Scandella: Timing Is Everything

The year 2020 had barely pointed itself that four teams created a tremor, a slight earthquake in a league where in-season trades have become the exception, not the rule. Three of the four teams involved in two separate deals are from the Atlantic Division. The Montreal Canadiens’ Twitter account was the busiest, by first announcing that the team had traded one of their depth defensemen, Mike Reilly, to the Ottawa Senators. Soon after, they were back at it announcing that they had made the acquisition of Marco Scandella from the Buffalo Sabres. Then the Sabres announced that they had acquired Michael Frolik from the Calgary Flames. All of that was announced within a few minutes preceding the first Eastern time zone games.

One of the busiest General Managers in the NHL since taking over the Habs in 2012, Marc Bergevin, was once again was the busiest, completing not one, but two trades:

To To
Mike ReillyAndrew Sturtz
2021 5th round pick (OTT)
To To
2020 4th round pick (SJS)Marco Scandella

in 14 games with the AHL’s Belleville Senators, Sturtz, 25, has managed two points (1 G-1A). Standing at 5-foot 8-inches and 184 lbs, he has also registered two points (1 goal, 1 assist) in four games with the Brampton Beast in the ECHL. Sturtz is described as a small, speedy but injury-prone forward and was likely acquired to provide some much needed help for the Laval Rockets, as several players are either called up in Montreal or are injured.

In the second trade, the Canadiens got a Montreal native in Scandella, 29, who has nine points (3 G-6A), 34 blocked shots (4th on the Sabres) and has a differential of plus -9. The 6-foot 3-inches, 212 lbs left-handed defenseman is averaging 16:36 of ice time per game in Buffalo. The former QMJHL Val-d’Or Foreurs carries a $4 million cap hit and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. He will provide Ben Chiarot a bit of relief, he who has been playing tons of minutes lately, and should help stabilize the penalty killing units.

Trades analysis

Making sense of the first trade was rather easy. Reilly has only appeared in 14 of the Habs’ 41 games this season. He has one more year remaining to his contract after this season, so by trading him, the Canadiens were not only freeing up his $1.5 million salary, but they freed up a spot for prospect Alexander Romanov for next year, he who met with Bergevin in Russia a few weeks ago. Further, Bergevin keeps collecting Draft picks, as he’s done for the past couple of years. So far, so good, everything makes sense.

Marco Scandella is coming home, but for how long?

Then comes the Scandella trade, sending totally mixed signals. Had this trade occurred a few weeks ago when the Canadiens were right in the race for a playoffs’ spot, everyone who doesn’t have an axe to grind against Bergevin would acclaim this acquisition. But with the Habs sitting six points back of the Division’s third place and seven points back of the last Wild Card spot, with five teams to leapfrog to get in, many people, myself included, question the timing of it. No one is questioning if Scandella is an improvement over Brett Kulak. He certainly is. But with Brendan Gallagher just joining Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia and Paul Byron on the injury list, they’re questioning the timing, as none of these guys are expected until at least the third week of January. So why so late? Too late?

The only – somewhat – logical explanation I can think of is one of the following three scenarios:

  1. Scandella plays well, the Canadiens are out of the playoffs by trade deadline, they trade him and get that pick back or even get more than what they paid.
  2. Scandella plays well and by the end of the KHL season, Romanov changes his mind and stays in Russia, so the Habs offer him a new contract.
  3. He plays poorly and they let him go this summer, wasting a 4th round pick.

Many fans and members of the media are puzzled by Bergevin’s actions. Has he given up on the season or not? If not, he might have waited too long to help his team and repeated his previous mistakes. And if f he has given up, then why improve his team now and potentially hurt his chances to get Alexis Lafrenière? Either way, Bergevin’s actions yesterday are murky at best. Something tells me that we will find out soon enough why he’s made the moves that he has but for that, fans and media will have to do something they’re not accustomed to: be patient. Go Habs Go!

Alexis Lafrenière To Montreal: The Odds

This is a fun time of the year if you’re a hockey fan. In a somewhat dull, long NHL season where teams seem to be going through the motions, in a league where in-season trades are so few and far between, fans are often bored. But here comes the IIHF World Junior hockey tournament, where the best under-19 players in the world face each other in a short tourney. The relentless way those kids play the game and the high caliber of hockey give fans a much necessary jolt, some much needed excitement.

At this year’s World Juniors, one name is on just about every Montreal Canadiens’ lips: Saint-Eustache, Quebec born Alexis Lafrenière. Let’s be honest here… he’s on the lips of every NHL team who are not Stanley Cup contenders. Really, how nice would it be to get such a talented player to boost your team? While the thought of landing the first overall pick is an annual desire, or consolation prize, this one is special for Montreal, a very unique market in the NHL by the language defining the franchise… and this prospect is one of them! Fans are watching the tournament, dreaming of seeing the Habs “tank for Lafrenière”, as they call it. But what are the odds of that happening?

For one thing, the Canadiens are fighting for a playoffs’ spot and while the team has some major holes in their lineup, needs that GM Marc Bergevin is struggling to fill in-season, the Habs are very unlikely to get the first overall pick and if they make the playoffs, they will have zero chance via the Draft lottery. But even if they missed out on the playoffs, the odds of winning the lottery are very slim. Even the team finishing dead last in the NHL only has 18.5% odd of winning the right to speak first at the 2020 Draft, ironically held in Montreal.

So the Canadiens’ best chances of getting Lafrenière at the Draft would be to trade for him. That’s easier said than done as historically, first overall picks are rarely traded. As a matter of fact, it hasn’t been done in the Salary Cap Era as the last time it happened was back in 2003. Let’s look at the times when teams did trade the very first pick in the NHL, shall we?

2003

Pittsburgh Penguins getFlorida Panthers get
– No. 1 pick
– 3rd round pick
– No. 3 pick
– 2nd round pick
– Mikael Samuelsson
Player selected:Marc-André Fleury

2002

Columbus Blue Jackets getFlorida Panthers get
– No. 1 pick– No. 3 pick
– Right to swap to picks in 2003
Player selected:Rick Nash

1999

Atlanta Thrashers getVancouver Canucks get
– No. 1 pick– No.2 pick
– 3rd round pick
Player selected:Patrik Stefan

1998

Tampa Bay Lightning getSan Jose Sharks get
– No. 1 pick
– Andrei Nazarov
– No. 2 pick
– Bryan Marchment
– David Shaw
Player selected:Vincent Lecavalier

1991

Philadelphia Flyers getQuebec Nordiques get
– No. 1 pick *– Peter Forsberg
– Ron Hextall
– Steve Duchesne
– Kerry Huffman
– Mike Ricci
– $15 million
– two first-round picks
Player selected:Eric Lindros
* Quebec had already selected Lindros who refused to report. He never played a game with the Nordiques

1983

Minnesota North Stars getPittsburgh Penguins get
– No. 1 pick
– George Ferguson
– No. 15 pick
– Ron Meighan
– Anders Hakansson
Player selected:Brian Lawton

1982

Boston Bruins getColorado Rockies get
– No. 1 pick
– 2nd round pick
– Dwight Foster*
– No. 22 pick
– 10th round pick
Player selected:Gord Kluzak
* This was a compensation to the Rockies for signing Foster

1980

Montreal Canadiens getColorado Rockies get
– No. 1 pick*– No. 19 pick
– Ron Andruff
– Sean Shanahan
Player selected:Doug Wickenheiser
The trade happened in 1976 (4 years prior). The Habs traded Andruff and Shanahan to the Rockies for the right to swap first-round picks in 1980 (no. 1 for no. 19).

1975

Philadelphia Flyers getWashington Capitals get
– No. 1 pick– No. 18 pick
– Bill Clement
– Don McLean
Player selected:Mel Bridgman

1971

Montreal Canadiens getCalifornia Golden Seals get
– 1971 first-rounder (no. 1)
– Francois Lacombe
– 1970 first-rounder (no. 10)
– Ernie Hicke
Player selected:Guy Lafleur

In my humble opinion, there is absolutely no doubt that Bergevin is setting himself up to make a serious offer, even a severe overpayment to the team winning the Draft lottery in order to convince them to give him the first overall pick. The Habs have been stockpiling prospects and picks like there’s no tomorrow and that, even knowing that they’ll have a hard time fitting all of them under the 50 contracts limit when comes time to signing these guys.

He’s relying heavily on Trevor Timmins and Shayne Churla to draft well, and on Joël Bouchard to develop those players so the Canadiens have more munitions to entice or even trade for the first overall pick next summer. But folks, don’t hold your breath on that one. The team is too strong to earn that pick through lottery and the odds are against the Habs to complete a trade with whichever team wins that lottery. In the meantime though, let’s cheer our team to win… NOT to tank. Go Habs Go!