The Habs made one of their bigger free agent splashes in recent years with the addition of Tyler Toffoli on a four-year, $17 million contract. Having had some time to ponder the move in between everything else Montreal has done this week, our writers offer up their thoughts.
(Yes, we will have one of these for the Jake Allen and Brendan Gallagher extensions as well, those will run next week.)
Terry Costaris: Very simply, this is a great signing. Toffoli brings some more badly needed offence to the Montreal Canadiens. He’s going to ease the goal-scoring burden for a lot of players at a discounted price.
I have to say that General Manager Marc Bergevin is doing a superb job of navigating through murky waters here. This offseason has been greatly impacted COVID-19 which has forced the NHL to impose a flat cap due to massive revenue losses incurred on all its franchises. Bergevin has taken full advantage of all the confusion and vulnerabilities of most teams and has quickly righted the Habs’ ship.
The GMs moves remind me of something that happened back in March. It’s not hockey related but it ties into this theme. I know of someone who had a lot of cash and few stocks. He boldly bought into the market when it collapsed and then sold them when it rebounded. That’s what gutsy people do and Marc Bergevin is one of them.
Montreal now has depth on all four lines. It has legitimate potential to contend. And I would assume that a few more upgrade tweaks are on the way. Many more bargains are still to be had. Of course, some movable salaries need to be shed but even as is, no opposition team playing against the Canadiens, even Detroit, will confidently assume that they will get two points anymore. Montreal now has the means of hurting their opponents in multiple ways.
I still believe that the Canadiens could use at least one more big offensive forward as depth will be key in terms of surviving the likely multiple back-to-back games that will be played during the compressed schedule.
One thing that I’m worried about is that youngsters like Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi may regress in their development. This could be the Habs’ Achilles heel. The two comprise 50% of the Canadiens’ centres. (I’m going to assume that the slightly older and more seasoned Jake Evans is ready for prime time.)
Suzuki and Kotkaniemi’s biggest deficiencies are on the draw. I hope that they are spending at least two hours a day just practicing faceoffs with experts on Zoom or living in their social bubble studying their body mechanics.
I realize that I shouldn’t count my chickens just yet but it’s been a really long, long, long time since I’ve felt this excited about the Montreal Canadiens. And the beauty is even more promising prospect reinforcements are coming down the pipe over the next 4-5 years. The future looks pretty bright.
Players like Toffoli, Anderson, Edmundson and Allen take some of the heat off of the rest of Montreal’s core and give them a bit more breathing room. All of them add that tiny bit more of oomph that moves the Canadiens from a mediocre franchise to a very good one. They are like a positive domino effect on the rest of the team. They should make everyone on the roster perform better.
Success in sports is about the little things, as they all add up. This concept really crystallized with me a few years ago when the Habs were playing a midseason game against the Leafs. Toronto was not dominating the contest but was slightly better so that, by the end of each period, it would add an extra goal against Montreal. At the end of the match, they won by three. With all of these quality additions, the Canadiens might now win by a goal or two.
With the addition of Tyler Toffoli, Marc Bergevin sure added to the quality of fixings for Monday’s Thanksgiving Day dinner! Bon appetit!
Allan Katz: So the goal here is to give an insight into the Toffoli signing and what it means to the Habs. The problem with this is it’s an awesome signing that will help the team on every level, but, and this is a BIG BUTT, there are very serious issues that have to be looked at from the point of view that this acquisition is going to cause serious psychological trauma with Hab fans. Every year Bergevin tinkers with the team, generates positive vibes for the glass half full fans, who want to believe, and inevitably ends with severe disappointment for these fans. BUTT there is a huge swath of glass half empty fans who approach every new season with the certainty that the season will end in disaster and humiliation. For these naysayers, the confirmation of their cynicism brings great satisfaction with the knowledge that no matter how lousy their lives are the Habs are worse off. By signing and plugging four holes in the lineup, the Habs truly look pretty awesome. At worst they should be in a close battle for a playoff spot, at best, well I dare not say it, but they could go as far as our imaginations will allow us.
Living in Los Angeles I just witnessed with the Lakers how a star-filled team will usually beat a slightly deeper team, but the NHL is more a team sport than the NBA. The depth on the team is impressive. Yes injuries can still screw this up, the team has only one or two mildly talented forward options in the minors, but defence and goaltending is very deep. So with a little health luck (if the Habs didn’t have bad luck with injuries they’d have no luck at all) the team can really impress.
So my concern is for the psychological health of the naysayers. If the Habs have health luck with Josh Anderson and he rebounds (think Toffoli and Anderson combine for, dare I say, 60**) these poor souls will have little to talk about and might have to look in the mirror and see their own miserable existence staring back at them. It has already started. I actually read one of these doomsayer comments that stated the only reason Bergevin decided to make these great deals is because his contract is up for renewal soon. The pandemic is enough of a psychological stressor on everyone, but for Hab gloom mongers these awesome acquisitions could easily tip many over the edge. Toffoli is Italian for, “The cherry on top” and while I made that up, it sounds just about right.
[** I understand prognosticating 60 for this tandem seems borderline insane, it really is not impossible. But even for us glass full types I acknowledge I should have written 55, figure Toffoli for 28 and Anderson for 27, but instead I’m going for Toffoli for 32 and Anderson for 28 because… why not?]
Brian La Rose: There’s a lot to like about this signing. I like that he’s another volume shooter which fits in well with Montreal’s general strategy. He’s a decent scorer – though his proficiency is a bit overstated in my opinion – and he can play both wings and an all-around game. There are a lot of different ways that the Habs can deploy him and have him be effective. Claude Julien will have some fun with that.
I don’t think Montreal will get Vancouver’s version of Toffoli but they don’t need to in order to get a good return on this deal. I see him splitting time between the second and third lines with some time on the second power play and penalty kill units. Will that be enough to get him 20 goals? Perhaps not but he’s going to be an important part of this team for a few years at a pretty good price.
Kevin Leveille: What a great signing by Bergevin! Toffoli was the free agent that filled Bergevin’s summer trends the most. On the right side of 6′, Toffoli is a shoot-first player that drives play but more importantly ends those plays too with multiple seasons over the 20-goal plateau. He’s also a true Claude Julien type player in that he has played some PK minutes successfully in his NHL career and is a very responsible player away from the puck. As crazy as this might sound, he might be a better fit than Anderson on this team and I think Anderson is a great fit.
Why is he such a great fit? I think Toffoli is a great fit on this much improved forward group as he can play either wing and complement what should be three productive lines along with Suzuki, Kotkaniemi, Danault, Gallagher, Tatar, Drouin, Armia, and Anderson. Notice that not mentioned were Lehkonen and Byron, so there’s even room for injuries (even if one might well get moved before the season as the Habs are right up against the salary cap). To add to these positives, Bergevin was able to secure his services for four seasons at a rather team-friendly $4.25M per season.
To me, Montreal becomes a threat in the Atlantic Division (considering Boston and Tampa are losing players here and Toronto’s depth remains a question mark). Perhaps more importantly, Montreal becomes a team I certainly don’t want to play in the playoffs. I’m so excited to watch a team and never feel like being intimidated is a pre-game tactic being used by the opposition. There’s just nothing really negative to be said about this signing.
Paul MacLeod: Bergevin needed another goal scorer after acquiring Anderson and lo and behold, there is Toffoli. Another fine piece of work and another roster hole filled with reasonable dollars and a reasonable term for a coveted free agent. It is nice to finally see Montreal land an in-demand UFA without overpaying.
Norm Szcyrek: I have always liked Toffoli ever since the 2012 playoff run when I noticed him as part of the Kings productive “That 70’s Line”, along with Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson. Tyler is a legitimate scoring forward who can help the Habs in a secondary role. He is certainly a shoot-first kind of forward with decent size who has also helped his LA Kings team on the penalty kill. Toffoli has played on both wings, although some hockey metrics show he score more often from the centre and right side of the ice. It will be interesting to watch him play for the Habs, especially if he is moved to the left wing. Given the Habs top two right wingers are now Gallagher and Anderson, a shift to the left side seems expected to me. I see him fitting in well on Kotkaniemi’s wing. I have no issues with the term or cost of his contract, which seems to be on par for what is going on now in the NHL during the current pandemic. The presence of him and newcomer Anderson should strengthen the Habs forwards and improve their scoring. An added benefit should benefit the Habs existing forwards, who will get less coverage from the opponents due to their forward depth.
Dave Woodward: A nice piece of work by Bergevin. Habs’ fans suffered for the last few years while the Canadiens “re-set” and spent under the cap. Now, Bergevin has used that cap space and exploited the financial fallout from the pandemic to land a solid free agent in Toffoli, a player who has scored wherever he has played. The contract may be market value now but it is a bargain, both in term and cap hit, compared to what Toffoli might have received before the pandemic. Toffoli adds some scoring up front, will help the power play, and has decent size.
While Toffoli is not a sniper, he is a two-way player who has scored 30 goals and almost always scores at least 20 goals per season. For example, last season, Toffoli scored 24 goals before COVID-19 ended the regular season. That would have led the Canadiens, two goals above the 22 scored by Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher. With this move, Bergevin has attempted to address the Canadiens’ chronic inability to score goals. While time will tell whether this signing and his other moves are enough, the acquisition of Toffoli is certainly a step in the right direction. This acquisition, with a reasonable term and cap hit and which has been completed without giving up players, prospects or picks, is a nice piece of work by the Canadiens’ GM.