Ah this time of the NHL season. It’s like Christmas for hockey fans. Some teams are sellers, wanting to stock up on picks and prospects, while others are considered buyers, trying to improve their team for the immediate future in hope of either make a run at the elusive Stanley Cup or at the very least, earn a playoffs spot and a couple of home games for the owners to cut their losses or fill their pockets. Either way, fans and media members alike are anxious to see what their local team will do.
With five weeks to go to the February 25th trade deadline, teams are justleling and the race is tight in many places. The Atlantic division sees the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens within a point of each other, battling for 2nd and 3rd in the division, and/or for a Wild Card spot at the very least. The Buffalo Sabres are four points from a playoffs spot too, but they have been trending the wrong way as of late.
The Metropolitan division has four teams within two points, with the Tavares-less New York Islanders overtaking the Columbus Blue Jackets and Stanley Cup champions Washington Capitals to lead the division, while the Pittsburgh Penguins (58 points) occupy the last Wild Card spot, two points back.
In the weaker Western Conference, you can dream of the playoffs if you find yourself around the .500 mark. You have Colorado, Dallas and Vancouver with 50 points, with Minnesota, Edmonton and Anaheim a single point back, while Arizona (46) and St. Louis (45) are still mathematically in the race. Only three of those teams will make the playoffs.
Habs neither buyers or sellers
If you pay attention to what Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin is saying, it is very unlikely that he will be pursuing short-term help. This means that he will not be a buyer. And why would he be? His team is one of the youngest in the league and it has performed beyond what most people thought they would this season.
“I’m always going to be listening to options, but the goal is to build for the future. Just to give up assets for the short-term, I’m not going to do it. It would have to be very appealing. If there are young players available, assets have to go. I get that. But, I don’t think I’ll be in the rental business.”
“Based on what I saw in Vancouver [at the WJC], the future of the Canadiens is very bright. I’m not going to start mortgaging the future. I know what’s coming with the World Juniors, who they’re going to be asking for, and I’m not moving these kids. It’s going to be a short conversation, I think… If we drafted these kids, it’s because we believe they have some potential. That came to the forefront in Vancouver with our prospects that really stepped up their games.”
~ Marc Bergevin (January 7, 2019)
Only Kenny Agostino, Jordie Benn and Antti Niemi are pending UFAs at the end of the season. With the Canadiens in a playoffs’ spot, don’t expect any of them to be traded as they are, in fact, some very good “rentals”.
If Bergevin makes a move, it will have to be a hockey trade, one that makes sense not only for now, but for the future. The Canadiens have just over $9 million of cap space available so it is not out of the realm of possibilities that teams might come knocking with offers like the one with the Winnipeg Jets, which saw them unload a contract in Steve Mason, bringing in Joel Armia into the Habs’ fold as a reward for doing so.
The Canadiens’ biggest need right now still is a suitable partner for Shea Weber, someone who can eat up 25 quality minutes a game against the opposition’s top lines. Victor Mete is doing fairly well but if they want to be taken more seriously, they need an improvement at that position. While Alexander Romanov has made huge strides, he is likely a few years from having the necessary impact to play such a role. A while back, I had created a list of 24 potential target for Bergevin and while the list likely has changed somewhat, some names on that list would still be pretty good options.
It is also very much possible that Bergevin sits there and doesn’t do anything. If that happens, he will be criticised by some but rest assured, this would not be a bad move at all. The future is bright, very bright in Montreal and in spite of what some want you to believe, Bergevin knows what he’s doing. Go Habs Go!