The Toronto Maple Leafs have acquired 35-year-old center Tomas Plekanec from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2018, Kerby Rychel and Rinat Valiev.
Also coming to the Leafs in the trade in order to make the contracts line up is Laval Rocket forward Kyle Baun. As part of the deal, the Habs will retain 50% of the remainder of Plekanec’s $6 million salary.
A pending UFA, Plekanec has posted 24 points in 60 games this season while playing over 16 minutes a night, including 2:11/game shorthanded; he sat third among Montreal forwards in even strength ice time, behind only Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin, and first among forwards in shorthanded ice time per game. He has primarily lined up in between Brendan Gallagher and Artturi Lehkonen while posting a 52% CF this season.
Throughout his career in Montreal, he’s been productive offensively in a top-matchup role against tough competition while being relied on in penalty killing and key faceoff situations (He’s won 52.6% of his draws in 2017-18). While he’s lost a step at age 35 and his offensive production has declined, he was once among the best two-way centers in the game.
With the Boston Bruins adding Rick Nash and the Tampa Bay Lightning reportedly in on Erik Karlsson and Ryan McDonagh, it’s understandable the Leafs wanted to make an addition that fills a hole for them with added veteran center depth. A cursory glance at his ice time and the number of times he’s been scratched indicates that Mike Babcock is not a huge Dominic Moore fan, and this adds to the team’s center depth while providing Babcock with more options there down the stretch and into the playoffs.
If you want to get into the buyer’s market for centers, it’s pretty hard to add quality veteran depth like this at a price lower than a second-round pick and a middling prospect. Plekanec was once a high-end, two-way, top-six center and remains a quality, veteran defensive C who can chip in offensively. Throughout his career, he’s posted 50 points in 87 playoff games, and was often deployed to shut down the other team’s best players — most notably, in the 2009-10 playoffs, he played a big part in limiting Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin while chipping in 11 points in 19 games en route to a Conference Finals appearance. This season, he’s a plus player on a Montreal roster littered with minuses.
He’ll likely play on the team’s top penalty-killing unit with Leo Komarov, providing a natural center and draw taker where they’ve previously relied on all-winger PK units. He’ll be used in key defensive zone draw situations by Mike Babcock while providing the roster with a fifth NHL center, which is the type of depth that is going to be necessary if the team has designs on a deep playoff run.
Given Moore and Bozak do not have Babcock’s trust in important defensive situations, this gives the Leafs head coach a third center who can do that job. The fourth line, assuming Plekanec plays with Kasperi Kapanen and Komarov when Auston Matthews returns, provides a kind of “secondary shutdown unit” that could easily be the team’s third line on any given night down the stretch and into the playoffs. It’s a trio that can be trusted on the ice against anybody and should firm up the club’s four-line approach that will need to become its identity in the playoffs, while freeing up the Matthews and Kadri lines for a few more offensive zone starts.
Giving up a second-round pick and Valiev (the Rychel for Baun swap is secondary here; neither would’ve or will factor in the big club’s plans at any point) instead of paying a little bit less for Luke Glendening seems quite a bit more worthwhile. This could actually move the needle for the team down the middle of the ice, as opposed to simply providing Babcock with a player he likes more than Moore but doesn’t provide much in the way of an on-ice upgrade — and who also would’ve tied up money for the next three years.
While it’s not the stud defenseman everyone associated with the organization would love to add for the upcoming playoff run, the Leafs just got that much better up front — and better defensively among the forward group, too — and they certainly now stack up against anybody in the NHL as far as forward depth.
Tomas Plekanec Statistics