As the 2016-2017 NHL season has passed its midway point, teams are jousting for position in the standings, trying to get the edge over their arch rivals to earn a valuable playoffs’ spot. After all, you can’t win the elusive Stanley Cup if you are on the outside looking in. As Montreal Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin always said: Our goal is to make the playoffs. After that, anything can happen.
That being said, teams have recognised by now their strengths and weaknesses and general managers around the league are calling each other to see if a deal can be made. In this day and age where teams have to contend with a hard salary cap and with the “loser point”, trades are a lot more difficult to complete.
In the Eastern Conference, the last place Buffalo Sabres are only seven points away from a playoffs’ spot held by the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the West, only the Arizona Coyotes and the Colorado Avalanche are on life support. Everyone else believes that they can make the playoffs, so liquidating is, for the time being, out of the question and who knows how many teams will be in that position comes the February 28th trade deadline.
There are several rumours circulating around the NHL and several of them seem to be linked to both the Coyotes and the Avalanche. Colorado’s GM Joe Sakic has stated that anyone but Nathan MacKinnon is available on his roster, at the right price. The names of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Jarome Iginla and Tyson Barrie have been circulating but it was reported that the asking price is steep… very steep and perhaps too rich for contenders and pretenders alike.
In Arizona, several players are in the rumour mill, even team captain Shane Doan, he who in the past, wanted to finish his career with the organisation. Martin Hanzal has been rumoured to be on his way out for quite some time now, and young forward Anthony Duclair was just sent down to the AHL. Even the name of Oliver Ekman-Larsson has made its round recently, but take that with a grain of salt.
Habs are looking
Marc Bergevin is said to be busy, very busy looking at his options. In a recent interview, he even admitted looking for a puck-moving defenseman and we all know that he would like an improvement at centre, even with the emergence of Phillip Danault and with Tomas Plekanec showing signs of life in recent games.
If you follow this blog, you will know that I’ve been pushing for one of Dallas’ veteran left-handed defensemen, Johnny Oduya or Dan Hamhuis, as a possibility for a playoffs’ push. Both are good skaters, have tons of experience and would match-up nicely with Shea Weber, allowing Alexei Emelin to help solidify another pair, possibly with Jeff Petry, with whom he has had success in the past.
Of course if Ekman-Larsson is available, Bergevin must make that call to John Chayka. At only 25 years of age, he is under contract until the end of the 2018-2019 season with a somewhat friendly cap hit of $5.5 million. Unfortunately though, it’s the name of Hanzal that seems to be lingering, particularly with the reporters around the Canadiens and the NHL. I say unfortunately because it makes no sense.
While there is no denying that the Habs must improve at the centre position if they wish to compete with the Pittsburgh Penguins down the middle, Hanzal certainly doesn’t seem to be an improvement over the Plekanec and Danault duo. But just to be sure and to back the theory, let’s have a closer look:
As we can clearly see, aside from size, hits and a slight advantage in faceoffs percentage, Hanzal is no better than what the Canadiens already have. Even in the eight categories where he leads, he is tied with Danault for the number of goals scored and with Plekanec for the powerplay goals and points, with more than twice the PP ice time. So I ask again: is he really an improvement over what the Canadiens already have? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, I would venture to say that I know that he isn’t.
If the Habs are looking at upgrading at the centre position, they need a clear upgrade. A Matt Duchene, a Jason Spezza or even a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, someone who brings something that the Canadiens don’t already have. Of course the price would be steeper, much steeper, but at least, you don’t waste assets to add something that you already have.
Anthony Duclair to Montreal?
There seems to be a bit of friction between Coyotes’ head coach Dave Tippett and Duclair. After a 20 goals season last year, the 21 year-old Pointe-Claire native has managed only three goals and six assists in 41 games this season, with a plus/minus rating of minus – 8. This week, the Coyotes sent him down to the Tucson Roadrunners in the AHL.
Of course, this news was received by fans and media in Montreal with the anticipation that perhaps, the Habs could try to get him at rebate. But is it really what the Canadiens want or need? If we look on the ice alone, not really for this season, possibly for the future. However, at such a young age, if Duclair is traded by the Coyotes, it will already be the third time in his career. For a prospect with such upside, it should raise some major red flags. Is it attitude? Work ethics? There is no doubt that words circulate around the NHL and Bergevin and his team are aware of what the problem is. Time will tell if it’s serious enough to prevent him from getting a good local prospect.
But don’t worry folks. Trust Bergevin. He knows what his team needs and he is looking for those pieces. He has shown in the past that he won’t overpay, even though he knows that with the Weber/Subban trade, he wants to make a serious push sooner rather than later. Forget about what he’s done (or not done) in the past because this season is the first time that Bergevin finds himself in a position where he believes that his team can make some noise. Go Habs Go!!!