Veteran Tyler Toffoli cherished his short tenure with the Canadiens

“I embraced it as much as I could. I had a lot of fun with it. For my wife, she really enjoyed it, too. The experience in general was great.”

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Tyler Toffoli spent less than two seasons with the Canadiens, a short amount of time in a career that has spanned slightly more than a decade. But playing in Montreal and wearing the iconic uniform had an indelible impact on him.

“It’s definitely one of the most-storied franchises; a team you want to play for,” Toffoli said Tuesday at the Bell Centre hours before he was scheduled to face his former team.

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“You want to do well in a market like this,” the 31-year-old native of Scarborough, Ont., added. “I embraced it as much as I could. I had a lot of fun with it. For my wife, she really enjoyed it, too. The experience in general was great.”

The 6-foot, 203-pound right-winger signed a four-year, US$17-million free-agent contract with the Canadiens in October 2020. He signed here after playing only 10 games with Vancouver, which acquired him from Los Angeles in February 2020 ahead of the trade deadline. The Kings drafted Toffoli in the second round (47th overall) in 2010.

“Obviously I signed here as a free agent,” Toffoli said. “I was excited for it and we had a great first season. Obviously the second season didn’t go as planned. I got hurt at the start of the year and missed a lot of time and I ended up getting moved. Just the experience of being here in general, being embraced by the fans, was incredible. Definitely a couple years of my life I’ll cherish.”

Toffoli led the Canadiens in scoring his first season, which was shortened due to COVID-19. He produced 28 goals and 44 points in 52 games and helped fuel Montreal’s improbable run to the Stanley Cup final. While the Canadiens started sluggishly the following season, Toffoli had five goals and 17 points in 26 games before undergoing hand surgery, forcing him to miss a month.

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Canadiens' Tyler Toffoli cuts to the net on Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell in May 2021.
Canadiens’ Tyler Toffoli cuts to the net on Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell in May 2021. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

With the Canadiens under new management — the tandem of executive vice-president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton and general manager Kent Hughes — and in a rebuilding mode, Toffoli became the first domino to fall, traded to Calgary that February for Emil Heineman, Tyler Pitlick, a conditional 2022 first-round draft choice and a ’23 fifth-round pick.

Toffoli had nine goals and 26 points, two points behind Nick Suzuki despite missing 11 games, at the time of the transaction.

“At the end of the day you want to win,” Toffoli said. “You want to be on teams that are trying to win. That’s just the direction it went in.”

Toffoli is coming off a career season with the Flames, during which he scored 34 goals and 73 points in 82 games. Nonetheless, he was traded to the Devils on June 27 for Yegor Sharangovich and a third-round draft choice — the first move orchestrated by new Calgary GM Craig Conroy.

Conroy said Toffoli had a change of heart about remaining with the Flames shortly before the deal, while the player maintained he was willing to sign a contract extension. But, when no negotiations occurred, he felt the time had arrived for a change of scenery. Toffoli, earning US$4.25 million, is in the final season of his deal and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.

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“You want to be somewhere where you’re wanted,” he said. “It didn’t feel like I was wanted. So far the experience of coming to Jersey has been good. I’ve been excited and happy coming to the rink every day. We have a great team, a great locker room. It’s a younger group so it keeps me young, too.”

Through four games this season, Toffoli has one goal and three points. He has been playing on the Devils’ top line, with Jack Hughes and Timo Meier, along with the team’s first power-play unit.

“He has fit in well,” head coach Lindy Ruff said of Toffoli. “He’s been really good on our power-play. He gives us that veteran presence. He knows how to play the game. Obviously he has been a winner. What he brings is real valuable.”

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