You’re going along as a young man, trying to find your niche as a 19 year old in a country miles away from your hometown on the most historic and decorated hockey team in the world. You’re working with the coaches, other players and on your own, trying to get to the next level as soon as you possibly can. The pressure of being the third overall pick at the Draft weights on you, and playing in the Mecca of Hockey, in front of fans who aren’t always the most supportive of their own players, coaches and General Managers. But then something happens. An event changes everything and you find yourself at that next level…
Jesperi Kotkaniemi‘s selection at the 2018 NHL Draft by the Canadiens shocked many, and even infuriated others and the inevitable comparisons to Brady Tkachuk – who is 10 months older – are a constant reminder of some of this disgruntled fan base. Notwithstanding the fact that the Senators don’t have the Habs’ depth and quality up front, allowing Tkachuk to play top-six minutes and playing five and a half more minutes per game than his younger counterpart, the young Sens plays three minutes a game on the powerplay to Kotkaniemi’s 1:42. Further, those “fans” know very little between playing centre in the NHL and the responsibilities that come with it, as opposed to skating up and down the wing. But I regress.
After a good rookie season where the one they nicknamed KK managed 11 goals and 34 points as the youngest player in the NHL, he added some much needed weight to his teenager’s body in the off-season, which seemed to slow him down, likely contributing to the infamous sophomore slump he seems to be going through this season.
This year, feeling bigger and stronger already, Kotkaniemi has doubled his number of hits per 60 minutes, going from 3.64 to 6.82. He is clearly stronger on his skates and he doesn’t spend half as much time on his knees as he did a year ago. And as of last night against the Philadelphia Flyers, the young Finnish centre has as many fights this season as Tkachuk.
We’re in Philadelphia, home of the Broad Street Bullies, a place where fans absolutely love fights in the NHL. It’s early in the third period when Flyers’ defenseman Robert Hagg hits rookie Ryan Poehling from behind. Seeing that the inconsistent (and incompetent) referees didn’t deem the play to be penalty-worthy, Kotkaniemi took matters into his own hands to avenge his linemate. Shockingly, he went straight at Hagg and BOTH players dropped the gloves. Hagg didn’t even have a chance to throw a punch, too busy trying to protect himself against a whaling Kotkaniemi who ended up losing his balance and fall to the ice at the end, at Hagg’s relief.
True to form, the incompetent referees gave an instigator penalty to the young Finnish player who had to spend the next 17 minutes in the penalty box, infuriating Canadiens’ head coach Claude Julien, and rightfully so, proving once again the inefficiency of the two-referees system. The Habs killed the extra two-minutes awarded to Kotkaniemi and they left Philadelphia with a 4-1 win. In this win, one young man came out on top. In spite of Ilya Kovalchuk’s two goals, in spite of Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar‘s three points’ performance, the players in the dressing room gave the sword of the game to… Kotkaniemi. A fight that could very well be the turning point in this young man’s career.
Another game, and the rollercoaster of emotions continues if you’re a Montreal Canadiens’ fan. Great start of the season, followed by injuries to Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron, bringing an eight game winless streak. A few wins later, the hope is back but it’s then followed by yet another sequence of eightgames without a win. The morale is low for Habs’ fans but then, they win two in a row, returning within seven points of a playoffs’ spot. Fans regain a glimmer of hopes but the team falls flat on their face at home against a Chicago Blackhawks’ team who had played the night before. Back to nine points behind, there is little hope once again.
And with those fading hopes come the bickering amongst fans on Social media. You have three main groups: the ones thinking that the sky is falling and everyone should be fired and/or traded. At the other spectrum, you have the ones who are set in their mind that the Canadiens should keep the course and keep all assets, letting time do it’s thing, resting all hopes on prospects. And then you have the larger group, often not as vocal, who understand what the difference is between a Rebuild, a Reset and a Retool, knowing that Bergevin is going the reset way and what it entails, and approve of it. I would like to think that I am part of that middle group, although some will argue that I’m closer to ones wanting the team to stay put. I am however on record stating what I would like to see happen, and tried keeping a realistic approach to the reasons for this disappointing season. The level of success in my attempts depends largely on who you talk to.
But now that the team appears to be sinking further, let’s address together the most talked about trade baits people feel like Marc Bergevin should throw out there to gauge the return. I decided to separate them into two categories and once again, this is only an opinion. Yours might differ and it doesn’t make you wrong… unless you go completely against what the team has already stated.
Likely to be traded
Because the Canadiens are very unlikely to make it to the postseason, it’s natural to think that the Canadiens will be sellers come trade deadline. This means turning assets into more assets instead of losing them for nothing and by that, we’re talking pending UFAs. I did add one player with term on his contract although admittedly, it’s all just speculation on my part.
Two way contract, $700,000 pro-rated. For one thing, he’s very much affordable to any contenders at this time of year. But what drives the train here is the way he’s been performing with the Canadiens, accumulating five points in six games thus far, playing around 20 minutes a game. If he keeps going, you can bet that there will be interest and no matter what Bergevin gets in return at trade deadline, it will be an asset (or assets) he didn’t have prior to signing Kovy. Is it possible that the Habs and Kovalchuk have mutual interest for next year? Yes it is but let’s cross the bridge when we get to the river. For now, as part of his reset, Bergevin is looking at stockpiling on picks and/or quality prospects.
Yes, Scandella is a huge improvement over Mike Reilly before him, and Brett Kulak now. But he is a pending UFA and he’s been playing quite well for the Canadiens. Prior to acquiring him from Buffalo, the Habs’ penalty kill was 25th in the NHL with a 76% success rate. Since Scandella has arrived, the team is killing penalties at a rate of 90%! But wait a second… The Montreal native has a $4 million cap hit right now and this will be his first chance at choosing when he wants to play. He will draw a lot of interest, which will drive the price up. How much do you pay your 4-5 defenseman in a cap world? Kulak is not as effective, but he has two years remaining at $1.85 million cap hit per season. Whether the two parties are interested in each other for next year, I would be shocked if he wasn’t traded by trade deadline and the demand should be there for a quality veteran left-handed defenseman, so Bergevin should get a lot more than the 4th round pick he surrendered to get him.
Uncle Nate loves playing in Montreal and fans and teammates love him. But he’s a good depth centre who is second only to Phillip Danault in the faceoffs’ dot at 54.2%. In addition, he can kill penalties and won’t get your team in trouble when on the ice. Built for playoffs, he is also fourth on the Canadiens in hits with 78. Expect teams to come calling for Thompson and a mid-range pick would be a reasonable value for him.
Up until recently, I didn’t think that the Habs could get anything for Weise but he has been playing some good hockey since his last call-up and he is proving to be a valuable and experienced fourth-liner and depth player for a team making a push for the Stanley Cup. The Habs might have to eat some salary on him, but it’s not without the realm of possibility that they could get a late round pick.
And here’s your wildcard, that player still under contract, that could be made available by deadline, if healthy of course. Speed to burn, excellent at killing penalties, he wears a letter for the Canadiens and he has developed into a 20-goals’ scorer with them. He still has three years to his contract which carries a $3.4 million cap hit. Depending on who you talk to, it can be an asset or a handicap. Something tells me though that it would be easier to trade him in the off-season, when just about every team has cap space. Definitely worth keeping an eye though, particularly if he returns to his old self after the All-Star break.
Unlikely to get traded
Some were publicly denied, others are guesses based on the status of the team and what the Canadiens wish to accomplish based on what Bergevin has been saying. All have been the source of some debates through the media and on Social Media. Let’s look at those very unlikely to change addresses by trade deadline, in my opinion.
Carey Price and Shea Weber
Wishful thinking by some, mostly those who don’t understand or don’t want to recognize what a reset is and what the Canadiens are doing, there were debates whether the Habs should trade Carey Price and/or Shea Weber in order to go full rebuild. Well TSN and RDS Insider Pierre LeBrun put a categorical stop to this nonsense after talking to Bergevin:
I can tell you this: You can stop speculating about that because Habs’ GM told me that he had no intention of thinking about trading Carey Price or Shea Weber and would not listen if a team phoned on Carey Price or Shea Weber before the trade deadline. He has been on the record before saying that as this team gets younger, that the leadership that Shea Weber and Carey Price for this team is important to him, He believes it works and he wants to remain part of that. ~ Pierre LeBrun on TSN Trading Insiders
For those tempted to make the link with what Bergevin said about P.K. Subban prior to trading him, the Canadiens’ GM said back then that he was not shopping the defenseman but also added that he couldn’t prevent other GMs from calling about him. This time around, he went out of his way to say that he wouldn’t listen if someone did. I know that some people have taken that literally, saying that he wasn’t doing his job if he wasn’t listening but they are missing the boat in my opinion. Anyone who has been following Bergevin since he took over in 2012 knows that he’s listening. He said what he said to make a point.
On January 28th of last year, Jake Muzzin fetched the LA Kings a first round pick and two “B-prospects” in 22 year-old Carl Grundstrom and 21 year-old Sean Durzi from the Toronto Maple Leafs. At the time of the trade, Muzzin had 21 points in 50 games and was logging an average of 21:32 minutes per game. He was coming off a 42 points season the year before. Comparatively, at the time of writing this – prior to the game in Philly – Petry currently has 28 points in 48 games and he had 46 points last season. So it’s not far fetched to think that he would bring in just as much in a trade.
However (and there is a however)… As mentioned above, the Canadiens are not rebuilding, they’re resetting which means they want to remain competitive and make the playoffs next season, perhaps even contend depending on the moves occuring this upcoming summer. And just much Weber and Price, Petry is one of the core leaders on this team. If they were to trade him at the deadline, the Canadiens would be in deep trouble as they don’t have any prospect ready to eat up his minutes and replace his production and ice time. Cale Fleury isn’t ready for top-4 duties, Noah Juulsen still suffers from headaches and Josh Brook was scratched for three games recently. And God forbid if Weber was to get injured! Further, he is on a team-friendly contract at $5.5 million cap hit with one season left to it. The odds of finding that kind of ratio production/salary are close to nil. For those reasons, it is my belief that Bergevin won’t trade him at the deadline or this upcoming summer. He will revisit the idea at next year’s trade deadline based on where the team sits in the standings.
Tatar is a different story than Petry. The Canadiens have more depth at forward than they do on defense. He still has one year left with a cap hit of $4.8 million (Vegas pays $500,000) after this season. Here are some forwards traded prior to trade deadline last year, as comparatives… although they were all pending UFAs.
Ryan Dzingle 7th
Anthony Duclair 2nd in 2020 2nd in 2021
2nd Conditional 3rd
Brendan Lemieux 1st Conditional 4th
Ryan Hartman Conditional 4th
2019 trade deadline deals
Based on that, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that Bergevin could get a first, a prospect and a mid-round pick, or a similar combination in my opinion. That all been said, Tatar meshes very well in the Canadiens’ dressing room and you can tell that he loves Montreal. He has great chemistry with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. For the same reasons mentioned for Petry, it is very much possible that the Habs will hang on to him for another year and like Petry, reassess the situation around trade deadline next year, and that’s why I put him in the unlikely to be traded category.
Max doesn’t leave anyone indifferent, doesn’t he? Seems like you love him or hate him. And it’s been very obvious on Twitter after last night’s game against Chicago when the emotional forward took an undisciplined penalty resulting in a goal, and some benching time from Claude Julien. In spite of his emotional side, he has been a great offensive addition to the Canadiens.
Only 24 years old, top points getter for the Habs last season, he has 15 points in his last 17 games and sits second behind Tatar in points on the team. So in spite of his volatile character, I would be shocked if the Canadiens traded him. To think that Bergevin got him for Alex Galchenyuk…
So there you have it folks. Remember though that Bergevin has always said to expect the unexpected. What he did say about Price and Weber is don’t expect unexpected trades of two of his top leaders. Oh and don’t forget the bi-annual warning about Rumouroids, preying on desperate souls like the ones of Habs’ fans in dire need of information. Go Habs Go!