The trade that saw Tomas Plekanec get sent to Toronto has resulted in some mixed emotions as the veteran heads to the other side of the rivalry. Despite that, did the Habs make a good trade? Our writers offer up their thoughts.
Brian La Rose: While I’m not particularly bullish on Rychel’s overall upside (I think he’s pretty much a bust as a prospect), I still think the Habs did pretty well here. If you look at what Buffalo got for Evander Kane on deadline day (a return that could arguably wind up being worth less than what Montreal got in this deal), GM Marc Bergevin made the right call by not waiting until the last minute to make the swap.
Valiev fills an important need in the system as a prospect that is close to being NHL ready. Montreal’s depth on the left side with Laval, to put it nicely, is terrible so there isn’t any help coming from them over the next year or two. Valiev can bridge that gap at a minimum and if he fares well, he could push the team to trade one of Jordie Benn, David Schlemko, or Mike Reilly in the summer.
It’s quite strange seeing Plekanec in a Toronto uniform but the days of passing on a better return simply because that team happens to be in the same division are gone. The best deal needs to be taken, no matter who it’s from. This time, it came from the Leafs and while it lacks a standout element, it’s still a quality move for Montreal with Plekanec set to be a free agent a few months from now.
Paul MacLeod: Well, the ‘turtleneck’ has left town and to the hated Maple Leafs at that. It is a sad day for Canadiens fans as a wasted season winds down with nothing to look forward to but the Entry Draft in June. Bergevin did well to get three assets for Plekanec (and Kyle Baun) in winger Rychel, Valiev and the 2018 second-round pick.
Rychel is an intriguing prospect for me. Many believe that he is destined to be nothing but an AHL depth forward – and they are probably right – but he is still only 23 and if he could develop into a physical 3rd liner with some scoring ability it would be a big win for the Habs. Similarly, Valiev has the potential to be a solid third pairing defenseman and has more upside than Rychel. So, in the best case scenario, two players who were stuck in the Leafs minor league system blossom in a new organization and the second-round pick brings a solid prospect. In the worst case, the second-rounder becomes the most important part of the deal.
This was solid asset management from Bergevin and he actually handled it so well that Plekanec was not alienated when he left. Now, if “Bergy” could just learn to have such a delicate and considerate touch with all of his respected veterans on expiring contracts – particularly those with high-end skill.
Norm Szcyrek: I completely understand the Habs trading away Plekanec, given that the team is not going anywhere this season and he’s an asset that other teams are looking at for depth during their playoff runs. It’s a little disappointing that another homegrown and developed Habs player with long-standing does not get a chance to retire as a Canadien.
On the other hand, the return from Toronto is a decent one. A second-round pick is always valuable even a late one based on Toronto’s expected spot in the standings. The two prospects have some merit also. Rychel has some decent tools to become a power forward and will likely be given a chance to play on the 4th line at some point this season for the Habs. The downside to Rychel’s game has been his skating and foot speed, which has been below average and a known factor when he was drafted. So far he hasn’t been able to make the adjustment from the AHL to the NHL, but it’s still too early to give up on him since he has been able to produce some offensive numbers in the minors. If he can focus on his defensive responsibilities then at the very least he should be able to develop into a bottom-six forward but at the moment he’s a tweener.
Now the defenceman acquired in the trade, Valiev has perhaps more potential to become a full-time pro with the Habs. He has very good size at 6’3″ and around 215 pounds, yet is a good skater with good mobility. His game has never been focused on offence, although he did manage to score 74 points in 107 games during his junior career. Valiev is in his fifth season in North America so he’s had ample time to adjust to this style of game at the age of 22; however, injuries have had an effect on him and may have stalled his development somewhat. I believe he has a solid chance to make it to the Habs as a depth defenceman, and eventually settle into a role on the third pairing with time spent as a reliable penalty killer.
David Woodward: As frustrated as Canadiens’ fans may be with Bergevin, he should be congratulated for his work on this deal. Most pundits thought a second or third-round pick would be fair value for the rental services of Plekanec. While the Canadiens included forward Baun – the grandson of Leaf legend Bobby Baun – in the deal, Bergevin certainly received fair value for Plekanec. Baun is a Group VI UFA at the end of the season and most likely did not fit into the Habs’ plans.
In addition to the Leafs’ second-round pick, the Canadiens received two interesting prospects in Rychel -the son of former NHLer Warren Rychel – and Valiev. Both players could conceivably play in Montreal at some point with Rychel projecting as a third or fourth line power forward and Valiev as a third pairing defender, if they reach the NHL. At a minimum, they strengthen the crop of prospects in the organization, thereby addressing a very serious organizational weakness.
Just as importantly, Bergevin treated Plekanec with the respect that the 13-year veteran has earned. Perhaps he has learned his lesson from the “first-come, first-served/ if you want loyalty, buy a dog” shtick that was the highlight of the Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov departures. By treating Plekanec well, all options are open for the 35-year old centre’s possible return after July 1 which would buy the Canadiens time as they search for long-term help at the centre ice position. While the Canadiens’ fan base wants change after this season, Bergevin has negotiated a good return for Tomas Plekanec and has handled this particular transaction well.