Yes, the Canadiens are once again out of the playoffs. Yes, it’s the third year in a row. Yes, it will be the fourth season in the last five years that they are not part of the “real season”, the Stanley Cup playoffs. Yes, it is frustrating for everyone. Medias and broadcasters will be grumbling because they won’t be making their money, as the interest from this huge fan base won’t be there. Fans are already on edge because they’re frustrated. Rest assured that in spite of what some want you to believe, EVERYONE in the Canadiens’ organisation is also frustrated, from the owners to the players and anyone in between.
When Marc Bergevin met with team President Geoff Molson back in the summer of 2018, he sold his employer into a new plan, one that differs from any plan the past few former General Managers wanted to commit to doing: a rebuild or, as Bergevin presented instead, a reset. That summer, the team’s amateur scouting was revamped. Coaching staff on the farm team was replaced with proven individuals, and the focus turned to youth. The organisation knew then that there would be some growing pains, some grumblings, and Molson not only approved, but he accepted that. Yes folks, they were expecting what’s being said right now.
This year’s trade deadline plan
Last week, during the Canadiens’ bye week and All-Star break, Bergevin met with his assistants and his pro scouts to decide on scenarios and the approach from then on to the trade deadline of February 24th. So they’re hitting the road, the next three weeks or so, searching for young talent in order to find the gems the Habs’ GM could get in trades for his available assets. And with Bergevin’s track record in trades, everyone should be excited about the possibilities.
As we discussed not long ago, the players the most likely to change address between now and trade deadline are the team’s pending UFAs. We said back then that the odds of seeing Jeff Petry and Tomas Tatar, both veterans having another year left to their affordable contract, are very slim. Reputable NHL Insiders have since come out to either shut down or at least cool off the numerous rumours surrounding both players. That being said, it doesn’t mean that one (or both) couldn’t be traded. It does mean that would take an incredible offer to see it happening.
Between the two, the “most likely” to be traded is Tatar. The Canadiens have options on the wing, something they don’t have on the right side of the defense. And since the team isn’t going through a full rebuild, they would have to get a NHL ready defenseman coming back in a trade to replace Petry’s minutes and contribution in order to even think about trading him. Remember: reset, not rebuild.
As Pierre LeBrun recently pointed out, teams are calling about Tatar and there are three teams often mentioned in the rumour mill when it comes to the Canadiens’ left winger. In order to get something done though, they will have to step up to the plate, to borrow a baseball analogy. The Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins have all been linked, one way or another, to Tatar. I will add one more, the Dallas Stars, who could use a push on offense as they sit 27th overall in the NHL in goals’ scored. But what exactly would constitute “knocking Bergevin’s socks off” in an offer? Here are some names that definitely could fall in that category.
Oilers: Evan Bouchard
Don’t be mistaken here, Bouchard was born in Oakville, Ontario. I don’t know if he speaks French or not, so language has no motive in having him on this list. If Bergevin was able to land him though, it would go a long way at adding the necessary quality depth on the right side of the Canadiens’ defense depth chart, left vulnerable with the injury to Noah Juulsen and the uncertainty surrounding his future. Bouchard has tons of offensive ability. He passes the puck well and can quarterback a power play. He also possesses big shot and he positions himself well in the defensive zone. He does have great hockey sense.
Flames: Jakob Pelletier
Yes, another diminutive forward, just like the Habs like. But don’t be mistaken here. Pelletier is an extremely versatile forward, since he can play both wing and center, be used on both special teams and create offense for his teammates. He skates well, has outstanding vision and excellent passing skills. The 18 year-old is also adept at defending and is a rather responsible player.
Pens: Samuel Poulin
Listed at 6-foot 2-inches and 216 lbs on the Sherbrooke Phoenix’ website, he is the son of Canadiens’ alumni Patrick Poulin. He is said to have an outstanding work ethic, grit, determination and the size for success at the highest level. He is also a volume shooter who will get his fair share of goals simply based on shooting the puck early and often. He also displays playmaking qualities.
Stars: Denis Guryanov
Curtis Joe of Elite Prospects had this to say about Guryanov: A highly skilled forward who intimidates with his speed and proficient puck handling ability, Guryanov may have one of the highest ceilings as a forward prospect for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Very strong on his skates and uses his size to protect the puck well. Drives the net hard and knows where he will shoot before he is even in a position to do so. Possesses a heavy and accurate release on his shot, which he likes to get off near the faceoff dots; if he can’t shoot from there, he will either dangle or bull his way through to the blue paint.
Admittedly, those are very high demands for Tatar (or a package including him). Remember what Max Pacioretty brought back to the Canadiens? Tatar has very similar stats not only this season, but career-wise and he’s a lot more consistent than the former Habs’ captain. He still has one year left to his contract with a cap hit of only $4.8 million as Vegas is paying the other $500,000. The Habs could even keep some of his salary this season to accomodate a team tight against the cap.
Will it happen? I haven’t changed my mind: it’s very unlikely. But if one of those players ends up in the discussions for a return in a trade involving Tatar, it would make it worthwhile. Otherwise, remember that the Habs’ don’t have to trade him. “Tuna” will help the Habs compete for a playoffs’ spot next season… which isn’t a bad thing either. Go Habs Go!