Toffoli Trade a Win for Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes has made his first large-scale trade by sending 29-year-old winger Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames. This wasn’t a surprise move as it had been rumoured for some time. What this does is signal the rebuild will be on a larger scale than what Canadiens fans have seen in the past and will not be a short one- or two-season retooling effort.

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As with any trade, fans had instant reactions online covering the entire spectrum from love to hate and everything in between. The Canadiens received a package deal in return, which included a 2022 first-round pick (top-10 protected), a 2023 fifth-round pick, forward Tyler Pitlick, and forward prospect Emil Heineman.

Toffoli Joins Calgary

For the Flames, acquiring Toffoli made perfect sense. He’s a solid point-producing winger who can play on the power play, help on the penalty kill, and can fill a role in the middle six of any forward group in the NHL. From their point of view, adding the 29-year-old winger who is under contract until 2024 at $4.25 million is a home-run deal.

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Toffoli’s experience in the playoffs, winning a Stanley Cup in 2014 with Los Angeles, and last season’s run to the Final with the Canadiens adds significant experience to their room. As an additional bonus, he is well known to members of the Flames as he has played with several of them in the past as members of the Vancouver Canucks or Los Angeles Kings. One former teammate who is excited to see him is Milan Lucic, who was also a groomsman at Toffoli’s wedding.

His veteran leadership will be missed in Montreal as he was well-liked in the room with the Canadiens’ younger core players such as Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Also, he was an unrestricted free agent who chose Montreal and embraced what it meant to wear the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.

Trade Value

Hughes will now begin to be judged by his work; in this case, did he get good value for Toffoli? He did, and here is why. He received the best return that Toffoli had been able to attract so far. At the time he was dealt to Vancouver, he was a rental player on an expiring contract and the Kings received a second-round pick and a mid-tier prospect.

Tyler Toffoli Montreal Canadiens
Calgary Flames forward Tyler Toffoli as a member of the Montreal Canadiens during the 2021 pandemic-shortened season (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This time around, fans had been hoping to get top prospects from Calgary such as Jakob Pelletier or Conor Zary. The prevailing argument is that late first-round picks rarely become impact players. However, that ignores the fact that both prospects mentioned were selected 24th and 26th overall, respectively. Instead, Hughes and executive vice president Jeff Gorton chose to target 2020 second-round pick, Emil Heineman.

Related: Canadiens Would Benefit from Trading Tyler Toffoli

The Flames’ first-round pick this season will likely fall into the same range that Pelletier was selected by Calgary in 2021, between the 20 and 26 overall selections. Adding a coveted, albeit little-known prospect to fans, adds value. Tyler Pitlick, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season after his $1.75 million contract expires, joins Montreal to provide some forward depth to the NHL roster as well as corners the NHL market on members of the Pitlick family, as he joins his cousins Rem and Rhett Pitlick in the Habs’ organization. If they hire his uncle, retired NHL forward Lance Pitlick, then Hughes could form a Pitlick Voltron. Also, they add an intriguing prospect in Heineman.

Who is Emil Heineman?

Heineman was drafted by the Florida Panthers 43rd overall in 2020 and was traded to the Flames in return for a second-round pick and Sam Bennett. He is a 6-foot-1, 185-pound left winger capable of playing both wings. This season with Leksand in the Swedish Hockey League, he’s scored 11 goals and five assists in 36 games played. 

According to Cap Friendly, Montreal has until June 1, 2024, to sign him or lose his rights. But what kind of player is he? To give an idea to Canadiens fans, he plays a similar style to that of Jesse Ylonen. He knows how to get open and has a good shot; he will have to prove that it is good enough to beat NHL goalkeepers consistently. 

His coach in Leksand, Bjorn Hellkvist, has provided comments to French language media TVA, breaking down his play.

“He is a ‘North-American’ style player. He doesn’t fear the physical aspects of the game, he actually enjoys when games get physical. Emil has a powerful skating stride, but his best trait is his shot.”

-Bjorn Hellkvist

Like most players trained in Sweden, his two-way play and defensive awareness are solid. This means he can be trusted defensively, but he does need time to refine that part of his game. However, even at only 20 years old, he is seen as an important offensive asset to his team, playing an important role despite his age.

Emil Heineman Leksands IF J20
Emil Heineman of Leksands IF J20 (Leksands IF J20)

“Despite his young age, Emil has lots of ice time. He’s playing on our second line and second wave of the power play. I play him on the right-wing because he’s left-handed and has an excellent one-timer, his wrist shot is also quite dangerous because of his quick release.”

-Bjorn Hellqvist

It’s easy to see why Hughes and Gorton like the potential Heineman brings. He has NHL size, good speed and mobility, plays a defensively responsible, gritty style that holds up well in the North American game, and is versatile enough to play either wing. 

“I definitely see the potential in his case. Give him one more season to develop and he will be ready to play in a second- or third-line role in the NHL. His usefulness on the forecheck is one of his strengths.”

-Bjorn Hellqvist

Canadiens management likely sees Heineman as a scoring winger that can add value to a power play as well. If that is the case, it isn’t surprising they targeted him in a deal with a first-round pick. He brings a skill set that the current prospect pool is lacking.

Overall, the trade is a win-win scenario for both teams. The Flames get a win for adding the depth scoring they needed to try and make a deep playoff run. The Canadiens get a win for adding assets that come of age when the franchise will be climbing back up after rebuilding, for clearing salary-cap space (they now have over $8 million in deadline space), and for adding an additional first-round pick to help build their stable of prospects. As well as adding an intriguing prospect in Heineman who brings speed, size and offensive skill, which fits the style Hughes stated he wants the team to eventually follow.