Not only did the Toronto Maple Leafs address their biggest need by prying serviceable centre Tomas Plekanec out of Montreal, they left themselves room to do more work ahead of the trade deadline. With the Canadiens retaining 50 per cent of Plekanec’s remaining salary in Sunday’s deal, the Leafs maintained the ability to add another $3.4 million under the cap. That’s significant. Lou Lamoriello also has two free contract slots to work with after unloading Eric Fehr (San Jose) and Nikita Soshnikov (St. Louis) in separate trades over the last week. The Leafs general manager has prioritized flexibility in the hours leading up to Monday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline – leaving open the opportunity to be part of any late bidding in what has been a seller’s marketplace so far. Toronto had to pay a premium to bolster its depth down the middle, sending a 2018 second-round pick along with AHLers Rinat Valiev and Kerby Reichel to Montreal for Plekanec and AHLer Kyle Baun. It was a similar trade to the one the Leafs made with Tampa at last year’s deadline to bring in Brian Boyle for a run at the playoffs. Expectations are significantly higher here now. At 39-20-5, the Leafs are on pace to eclipse franchise records for wins (46) and points (103), but they’re also facing a treacherous first-round playoff matchup with either Boston or Tampa. Mike Babcock has made no secret of the fact he’d like more options at centre, and can now roll out a strong group of Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Plekanec – at least once Matthews is healthy.
Leafs solidify with Plekanec; remain players ahead of deadline
Sportsnet | Feb 25