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Analyzing the return in the Tyler Toffoli trade

Did the Canadiens acquire enough to justify trading Tyler Toffoli?

Washington Capitals v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Reports had been circulating for around a week that the Calgary Flames were very interested in acquiring Tyler Toffoli from the Montreal Canadiens. On Monday morning, that rumour heated up fast, and the announcement was made that the Habs had acquired a protected 2022 first-round pick, a 2023 fifth-round pick, Emil Heineman, and Tyler Pitlick in exchange for Toffoli.

Toffoli was one of the more productive players on this iteration of the Canadiens, and is signed through the 2023-24 season. Having him as the first asset to be dealt all but confirms that management is prepared to begin their rebuild.

That being said, not only was it unexpected for Toffoli to be the first casualty of the rebuild, he was arguably the most valuable asset on the roster with his reasonable cap hit. So let’s take a look at each of the pieces that were acquired for him, to try and determine if this was a worthwhile return.

The draft picks

The centrepiece of this trade appears to be the first-round pick in 2022. It is protected, so if the Flames end up with a top-10 pick in that draft, the return would be a 2023 first, and 2024 fourth-round pick instead. Given that Calgary is extremely unlikely to end up with a top-10 pick, this condition is likely a moot point.

This year’s draft stands out as being relatively deep, so there is a chance the Canadiens can get an impact player even if the pick is likely to be on the wrong side of number 20. But even if they can get an impact player, there should be no expectation that said player jumps into the Canadiens lineup next year, and it will likely be a few seasons before they see anything of note from the selection.

The fifth-round pick, on the other hand, is a lottery ticket. You may draft a Brendan Gallagher, or you may end up with a player who never sees NHL hockey. This can essentially be considered a throw-in to sweeten the pot a little.

Emil Heineman

The prospect Montreal got back in the Toffoli deal is Emil Heineman, a player that was taken in the second round (43rd overall) in the 2020 NHL draft by the Florida Panthers. While he has been traded twice already since that day, there is some strong upside to his game.

Elite Prospects

First off, he has a good shot, bordering on elite, with his wrist shot in particular being a strong point. It can come from anywhere on the ice, he can place it with near perfection, and he hides it well.

He also works hard, but he needs to become more proficient in his own end of the ice. Some quick views indicates that he may need to improve his defensive reads. He makes up for that with his hard work, something that really stands out, and he almost seems overeager at times. The coolness he has at the offensive end is something he needs to learn on the defensive side. There is definite room for improvement, and it is something that he’ll get the chance to show in the SHL, having signed a new contract just before Christmas.

He has the potential to become an effective middle-six player, while potentially being able to contribute on the power play. Personally, I see a lot of similar qualities to Jesse Ylönen in him, but with more offensive upside.

Tyler Pitlick

Yes, a third member of the Pitlick family is coming to the Montreal Canadiens. He joins a team that retains the services of his cousins Rem and Rhett Pitlick, the latter of which is currently in the NCAA.

Elite Prospects

He is essentially a warm body to replace Toffoli in the lineup, and on the limit of 50 contracts. His best NHL season came with the Dallas Stars in 2017-18, when he scored 27 points in 80 games. He can’t be expected to help this team compete, but he can fill a roster spot for the remainder of the season, with the potential of an expiring contract to be flipped at the deadline.

He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, so there is no investment in him beyond 2022.

Thoughts

This trade certainly weakens the Canadiens in the interim, but virtually all trades they make at this juncture will do that. It should at least be considered encouraging to know that management is prepared to move current NHL assets for futures, as the fan base has wanted, if not expected, them to start doing.

The question here is whether the return for Toffoli is sufficient, and opinions on this appear to vary greatly. Calgary fans will have you believe that they overpaid, while the reaction from Habs fans has been lukewarm at best, with many believing the return to be insufficient. I submit that while the jury should be out on this trade for some time, it reads as an underwhelming return at the moment.

Winning or losing this trade will depend heavily on what the Canadiens get with the first-round draft pick, and whether Emil Heineman can realize or exceed his potential. Since neither of these are guaranteed in the slightest, it feels like the return for Toffoli essentially amounts to a bag of magic beans.

Whether those magic beans will sprout into a stalk that this team can climb back to competitiveness, only time will tell.


Click the play button below to listen to a special edition of Habsent Minded EXTRA, breaking down the Toffoli trade. It is also available on your podcast platform of choice.