MONTREAL -- This was percolating over the weekend, and it boiled over on Monday morning.
The Montreal Canadiens traded Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames for a 2022 top-10-protected first-round pick, unsigned prospect Emil Heineman, a 2023 fifth-rounder and right-winger Tyler Pitlick, and it has the potential to be a good deal for both teams.
Start with the Flames, who will benefit immediately from the transaction. In the midst of an impressive season that currently has them a point out of first place in the Pacific Division, already in possession of one of the deepest rosters in the NHL, adding the scoring Toffoli can provide was a primary need. The chemistry -- with the coach Toffoli credits the most for his development, Darryl Sutter, behind the bench; with close friends and former Los Angeles Kings teammates, Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis and Milan Lucic up front; with former junior roommate Sean Monahan at centre; and with former Vancouver Canucks teammates Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev at the heart of Calgary’s success -- should form instantaneously.
But, as Flames general manager Brad Treliving told Calgary reporters just moments after the trade was announced, “Chemistry is important. Getting good players is more important.”
Toffoli is more than just a good player; he’s a Stanley Cup champion; an experienced player who, as Treliving, Sutter, Lucic, Markstrom and Monahan all mentioned during their media availabilities Monday, is versatile, defensively responsible, smart and talented. He’s also a great person who’s been universally respected by those who came to know him well in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Montreal.
The Canadiens knew. They weren’t rushing to get the 29-year-old out the door, just months after he played such a significant role in helping them get to the Cup Final for the first time since 1993.
But this move, which will be the first of many the Canadiens make over the coming weeks and months, is about where they’re at as an organization -- in last place in the NHL standings, eager to begin building a brighter future.
Adding a first-round pick in the upcoming draft was where this deal had to start for them. A fifth-rounder next year is part of their process, too.
With Toffoli under contract for this year, and two more, at $4.25 million, taking back some salary was a necessity from a cap perspective, and Pitlick fills that quotient as a player on an expiring contract with a $1.75-million cap hit.
“Tyler’s a good man, he’s a good player,” Treliving of Pitlick, “but it didn’t go well for him here. He got injured on the first shift of the pre-season.”
That helps partially explain why Pitlick ended up on the margins of the Flames. The other part is he just didn’t play well enough.
As for what happens with Pitlick in Montreal, the 30-year-old has an opportunity to show he’s better than the player who collected just two assists in 25 games this season; that he’s more like the player who picked up 47 goals and 37 assists in 286 NHL games prior with the Arizona Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers. If it leads him to a new NHL contract, that’ll be good for him.
If Pitlick ends up getting one from the Canadiens, who already have cousins Rem and Rhett as members of the organization, it’ll be because he proves he’s more than just a throw-in piece to this trade.
The most intriguing piece of the deal from Montreal’s end, though, is Heineman, who became a Flame in the trade that sent Sam Bennett to the Florida Panthers last season.
Heineman, who was drafted by the Panthers 43rd overall in 2020, is a six-foot-one left-winger. In 90 career games for Leksand in the Swedish Hockey League, he’s registered 31 points (18 goals, 13 assists).
“He’s got an edge to him and some real upside,” said an amateur scout we touched base with. “He’s shown he’s also got a really good shot and has (a) scoring touch, even if he’s played a somewhat limited role because of his age.”
We’ll know more about how the Canadiens feel about him when general manager Kent Hughes eventually addresses the media regarding his acquisition. Neither he nor Canadiens executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton was available to speak Monday.
But we know this is about the future for them. It’s a future Toffoli feels is already very bright with young players Alexander Romanov, Ryan Poehling, Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Jake Evans currently developing with the big club.
“I just hope that I’m leaving having made a good impression on them,” Toffoli said in an exclusive interview with Sportsnet Monday afternoon. “I’m friends with them, obviously close with Cole and Nick and Jake. I grew a good friendship with them especially. I just hope that they keep growing and keep trying to get better every single day because it’s a fun game and it’s an incredible city to be really good in.”
Montreal is a city he wanted to stay in. Of being a Canadien -- something he felt he was destined to be after signing a four-year deal in 2020, as he wrote in The Players’ Tribune -- Toffoli said, “I loved every second of it.”
He told management as much weeks before this deal got done, but he was under no illusions that something like this could happen in short order.
Nonetheless, Toffoli, who won the Cup with the Kings in 2014, is excited to have the opportunity to potentially win another one with the Flames this year.
It shouldn’t take him long to get adjusted.
“I talked to a lot of the guys. I think, honestly, I know at least 10 guys on the team and am familiar with Darryl as well,” he told Sportsnet. “So, I’m excited to get there. Everyone keeps saying it’s a great fit, but I want to go there and prove that I’m worth what the trade was, and I’m going there and I want to win.
“I think they have one of the best teams in the league. They play the right way and they’re buying into what Darryl is teaching. Playing for Darryl before in LA, this team reminds me of those LA teams and how hard it is to get scoring opportunities against them and the structure that’s in play. So, that’s a good style to play and that’s a winning style of hockey.”
One thing is certain, with this move -- which Treliving termed the biggest one he’s made in-season since taking over as GM months before Toffoli raised the Cup with the Kings -- the Flames have confirmed they are going for it this season.
“We’ve liked (Toffoli) for a long time,” he said. “He’s been a real productive player in the league. He’s still a young one -- he’s right in the prime of his career… You hate parting with high draft assets. Emil’s a good player, and we really like him. We went and got him last year. So, I think what we gave to get the player shows you that we think he’s a good fit and we think he’s a good player.”
Toffoli, who’s picked up 182 goals and 370 points in 614 regular season games and 16 goals and 39 points in 76 playoff games, likely won’t be the last good one to come to Calgary between now and the March 21 trade deadline.
We reported on Sunday and Monday they were heavily interested in Montreal’s Ben Chiarot, and if they don’t make his acquisition over the coming weeks, there’s ample reason to believe they’ll still try to bolster their defensive depth.
A move like that could do much to secure Calgary’s contender status. And the one made for Toffoli has already done a lot in that regard and has to be seen as a coup for Treliving.
The Canadiens collecting four assets to make it bodes well for their future, too, making this what appears to be a win-win trade.