With the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline just around the corner at 3pmET on Monday afternoon, many figured that general manager Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens would be setting themselves up with a roster move and perhaps one that nobody saw coming.
With that in mind, he did just that on Sunday afternoon when the Habs traded defensemen Tomas Plekanec to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman Rinat Valiev, forward Kerby Rychel and a second round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, according to a club announcement.
Joining the Leafs in Toronto alongside the Czech Republic native is forward Kyle Baun who has spent the season with the Laval Rocket of the American Hockey League.
According to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic Toronto, the Canadiens will retain 50% of Plekanec’s remaining salary/cap hit.
LeBrun notes that Montreal had three teams seriously in on Plekanec at the end of negotiations as they were seeking a solid return and got just that out of the Leafs organization.
With the addition of a very good 4C to their starting formation, Toronto brings on strong playoff experience who can fit well on a roster of healthy men while adding another veteran presence to the team alongside Matt Martin and alternate captain Morgan Reilly.
Plekanec did not take part in Saturday night’s affair at the Bell Centre against the Tampa Bay Lightning as he was removed before puck drop as a precaution due to trade talk.
According to CapFriendly, the Habs now have 9 picks in the upcoming 2018 Draft, 4 of which are in the 2nd round while LeBrun mentions the fact of which three of them come from other organizations who are the Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks and now the Toronto Maple Leafs with this deadline deal now in the books.
Eric Engels of Sportsnet.ca reports that alongside those four second-round picks, the Montreal Canadiens will also have a first-rounder to use up as well.
Engels also notes that amongst the teams who were in on the 35-year-old include the Tampa Bay Lightning who were the visiting team for this week’s edition of Hockey Night In Canada on Sportsnet.
This trade ends the era for Montreal’s longest serving player as Plekanec has spent the past 14 years with the historic organization.
Plekanec was initially selected by the Canadiens in the third round (71st overall) at the 2001 NHL Draft and has only missed 17 total games over the span of his tenure with the Habs.
Engels also reported that Plekanec wanted to stay in the Eastern Conference if he was going to move anywhere. While it is also noted that he had no trade protection, GM Marc Bergevin worked on finding a solution he’d be happy with as it was made clear he did not want to go West, no matter who was looking at him there.
Engels also says that a contract extension had been discussed and parameters are there for him to return to MTL this summer. Another suitor that was on the table for Montreal would be the Winnipeg Jets who also had an equitable deal on the table.
Plekanec was due to become an unrestricted free agent in July as he is currently in the final season of a two-year, US$12-million contract which he signed back in 2016.
Plekanec scored his final goal with Montreal on Thursday as the team won 3-1 over the New York Rangers.
As Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette notes, the only players who have played more games than Plekanec with Montreal are Henri Richard (1,256), Larry Robinson (1,202), Bob Gainey (1,160), Jean Béliveau (1,125), Claude Provost (1,005) and most recently Andrei Markov (990).
The Maple Leafs have 18 regular-season games remaining on the schedule, meaning Plekanec will finish the season with 999 career games if he plays in them all.
Taking a look at his season thus far, Plekanec has skated in a total of 60 games played while he has scored six goals and recorded eighteen assists to make for a total of 24 points. He has also appeared in total of 87 NHL post-season games played where he has scored 16 goals and recorded 33 assists, making for a total of 49 points.
Now viewing this deal from an offensive standpoint, it leaves a hole open straight up the gap in the middle of the ice where you can generally find St. Agathe native Jonathan Drouin and Victoriaville native Philip Danault while a rotating cast of fourth-liners hold down the other two spots on a nightly basis.
Highlighting some of Plekanec’s best play, he’s had seasons of 29 goals and 69 points in 2007-08 and 25 goals and 70 points in 2009-10.
ESPN notes that his value comes as a defensive center who could bolster a secondary line and contribute on the penalty kill.
A short time after the trade was made official, Plekanec met with the media at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, Quebec and had the following to say about the deal going through, “It’s 15 years of my life, it’s my home. My kids go to school here. Their first language basically is French. But now I’m going to Toronto and there’s going to be playoff hockey and having a chance to play for the Stanley Cup and it’s awesome.”
Further more, Plekanec said, “When you get in the playoffs everybody has a chance, especially Toronto with the talent that team has. The organization is all winners. They’ve won before and they know how to win. I’m excited to be a part of that now.”
Plekanec said he had been told he was on the block ahead of Monday’s NHL trading deadline so he wasn’t shocked when the deal was made.
While briefly reflecting on his time in Montreal, Plekanec said in closing, “I had a certain role that I take pride in.” He also added that he’s not averse to re-signing with Montreal this summer so he can play his 1,000th game in a Canadiens uniform. But he won’t think about that until the playoffs are over.
Plekanec was then asked for a statement from the Montreal Gazette where he said, “You get to the playoffs, anybody can win it these days, especially Toronto with the talent they have. The organization, they’re all winners, they’ve all won the Stanley Cup before, they’ve won Olympics, they know how to win those games. I’m very excited to be part of that right now and looking forward to meeting all those guys and experience what it is about.”
Plekanec joined a conference call in Toronto later Sunday afternoon and had this to say about his arrival on Tuesday, “I’m really looking forward to the team and the playoffs. It’s a great organization, a great fan base and they’re playing well now.”
When asked about now playing for the other side of the cross country rivals, Plekanec said, “Obviously, it’s a little bit special, but these days, those things can happen. I’m excited to join the Maple Leafs. They’re a team playing really well, and I’m looking forward to the playoffs with the team.”
Plekanec knew something was imminent Saturday night when he was held out of the Habs’ home game against the Lightning. GM Marc Bergevin called him Sunday morning with the news, then new boss Lou Lamoriello and Babcock followed up.
When asked for his knowledge of Toronto’s interest in his services, Plekanec said, “I have no idea of the details. You can’t be surprised (to be traded). Those (cap friendly deals between unusual trading partners) happen a lot today.”
Countryman Roman Polak was quick to get in contact with Plekanec, who knows another Leaf, Ron Hainsey from their minor days in the AHL with Hamilton. Plekanec acknowledged he’ll be conflicted to put on a Leafs jersey so soon after leaving, but the upside is he’ll still be playing after the Habs and Leafs meet April 7 in the schedule finale.
Taking a look at what else Toronto gets from Montreal in this deal, Kyle Baun, 25, has played in 54 games this season, all with the Laval Rocket of the American Hockey League, where he has scored four goals to go alongside 12 assists, making for a total of 16 points.
As for Baun’s totals at the AHL Level, the grandson of Leafs defence legend Bobby Baun, has 19 goals and 40 assists to make for 59 points in 171 AHL regular-season games.
Baun, who was acquired in exchange for Andreas Martinsen, got off to a hot start on the top line with the Habs AHL affiliate, however, it did not last forever as he has fallen down in the starting formation since and has primarily been playing bottom-six minutes for the last little while. Baun is said to have good shot suppression and generation metrics, however, the goals and points just both fell off.
Toronto holds seven picks in the upcoming 2018 NHL Entry Draft which is set to be held at American Airlines Arena located in the Victory Park neighborhood of Dallas, Texas.
The pick the Leafs are giving up is their own second rounder, and that leaves them with the San Jose Shark’s second still to use.
Montreal, on the other hand, acquires Valiev, a 22-year-old defensemen who had call-ups to Toronto in recent seasons but has mostly played for the Marlies of the American Hockey League.
As for Kerby Rychel, the 23-year-old left winger was a 2013 first-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets who has also played mostly in the AHL. Over the course of the season, Rychel has scored 10 goals and recorded 20 assists in a total of 55 games played thus far.
The Maple Leafs have 18 games remaining on the schedule, meaning Plekanec will finish this season one game short of the 1,000 mark for his career.
With all the struggles Montreal has endured this season, all points lead to them already being eliminated from playoff contention and so with 21 games remaining on their schedule, they will look to rebuild internally as well as externally in order to get stronger for the 2018-19 season ahead.
Bringing Plekanec in from Montreal should be a beneficial upgrade on Dominic Moore as he can bring both speed and defence to the fourth line to provide some re-assurance as that is likely where he will play for the remainder of the season.
Perhaps shifting Plekanec will at least do him some good as he will now have the chance to win his first Stanley Cup as part of a young team on the rise which now has the fifth-best record in the NHL at 39-20-5 after having beaten the Boston Bruins 4-3 on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre.
Obviously there is a chance based on his performance that Plekanec could find himself under the wing of Mike Babcock when the 2018-19 season approaches, however, after having spent the entirety of his career in Montreal after coming up in 2003, chances are it is more realistic for him to seek out a new contract in order to return home to The City Of Saints.
To go alongside his career in the National Hockey League, Plekanec has also played in two Olympics and was captain of the Czech squad at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
It is worth noting that Lamoriello is not expected to speak about this trade until Monday’s deadline passes and the Leafs have made any other roster adjustments. At this time, he is still expected to seek a defenceman, one of many teams monitoring what the Rangers do with Ryan McDonagh.
As for head coach Mike Babcock, he said following Saturday’s win against Boston, the club’s 14th in its past 16 games, that he can’t wait for the deadline to settle his roster and bring closure for a nervous dressing room. The Bruins’ decision to shell out for Rick Nash of the Rangers led to new theories that impending UFA winger James van Riemsdyk might net the Leafs even more than the players, picks and prospects acquired by New York.
As for his feelings going into Monday, Babcock said to the media, “I’m anxious for the guys, no one needs all this stuff. They want it to be over with. A lot of the speculation is total hogwash, but their families are reading it, their wives and girlfriends are reading it, so they end up hearing about it. So just get it over with and get playing.”
Taking a look at this deal now from Toronto’s end of things, Plekanec joins a youthful Toronto squad that currently sits second in the Atlantic Division behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, who happen to have just three games in hand at this time.
As noted by the Toronto Star, Plekanec was scheduled for a physical south to Toronto late Sunday before hopping a flight to Tampa for Monday night’s game against the first-place Lightning at Amalie Arena where it is said that he will likely wear No. 19, having been told multiple times since the trade that his familiar 14 is retired in Toronto for Dave Keon.
To make room on the roster for Plekanec, Auston Matthews has been placed on the IR with a shoulder injury. Once the Arizona native is back in game action, that should make for a relatively strong pairing upon his return of activation once he is cleared to play by the team’s medical strength and conditioning staff.
If Plekanec plays in all 18 of the Leafs’ remaining regular season games he will end the season with 999.
According to Pierre LeBrun, the volume of calls started to pick up on Plekanec as soon as news leaked out of Brassard trade. The belief was that a deal would get done as it has given the fact that Montreal has a strong ear for deals like this and had the pieces internally to send him packing elsewhere for the rest of the season.
The Maple Leafs are currently on a four-game winning streak while owning a team record of 39-25-5.
Monday’s game can be seen on Sportsnet and TVA Sports while it can also be heard on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30pmET.
For further in-house reaction and quotes from Tomas Plekanec following the trade to Toronto, visit montrealgazette.com for his full meeting with the media.