Let’s get something straight: it’s always better to trade from a position of strength than when you are desperate to make a move, as other teams see you coming from a mile and a half away and their asking price often will get inflated somewhat. But sometimes, it’s worth overpaying a bit when your team is in dire need, not only to keep the team afloat, but to show the players and coaches that a situation like the one that they have gone through last year is not going to happen again this season.
Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais are out for six to eight weeks each, which means that the Canadiens are left with Tomas Plekanec (2G, 7A, 9Pts), Phillip Danault (5G, 4A, 9Pts), Torrey Mitchell (5G, 2A, 7Pts) and Brian Flynn (0G, 2A, 2Pts) at the centre position, with the possibility of moving right-winger Andrew Shaw (6G, 5A, 11 Pts) to centre. Off those beautiful people, only Plekanec is used to logging over 15 minutes of ice time per game.
Do the Habs need to make a trade? Absolutely not. Should they? That’s where the debate starts. Marc Bergevin could choose to wait and see how his team reacts to this challenge. They could use this time to test other players in those situations, including calling up Charles Hudon and/or Michael McCarron (who was cleared for practice).
What the question Bergevin and fans have to ask themselves is this:
Are you happy with Plekanec or Desharnais as the team’s second line centre?
If you are, you try to wait it out. But if you aren’t, like yours truly, you feel like there is a need so might as well accelerate the process and help your team right now while you only have one player (Plekanec) who is respectable for the top-6. And that’s the approach I’m taking if I’m Bergevin. Why waste precious time, even more precious points, because the asking price has gone up slightly? You need it, and you need it now!
Unless they are for sure excluded from the playoffs – which no team is in December – it is very unlikely that a team from the Eastern Conference would want to “help” the Montreal Canadiens get even stronger as there is a chance that they might have to face them in the playoffs. For that reason, I strongly believe that the answer would likely come from the Western Conference. Let’s also not forget that the Habs’ brass has been scouting heavily the San Jose Sharks and the Edmonton Oilers in recent weeks.
Here are three names who would likely be available, and what it would likely take to make it happen but first, let’s get one thing clear: teams can trade an injured player as long as the injury is divulged prior to the trade. With that out of the way, here are the three options:
First pick overall in 2011, RNH has dropped in the Oilers’ depth chart behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and there is little doubt that Peter Chiarelli would like to move his long term $6 million contract. The Oilers need help on defense so a young defenseman with offensive upside like Nathan Beaulieu ($1 million, RFA) might be tempting. Obviously, the Oilers would need to take on some salary in return. The usual culprits for cap dump for the Canadiens are David Desharnais ($3.5 million) and Alexei Emelin ($4.1 million). Of course, if Emelin is included, you can scratch Beaulieu unless another left-handed defenseman is coming back.
OFFER: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for Alexei Emelin and Michael McCarron or Nikita Scherbak.
JUSTIFICATION: Marc Bergevin will complete another trade to get a top-4 defenseman to play with Shea Weber.
Spezza comes with a massive $7.5 million contract which doesn’t expire until the end of the 2018-2019 season, a big deterrent… for most teams. Not known for his defensive play, he is not having a good season so far with the Stars with only 4 goals, 7 assists and 11 points in 20 games, and has a bad differential of minus – 15. However, Spezza is a right-handed centre standing at 6’3″ and 210 lbs, who had 33 goals in 75 games last season. The Stars need help in net and on defense.
OFFER: I was originally thinking of giving away Plekanec in that trade but the Canadiens just can’t do that with Galchenyuk and Desharnais out. So… Spezza and Johnny Oduya ($3.75 million) for Alexei Emelin, Nathan Beaulieu and a 1st round pick or B prospect (Hudon?), with the Stars keeping $2 million of Spezza’s salary. Either that or take Desharnais’ $3.5 million this year and keep $1.5 million for 2017-18 and 2018-19.
JUSTIFICATION: Habs will then have Galchenyuk, Spezza and Plekanec as top-3 centres, have a defenseman to play with Weber and can trade Plekanec at the deadline or in the off-season to accommodate for Spezza’s salary. Dallas improves greatly defensively and get younger.
Unfortunately, likely the most realistic option but also, the cheapest. Hanzal stands at 6’6″ and 226 lbs, and he’s in the last year of a contract paying him $3.1 million. While not a great points producer, he does have a respectable 54.4% faceoffs ratio. To be honest, he’s not a number two centre so that would leave the second line centre to Plekanec, which won’t solve Max Pacioretty‘s problem, unless they keep him with Alexander Radulov.
OFFER: Hanzal for Charles Hudon and cap dump (Desharnais, $3.5 million for this season, then UFA)
JUSTIFICATION: The Coyotes don’t seem to want to re-sign Hanzal and get a good young offensive-minded centre, a position of need. Desharnais’ salary comes off the books at the end of this year as well.
What will Bergevin do? Your guess is just as good as mine. What I do know is that I would like for him to avoid repeating the same mistake that he made last year with Carey Price. In my opinion, they need a second line centre but don’t count out the possibility of a trade coming out of left field, including a player that no one has mentioned… yet.