Canadiens Signal Start of Fire Sale with Toffoli Trade

Apparently, everything that isn’t nailed down to the floor must go. That’s the main takeaway after the Montreal Canadiens traded Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames, signaling the start of a fire sale, featuring the discount prices to match.

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

Admittedly, the return wasn’t completely horrible. The Canadiens did acquire a (top-10-protected) 2022 first-round pick, a 2023 fifth-round pick, prospect Emil Heineman and Tyler Pitlick, who’ll likely serve as little more than a body in the lineup as a pending unrestricted free agent. All due respect to Pitlick, this is far from Taylor or Tyler all over again. There’s a clear discrepancy between the quality of roster players exchanged. The Canadiens are losing a good one.

Toffoli the Habs’ Best of the Best

Obviously the centerpiece of the deal is the first, with Heineman being a decent add-in. He’s projected to be a middle-six forward, who can play anywhere in the lineup, kind of like what you’re getting out of Artturi Lehkonen to be honest. And Lehkonen’s also been rumored to be on his way out. So, it fits?

Only problem is Lehkonen is only a pending restricted free agent. And, if Toffoli got traded, so could Lehkonen realistically speaking. So be it. You just would have thought (or hoped) the Canadiens would have been able to get a bigger return package for the former due to several factors, namely Toffoli’s cost certainty up until 2024 at a beyond-reasonable $4.25 million cap hit.

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Toffoli’s was the best of the best contracts the Habs had. Toffoli himself arguably the best of the best on the team, period (at least among those who are healthy). So, losing him this way hurts. If Toffoli was indeed the biggest chip the Habs had, it doesn’t instill confidence in the hauls they’ll get for everyone else. Furthermore, there’s an argument to be made the Canadiens didn’t have to trade him at all. Shouldn’t have, more like it.

Related: 5 Veterans Who Should Stick Around for Potential Canadiens Rebuild

True, Toffoli’s an asset that is on the verge of getting up there, set to turn 30 in a few months. However, that’s far from over the hill, with Toffoli leading the team in points per game, with 26 in 37. He led them in scoring altogether in 2020-21. So, it seems odds to let Toffoli go for anything less than even a quasi-sure thing. Keep in mind, the Flames are looking to go deep in the playoffs, so that first-round pick won’t be as high as it sounds (as is always the case with trades like this).

Hughes Tearing Down It Down

It’s a sign general manager Kent Hughes is leaving no prisoners as he starts to rebuild the team, more and more obviously from the ground up. No one is safe (or, looking at it another way, everyone has a chance at a trip out of town, Oprah style). If any veteran was going to be willfully spared, it would have been Toffoli, with interim head coach Martin St. Louis telling the media he saw the forward as the Habs’ de facto captain.

Remember, Elliotte Friedman reported upon St. Louis getting hired that he was in part there to see who was part of the problem and who is part of the solution. The idea that Toffoli was part of the problem is an oddly tasting pill to swallow.

To be fair, it is entirely possible Hughes determined a change in leadership is necessary to change the culture in the locker room. Good luck doing the same with Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher with their contracts though, if the leadership core does in fact have to go. More likely than not, this is just an effort on the part of Hughes to get as many futures as possible ahead of a pivotal NHL Entry Draft for the team.

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

What else can anyone logically deduce from the decision to trade away Toffoli, a full month and change before the trade deadline on March 21? He clearly had to go in Hughes’ mind, the sooner the better. The idea for the Canadiens to tank is a good one, but trading away your most consistent player is kind of overkill at this point, especially right now. No one cheers on the guy kicking a dead horse.

Ultimately, the Canadiens could theoretically have waited for a better offer. Maybe this is the best one the Canadiens would have ever gotten for Toffoli. Who knows for sure now? While it’s a start, it’s still underwhelming. Nevertheless, a start it is. Rest assured, there will be plenty more moves where it came from to build on it, though. Hopefully better ones.