The Calgary Flames have been interested in Montreal Canadiens forward Tyler Toffoli for some time, and they’ve finally landed their man. The team has sent a 2022 first-round pick, a 2023 fifth-round pick, prospect Emil Heinemann and forward Tyler Pitlick to the Canadiens in exchange for Toffoli. The first-round selection is top-10 protected, though with Calgary’s current position that seems unlikely to occur anyway. If they do end up with a top-10 pick, Calgary would instead send their 2023 first-round selection and an extra fourth-round pick in 2024. Chris Johnston of TSN adds that no salary has been retained in the deal.
Toffoli, 29, has been an excellent offensive piece since arriving in Montreal, recording 37 goals and 70 points in 89 games with the Canadiens. While only nine of those goals have come this season, almost all of the Canadiens’ forwards have seen a dip in production due to the weak overall play of the team. If there’s anyone in the league that knows exactly what Toffoli can bring to the ice it is Flames head coach Darryl Sutter, who coached the forward to a Stanley Cup championship in 2014 when both were with the Los Angeles Kings.
The fact that Calgary has an obvious hole on the right side in the top-nine also makes Toffoli a perfect addition, though he can sometimes be a tough player to fit in with certain linemates. A powerful skater, he’s not a particularly graceful or efficient one, and his offensive chances usually come from his top-notch hockey IQ and anticipation instead of raw tools. Should he join Calgary, Sutter and company would need to find a mix that maximizes those abilities.
Notably, Toffoli also doesn’t represent a deadline rental. Signed to a four-year, $17MM contract in the fall of 2020, he is signed through 2023-24 at a $4.25MM cap hit. That’s certainly a reasonable amount given his offensive upside and the Flames have more than enough money coming off the books at the end of the year to go shopping for players with term. Even if they can get a deal done with Johnny Gaudreau to keep him in Calgary, names like Nikita Zadorov and Erik Gudbranson are all pending unrestricted free agent who could be shed to create some additional flexibility.
That also could be a pointed look at how Montreal GM Kent Hughes is planning on moving forward with the current roster. He has hinted already that there would be substantial changes to the roster–not just rental sell-offs like Chiarot–as he looks to turn around the franchise. With this trade they’ve made the first major incision into the core group, carving out a key player for a package of futures.
Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic notes that the Canadiens were especially interested in Heineman, who they will still need to sign. The 20-year-old prospect arrived in the Calgary organization from the Florida Panthers in last year’s Sam Bennett trade after being selected in the second round in 2020. A forward that plays for Leksands IF in the Swedish Hockey League, he has 16 points in 36 games. Scott Wheeler of The Athletic recently ranked Heineman as the seventh-best prospect in Calgary’s system.
Adding another first-round pick is also notable because this year’s draft is in Montreal. The team already had 11 picks and will likely add even more before the March 21 deadline, with players like Ben Chiarot still garnering interest. If you wanted to rebuild the entire system, that kind of a draft is the best way to start.
For Calgary though, a move like this shows just how invested they are in a long playoff run this season. The team could potentially lose Gaudreau to free agency, will have to work out a new deal with Matthew Tkachuk, and will no longer have luxuries like Oliver Kylington on a league-minimum contract after this season. They have all the pieces to contend for the Stanley Cup and Toffoli’s addition should only strengthen their lineup with some added secondary scoring.
By moving Pitlick out at the same time, the Flames also created enough room to avoid any cap issues. The biggest concern for most contenders–and enticing prospect for most sellers–is how difficult the flat cap has made it to add at the deadline. Calgary avoids having to pay a premium for salary retention, even if they are still handing out a fairly substantial package for the veteran forward. Pitlick happens to be joining his cousin Rem Pitlick with the Canadiens, who was claimed off waivers last month, but the newcomer could also be flipped if healthy at the deadline. Since he is a pending UFA, it doesn’t make a ton of sense for the Canadiens to keep him–Pitlick netted the Seattle Kraken a fourth-round pick last summer.
Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet first tweeted that talks were picking up steam between the two clubs.