Marcus Johansson.

Not exactly the stuff rebuilds are built around, is it?

So let this serve as a pep talk, Mr. Toffoli. We need you in a Kings uniform. We want you here. We like you here. We want your jersey in the Staples Center rafters.

Go back to that hard-working player who played two-way hockey. Remember him? He was pretty great! Call Adam Oates and work on your skill game and your shot placement. Cut the flow and and show us all the greatness we wanted.

Please?

But we need more. The alternatives aren’t very appetizing for any of us, are they?

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