Brayden Fengler / March 24, 2021
Another week, another Toronto Maple Leaf player added off waivers to a Canucks team who just lost a top-six player to injury. Jimmy Vesey will be seeing another familiar face in the Canucks locker room, other than just J.T. Miller. Travis Boyd, released to waivers by Toronto this week, was Vesey’s regular right-wing counterpart on the Leafs’ fourth line. In Toronto, Boyd was playing almost identical minutes to Vesey, with an average TOI in his last 10 Leafs appearances of 9:21. Like Vesey as well, Boyd is also on a cheap expiring contract this year. Boyd has a cap hit of $700k, $200k lower than Vesey’s.
The grand plan for Boyd as well as Vesey beyond this year, will be heavily dependent on how the Canucks handle the trade deadline, and their big off-season contracts. However, one thing is for certain right now, and that’s the fact that this newly added depth in Vesey and Boyd, are much needed additions for a Canucks team who has many key players on DTD or WTW injuries.
Canucks Turn Over a New Leaf
Being a Leafs fourth-liner, Boyd is comparable to Vesey in many ways, including broad stats such as their Corsi percentages. With Boyd’s 44% Corsi percentage in comparison to Vesey’s 45% Corsi, both while with Toronto. Additionally, Boyd and Vesey’s similar deployment has netted them a comically identical shooting percentage of 16.67% while with Toronto.
One area that the two players definitely differed in while in Toronto however, was fan fair. Vesey has long been lambasted as being an easy-to-miss player. This complaint reaches back to his time with the New York Rangers, and it definitely continued in the eyes of Toronto fans this season as well. Fans over in Ontario have long been voicing their concern about Vesey since the start of the season. The fans haven’t been afraid to embrace the alliteration between “Vesey” and the word “invisible.”
The sentiment among many Leafs fans is that Travis Boyd and his style of play while on the Leafs’ fourth line, was much more noticeable than Vesey’s style this year. This made his pick-up off of waivers a harder pill to swallow for some in Toronto.
“Boyd was a good player who quickly became a fan favorite and got maybe a slight bit overrated because of his extremely high, team leading on-ice shooting percentage. Still, hate to lose him because he’s an easy-to-like grinder with a bit of talent. He’d be a good fit on anyone’s fourth line.”– James Tanner
Toronto’s fans weren’t the only ones who would’ve liked to keep Boyd. In another element of deja vu, both Vesey and Boyd’s waiver assignments had a lot more to do with cap space/ money, than they did with the Leafs wanting to part ways with the players. Boyd could’ve easily been kept on Toronto’s roster, and moved in between the bench and the taxi squad without issue. However Toronto is a buyer heading into the trade deadline, and since they’re poised to make a really strong push for the playoffs, every bit of capital will help them when it comes time to buy.
What Hole Will Boyd Plug for the Canucks
When Tanner Pearson was injured on the very same day that Vesey was acquired, the whole ordeal thankfully became a best-case scenario for the Canucks, in what was otherwise a bad situation. I’m hard-pressed to think of another time in recent memory, when a new piece has been added to the Canucks roster, on the same day that a comparable player has gotten a week-to-week injury. The Canucks miss Pearson of course, but for now, Vesey has them covered.
With the Boyd acquisition and the Bo Horvat injury though, the Canucks don’t have as perfect of a puzzle piece fit for their line-up, like they did with Vesey. Boyd, who has mostly been a right-winger this season, will join the plethora of Canucks wingers that the team currently has on their roster. However, there are a few reasons why this situation may not actually be that complicated of a problem for the team to solve.
J.T. Miller is now the undisputed first-line centre for the time being, with Gaudette and Graovac taking the third and fourth line spots in the previous games. If the Canucks wish to keep Boyd, on the right-wing, this doesn’t actually make the choice of a new Canucks centreman too difficult in my eyes. The best possible choice for a short-term centre replacement role happens to be a player that currently plays on the right-wing.
Jake Virtanen has a ridiculously small sample size when it comes to faceoffs, with just 10 on the season. Yet with all other centremen who have high faceoff appearances not an option, and Jake now well adapted to playing amongst the top six, his conditioning of those minutes and his 80% faceoff win percentage, looks like a good enough reason to slot him into a hopefully short-lived centre role.
Alternatively Boyd, also has a previous history of playing up the middle of the ice in a centre role, as stated by Canucks coach Travis Green. This could allow the Canucks to slot him into centre, even though he hasn’t been used to playing that position with Toronto recently. The Canucks don’t have many good options for the middle of the ice right now, so when it’s between a 4th line winger and Jake Virtanen, it’s still more of a pick your poison than anything else.
If Jake moves to centre on the second line, then Boyd could easily slot in as his new right-winger, and then there you have it, problem sorted solved, for now. There is also the option of relegating a centre playing Jake to the third line, and bumping up Adam Gaudette to a second-line centre, which again, would give Gaudette some more well-deserved time in the sun.
How Does Boyd Factor Into the Rest of the Season and Beyond
With Vesey, I hypothesized that he would serve as a cheap alternative to a Pearson if the Canucks opt not to re-sign Tanner, as they likely should avoid doing for a reason I dived deeper into in my last piece about Vesey. With Boyd, his price tag certainly makes the idea of him staying on the Canucks long term, an easy one to swallow, if the Canucks are able to get him in and around his current price of a $700k cap hit.
If he performs well for the Canucks, he could become a great 3-4th line forward for the team long team. Should the club also choose to bump Gaudette up to Virtanen’s second line winger spot, the addition of Boyd would make a Virtanen move even more logical, as once again the rumors of a potential Jake trade have been swirling.
Benning has clearly been busy this week and last, trying to do what little he can with his evidently limited wallet this year. To his credit, these two recent additions seem like they may be smart for the team both in the short term and the long term, which is the hardest of all hard lines for any GM to walk when picking up players. This month may be looked back on fondly by Canucks fans, as the Canucks may have made their off-season a little easier with these recent pick-ups. The Canucks now have cheap depth on expiring deals, which presents the ability for Benning and management to control the team’s destiny a little bit more when negotiating the contracts for their young stars and existing veteran pieces.