Canadiens Would Benefit From Trading Toffoli

As the Montreal Canadiens’ COVID-forced pause continues, the speculation and rumor mills continue to keep rolling. With the Habs currently at the bottom of the NHL standings, it won’t be surprising to see team management look to make trades to move out assets for futures. 

With executive vice president Jeff Gorton likely looking to begin a rebuild of sorts, it is not surprising that a player such as Tyler Toffoli is being mentioned around the league as an asset for any contending team. A move to a new team could be a good fit not only for Toffoli, but also for the Canadiens who must maximize any return while shedding salary as well.

Toffoli’s Impact on Canadiens

Toffoli is an NHL coach’s dream as he provides predictable, consistent play. Defensively, he is well-positioned, anticipates plays, and can break up a cycle or pressure the defender into rushing a play. His positioning also provides his own defenders an outlet to start the transition game.  

Tyler Toffoli Montreal Canadiens-Canadiens Would Benefit From Trading Toffoli
Tyler Toffoli, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Offensively, despite not having elite speed, he does skate well. He can provide controlled zone entries into the offensive zone. Once installed in the offensive zone, Toffoli is skilled at small area play, making and receiving passes in traffic. He has a nose for the net as well — he can be found in the slot, in a gap between defenders where his quick release can surprise a goaltender.   

Last season, his 28 goals led the team, and his team-leading five game-winning goals played a key role in the Canadiens qualifying for the playoffs. Once in the playoffs, he provided clutch scoring as well, scoring the series-clinching goal in overtime vs. the Winnipeg Jets. Also, he was a veteran presence on what became the team’s top line in the playoffs with rookie Cole Caufield and sophomore centre Nick Suzuki.

Related: 3 Keys to a Successful Canadiens Rebuild

Canadiens Trade Rumors

With that type of performance and the Canadiens’ current struggles, it is no surprise to see Toffoli’s name being mentioned in rumors. Eric Engels of Sportsnet believes Toffoli will be traded before the deadline. For now, he is out of the lineup with a hand injury that required surgery. Despite the fact that he isn’t expected to be able to return to the lineup until mid-February, that would still give him a full month to return to game shape before the March 21, 2022, trade deadline.

Toffoli’s contract is also a very digestible deal. He carries a team-friendly $4.25 million cap hit for the next two seasons, and he doesn’t have any trade protection in the form of a no-trade clause that could restrict Gorton in shopping for the best possible return.

His performance with the Canadiens last season, and with the Los Angeles Kings in 2014 when he won a Stanley Cup, proves he can also help a team win when it matters most. His proven veteran leadership was evident in his play helping Cole Caufield on the Habs’ top line during the 2021 Playoffs.

Cole Caufield Montreal Canadiens-Canadiens Would Benefit From Trading Toffoli
Cole Caufield, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Any general manager would desire to add him to a contending lineup. One such team is the New York Rangers. ESPN analyst and former Ranger goaltender Kevin Weekes told Ethan Sears of the New York Post:

“One could make this case that they could try to get another top-six winger, could they want somebody like a Tyler Toffoli maybe, from Montreal?”

– Kevin Weekes (Rangers’ standing as serious Stanley Cup contender comes with a caveat, Etan Sears, New York Post, 4 Jan 2022)

While that is simply Weekes’ opinion, it does point to the desire for a team to add Toffoli to their lineup to help solidify a contending team’s roster.

Toffoli Trade Value

Due to his contract and past performances, the fact that at only 29 years of age he is still in his prime, Toffoli is considered high value to a contending team. Gorton will need to ensure he gets top dollar value in return. It isn’t often a top-six winger capable of 20 to 30 goals, under a team-friendly deal with term, becomes available. 

This is why Gorton and his management team must demand picks and top prospects. In the case of the Rangers, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to request the 2018 ninth-overall pick, Vitaly Kravtsov, and a pick. Why Kravtsov? Well, he is a big-bodied winger with skill, speed, and before he was loaned to the Kontintental Hockey League (KHL), he requested a trade. Also, he can remain in the KHL the remainder of the season and return for camp when the chaos of this season is behind the Canadiens.

Vitali Kravtsov, New York Rangers-Canadiens Would Benefit From Trading Toffoli
Vitali Kravtsov, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Another team that would be a good fit is the Los Angeles Kings who will likely be buyers at the trade deadline. Having drafted him and won a Cup with him, Toffoli is a known entity to them. Now that they are competing for the playoffs again, bringing him back to where he started would be a good public relations move as well as helping on the ice. 

A player such as 2021 eighth-overall pick, right-handed defenceman Brandt Clarke would be able to fill an organizational need for the Canadiens but is likely not available without the team adding to the deal. However, Finnish center Samuel Helenius and a pick could be attainable. Adding a 6-foot-6 center that plays a physical style, goes to the net, and is defensively responsible is also a need for the Canadiens.

The Canadiens are able to be more aggressive in a seller’s market as they are under new management and in a free fall. As most teams are close to the salary cap, the Habs will be more willing to take on another team’s short-term undesirable contract in a trade if it means they can help fill an organizational need, and there are many. Toffoli’s signature was celebrated as a win for the Canadiens, and he lived up to the expectations. Now, it is on Gorton to provide him an opportunity to have another chance to win while using his performance to help the team in the long term by trading him for the best possible return.

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