Toronto Maple Leafs solidify centre depth with trade for Tomas Plekanec

MONTREAL, QC - JANUARY 07: Tomas Plekanec
MONTREAL, QC - JANUARY 07: Tomas Plekanec /

The Toronto Maple Leafs solidified their centre depth on Sunday, acquiring Tomas Plekanec from the Montreal Canadiens.

We all knew it was coming. The possibility of the Toronto Maple Leafs trading for a centre, that is. But just a few weeks ago, nobody would have predicted this trade to go down.

The Leafs made a move on Sunday, acquiring Tomas Plekanec, as well as Kyle Baun from the rival Montreal Canadiens. In exchange, the Buds sent Rinat Valiev, Kerby Rychel and a second-round pick in 2018 to the Habs.

In addition, the Canadiens will retain 50 percent of Plekanec’s salary.

This marks the end of an era for the Czech in Montreal. Plekanec made his debut with the Habs during the 2003-04 season, playing two games. After that, he became a mainstay on the roster for the last 13 years of his career.

Plekanec has totalled 981 career NHL games, with 232 goals and 373 points for a total of 605 points in his career. He also holds a career 49.9 percent in the face-off circle.

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The 35-year-old has six goals and 24 points on the season. He played 24 percent of his shifts alongside Brendan Gallagher and Charles Hudon.

As for the return for Montreal, they landed two proven AHL players in Rychel and Valiev. Neither player looked like they were going to get reps with the Leafs consistently, especially with the depth at their respective positions.

Rychel was an AHL All-Star last season after replacing Kasperi Kapanen as the Marlies representative. He finished the year with 19 goals and 52 points, while appearing in 73 games.

The 23-year-old was a former first-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He’s only featured in 37 career NHL games, with just 12 points to his credit so far. Rychel did not play a game for the Maple Leafs after being acquired in 2016.

Valiev has been called up a few times by the Leafs over his career, mostly as a depth option. The Russian defender was a third-round pick by the Leafs back in 2014. With the likes of Timothy Liljegren, Travis Dermott, and Andrew Nielsen ahead of him in the depth chart, it looked unlikely that Valiev would ever get time in the NHL for Toronto.

The 22-year-old has played in 10 NHL games. He did not register a point. In the AHL this season, he has 15 points and a career-high five goals so far.

Lost in the deal was the acquisition of Baun. The grandson of Leafs’ great Bobby Baun, it’s a nice bit of nostalgia for Leafs fans. With the Laval Rocket this season, Baun has 16 points in 54 games.

Last season with Rockford, Baun was second on the team in scoring with 34 points in 74 games.

The Toronto native will have the chance to play in the same organization that his grandfather spent 14 seasons as a member of.

As for Plekanec, he will probably slide onto the fourth line for the Leafs for the stretch drive. Dominic Moore will have to concede his spot to make room.

Plekanec will likely see most of his ice time spent with speedster Kapanen and Leo Komarov. Although with Auston Matthews going on injured reserve on Sunday, Mike Babcock could use him higher in the lineup until Matthews returns.

The biggest proponent of this deal is the salary retention. Plekanec has an AAV of $6 million. The Leafs will only need to take on $3 million, which allows them to add another piece if they so choose.

Now, the Leafs have a day to make something happen to strengthen their roster before the trade deadline.

With the Bruins acquiring Rick Nash just hours before this deal, could the Leafs be looking to boost their defence still?

One thing is for sure, the trade market is heating up, and the next 24 hours should be very interesting.

Next: Leafs players that need to step up with Matthews out

What are your thoughts on the deal? Who else do the Leafs acquire? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.