Maple Leafs add centre depth with Plekanec, avoid potential mistake

The Maple Leafs more than just avoided a mistake; they acquired one of the best rental assets on the market for a reasonable price. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

The thought of adding a centre to the mix quickly became an uneasy one for many fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With Luke Glendening – a pivot with dollar, term and, perhaps most harrowing, a champion in Mike Babcock – being discussed by pundits as a potential deadline acquisition, how could you blame them?

With the cap crunch looming as the hourglass continues to empty on the entry-level deals of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, a significant investment in the sort of player that doesn’t belong on the front line wouldn’t represent sound decision making.

But pre-deadline angst has since been pacified by Lou Lamoriello and Maple Leafs brass, as it was announced that the club had acquired a pure rental asset in Tomas Plekanec from the Montreal Canadiens (yes, the Montreal Canadiens) a little over 24 hours before all rosters must be finalized.

Further soothing, the Maple Leafs did not give up a whole lot to push Dominic Moore out of the every-day lineup with the far more versatile centre, sending just a second-round pick in 2018 and two minor leaguers back to Montreal in forward Kerby Rychel and Rinat Valiev.

Plekanec does come with a significant cap number ($6 million), but the Canadiens took care of that for their long-time rivals, too, stomaching 50 percent of his salary.

(For reference, Glendening has three more seasons after this one at $1.8 million).

Plekanec has a lost his fastball from an offensive standpoint. As the Canadiens have struggled to score in recent seasons, his individual production has sagged dramatically. A former 70-point man, Plekanec has just 52 points in 138 games played across the last two seasons.

What Plekanec will provide are some of the intangibles that Babcock covets in the forwards he doesn’t entrust to score, while still possessing some pop.

Plekanec will immediately slot in as one of the club’s best defensive forwards, meaning he’ll be one of the first bodies off the bench to kill penalties and take key faceoffs. Plus, he’s still on the positive side of the shot share, carrying underlying data that is certainly respectable on a team that’s been outscored a fair amount at even strength over the last two years.

His experience and functionality will give Babcock flexibility with his forward lines, especially on the road when the Maple Leafs don’t have the advantage of last change. Perhaps he takes minutes away from Tyler Bozak in tight games and when protecting leads.

For Plekanec, the trade ends a 14-year run in Montreal, which nearly took him beyond 1,000 games. He scored 232 goals and assisted on 373 others to eclipse 600 points in a Canadiens sweater earlier this season.

He should be able to add to those totals with two Finns in Leo Komarov and Kasperi Kapanen on his wings on a new-look fourth line for the Maple Leafs that can stack up against most in the NHL.

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