The long-rumoured trade involving Tomas Plekanec has finally come to roost, as he heads to the Toronto Maple Leafs as the centrepiece of a major deal.
Coming to Montreal are young AHL players Rinat Valiev and Kerby Rychel, in addition to a second-round pick in this year’s NHL draft. As for Toronto, they’re getting Plekanec in addition to AHL forward Kyle Baun, who was acquired in the off-season for Andreas Martinsen.
The big thing is that Montreal will also be retaining 50% of Plekanec’s salary for this year, allowing the Leafs a little bit more flexibility if they plan to make other deadline moves, a scenario that Canadiens have had available since bringing north of $8 million in cap space into the 2017-18 season.
Plekanec leaving creates a gaping hole in Montreal’s weakest area on the roster. Down the middle now it’s just Jonathan Drouin, and Phillip Danault, while a rotating cast of fourth-liners hold down the other two spots on a nightly basis. Montreal now needs to take steps to finding a solution at centre for the rest of the year, and it might finally lead to Alex Galchenyuk getting another stint there, while Andrew Shaw (should he still be in Montreal come Monday night) could take over in Plekanec’s defensive role.
As for the Leafs, they shored up a major area of concern as they look to make a deep Stanley Cup run, adding a solid defensive forward to a fourth line that has been on fire recently. Dominic Moore and Matt Martin have struggled mightily this year in Toronto, and only recently has the Leafs fourth line started clicking. Adding Plekanec to players like Kasperi Kapanen and Josh Leivo is only going to bolster what that line is capable of, while also freeing up other lines to take easier zone starts.
It’s a solid addition for not a lot of cost for a deep team like the Maple Leafs, parting with fringe prospects to land a necessity is shrewd business.
As for Kyle Baun, he was a good defensive winger in the AHL. After a hot start on the Rocket’s top line, Baun fell down the lineup and has primarily been playing bottom-six minutes for the last little while. He’s got good shot suppression and generation metrics, but the goals and points fell off. The best part of him heading to Toronto is that his grandfather is Leafs legend Bobby Baun, who famously won a Cup after shattering his ankle blocking a shot.
The Canadiens landed two guys on the fringe of making the NHL, and getting at minimum solid AHL pieces is good business. The Rocket need more help due to injuries and call-ups, and it gives the Canadiens younger assets in their system that they can assess going into a potential rebuild.
Rychel was waived by the Leafs last year, and since joining the Marlies he consistently put up solid numbers in the AHL, including 52 last year and is on pace for at least 40 this year if he keeps up current production. Rychel will likely be a big hit with Sylvain Lefebvre as he has a physical edge to his game, to go along with a fantastic shot. His skating and defensive abilities still need some work, but if utilized properly he can be a good piece for a Rocket team desperately in need of more firepower.
Rychel is only 23 years old, making him a young piece in the Habs prospect pool, and is one of the only prospects they now have on the left wing, outside of the injured Jeremiah Addison.
Rinat Valiev fills in a similar role. He’s not a top-tier guy who is going to blow the doors off of teams, but for the role he plays in the AHL for the Marlies he’s a solid add. While Travis Dermott and Timothy Liljegren grabbed the limelight for their play, Valiev was a solid contributor as well this season, tallying five goals and 15 assists in 40 games so far.
Going to the Rocket, who are now missing their top defender in Noah Juulsen, Valiev will likely take on an expanded role for Laval as he plays for a new NHL contract at the end of this season. Much like Rychel, he’s a young piece at just 22 years old, and he can likely be retained for nothing in the off-season, giving a rebuilding Canadiens team another young option in the pipeline for the near future.
Perhaps the biggest piece coming in return is the second-round pick that the Canadiens acquired from Toronto. With the Leafs’ pick in their pocket now, the Canadiens possess five selections in the first two rounds in a very good draft year. There’s no guarantee that they trade up or down with them, but with that many pieces it’s not unrealistic to think Montreal could try and move back into the first round this year.
Overall, it’s a rare deal where both teams get exactly what they needed out of a trade. Montreal gets another draft pick in a good draft year for an expiring contract, while also getting younger assets that may be able to have some sort of NHL impact. The Leafs get their defensive centre for a deep playoff run and didn’t have to surrender any of their high-level prospects or roster players to do so.
As for Plekanec, he’ll be at 999 regular-season games by the end of this season, meaning it’s entirely possible he’ll be back in the off-season to play his 1000th career game in a Habs uniform.
Tomas Plekanec wanted to stay in the Eastern Conference if he was going to move. He had no trade protection, but Marc Bergevin worked on finding a solution he'd be happy with. An extension was discussed, and parameters are there for him to return to MTL this summer.— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) February 25, 2018
It’s a good trade all around, one both fanbases should be happy about in the end.
A rare occurrence in the NHL these days.