What if Canadiens Never Traded Toffoli to Flames?

It’s easy to look back on the Tyler Toffoli trade last season as being just another part of the rebuild. However, with Toffoli’s contract only expiring in 2024, he arguably never had to go, especially with the move that sent him to the Calgary Flames arguably being one of general manager Kent Hughes’ weakest. So, what if he never got traded?

Look Past Initial Toffoli Trade

This goes beyond the Canadiens never drafting Filip Mesar with the first-round pick they got at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft or acquiring prospect Emil Heineman (or Tyler Pitlick). Remember, Toffoli complemented Nick Suzuki (and Cole Caufield) exceptionally well on the top line. There was a good case to be made the Canadiens should have kept him instead.

Related: Canadiens and Toffoli Fit Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

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To be fair, Toffoli wasn’t exactly a factor in the Canadiens’ latest game, a 2-1 victory over Toffoli’s Flames on Dec.  12. He did tally a secondary assist, but he also took a game-risking high-sticking penalty in overtime that denied the Flames a chance to win it in the extra frame (even if they ended up losing to the Habs in a shootout anyway). However, with 21 points in 29 games and still just 30 years old, Toffoli’s proving he can still contribute offensively. He would also place third on the Canadiens in scoring right now in theory.

Tyler Toffoli Calgary Flames
Calgary Flames forward Tyler Toffoli – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With term left on Toffoli’s deal, even if only two seasons, maybe the Canadiens decide drafting a winger in Juraj Slafkovsky first overall at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft isn’t their top priority. As well as Slafkovsky has worked out up to now, showing relatively impressive progress with nine points in 23 games so far, maybe they draft center Shane Wright instead.

Toffoli vs. Monahan

Who knows? Maybe, maybe not.

Objectively speaking, the Canadiens do most likely still go with Slafkovsky in the hopes he develops into the future third cog on that top line. As a result, they still trade for Kirby Dach to address their needs at center instead. With Toffoli presumably still in the picture on that top line with Suzuki and Caufield though, the Canadiens would likely have no choice but to play Dach at center right now, with the acquisition of Sean Monahan far from dictating how they deploy him.

Sean Monahan Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens forward Sean Monahan – (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

In fact, there’s a chance the Canadiens don’t even trade for Monahan (coincidentally from the Flames too) at all, especially since they would still have to contend with Toffoli’s $4.25 million cap hit. That would be a shame, as he’s helped insulate Dach, but, most importantly, the Habs obviously got a first-round pick for their trouble, a conditional selection in 2025 that could prove pivotal to their future. If things turn out as many are anticipating, they could even secure a second first-round pick at the trade deadline by flipping Monahan, who’s been rejuvenated for all intents and purposes.

Toffoli Trade Pays Off in Context of Canadiens’ Rebuild

Of course, if Toffoli didn’t get traded, he’d still be available to for a first-round pick (plus) right now (or next season). He hasn’t exactly regressed in the one season since, hinting at the Habs still having a shot at a similar haul relative to what they got in real life.

Tyler Toffoli Montreal Canadiens
Ex-Montreal Canadiens forward Tyler Toffoli – (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Mesar is obviously a great prospect, who has only impressed since he joined the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League. Heineman meanwhile projects as a potential middle-six forward. The Canadiens still have a 2023 fifth-round pick still coming to them.

Keep in mind though, as enamored as one might be with the futures the Canadiens received from the Flames for Toffoli, there are no guarantees they all pan out. In the context of what the Canadiens are trying to accomplish though, as a team still projected to sell off assets for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to deny the Toffoli trade helped first kickstart the rebuild and also further solidify their prospect pipeline as one of the best in the NHL.

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In other words, it made what Hughes and co. wanted a reality. It will be years before anyone can say definitively whether the Toffoli trade specifically was a success, but the rebuild in general seems to be going well. That in and of itself is a sign trading Toffoli was the right move.

All in all, even if it wasn’t Hughes best deal, it was far from a bad one, especially considering the need to rebuild. It was also Hughes’ first big deal, so maybe further dealing him some slack in turn is in order. Based on how moving Toffoli has impacted the Canadiens since the trade, it’s had a positive impact overall.

Kent Hughes, Montreal Canadiens GM
Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes – (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

At the very least moving Toffoli probably got the Canadiens an additional first-round pick (from the Monahan acquisition, not to mention what else they can get for him if they do end up flipping him). So, maybe it pays to look at the Toffoli trade through that lens, as netting the Habs at least an additional first-round pick on top of Mesar (Heineman, Pitlick and the fifth-rounder). As such, it may not have been a move that had to happen, but it is one Habs fans should be glad did in retrospect.

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