Could the Oilers and the Habs Help Each Other?

One team is in the West, desperate to make the playoffs according to their owner. The other one is in the East, jousting for a playoffs’ position. The first one has just fired their General Manager and they find themselves with their hands tied, strapped to the salary cap. The other has nine million and can afford to pay. But neither is deep enough at any position to sacrifice top talent to make things happen, and neither team is willing to move their young quality assets and high draft picks to improve this year. Dilemma…

As we touched about in a recent article, the Edmonton Oilers are in a bind and have been for quite some time and that, in spite of having two of the best young players in the entire NHL in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The have finally fired GM Peter Chiarelli and team owner, billionaire Daryl Katz was recently quoted saying that missing the playoffs was not an option. At the All-Star break, his team is only three points out of a playoffs’ spot but they have five or six teams to leapfrog in order to make it happen.

Peter Chiarelli was fired by the Oilers

Marc Bergevin and his Montreal Canadiens are in a much better position. The Habs have surprised most people by overtaking the Boston Bruins and trailing the mighty Toronto Maple Leafs by a single point, amid having played a couple more games than their rivals. And they have done so without quality defensemen on the left side, and certainly none worthy of top minutes playing alongside Shea Weber. Sophomore Victor Mete, who even was sent down to the AHL’s Laval Rocket earlier this season, is Weber’s current partner and he’s doing okay. Imagine if they found someone for that role and if they could improve on their league worst powerplay…

Like the Oilers, the direction is clear when asked about the team’s goals as Bergevin recently addressed the topic.

“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)

An Oilers / Canadiens trade?

First and foremost, forget Darnell Nurse. He’s not going anywhere. If I’m the Oilers, I also try to avoid trading Oscar Klefbom and I am reluctant giving up so soon on top prospect Jesse Puljujärvi. His value is too low right now, the Oilers don’t have much to lose by giving him time to find his game. So who’s left in Edmonton? First, a trade must help them. Their number one goal right now is clearing some cap space. The have a few contracts that they might or would consider unloading in order to prepare for more moves.

PLAYERCONTRACTEXPIRYGPPTS
Milan Lucic$6M – NMC2022-235012
Kris Russell$4M – NMC2020-21409
Ryan Spooner$3.1M2019-20415
Brandon Manning$2.25M2019-20354
Zack Kassian$1.95M2019-20479
TOTAL:$17.3M21339

Everybody knows that they would like to unload Milan Lucic but it would take a whole bag of sugar to sweeten the pot enough to make it happen with anyone and I certainly don’t think that the Habs are a good match. Ryan Spooner is a project with some upside, Brandon Manning is a dime a dozen and Zack Kassian… well, been there, done that.

Kris Russell is an interesting candidate however. No, he’s not a “sexy choice” and no, he’s not a permanent solution. When I made the suggestion on Twitter, some were adamant against him but I have a feeling that few of those people have watched him play enough to make a valid judgment. You see, my girlfriend is an Oilers’ fan (we won’t hold that against her) and I got to watch them often this season. Here’s my take on Russell TODAY…

Kris Russell

Kris Russell is a mobile, puck-moving and shot blocking veteran defenseman. He plays with confidence with the puck and he also owns enough offensive acumen to play on the power play and moves the puck with aplomb. He has great wheels. A lack of size (5-10, 170 lbs) can occasionally hinder his ability to defend bigger forwards but he usually positions himself well and has a good stick. He is no all-star (nor is he getting paid like one) so he will be prone to mental lapses from time to time. He is currently fourth in the entire NHL in blocked shots with 107 and that, with 10 fewer games played than most of his competitors.

What I do know however is that at this point in time, Russell is an improvement over Mike Reilly, Jordie Benn, David Schlemko, Karl Alzner, Xavier Ouellet and arguably Mete too. While he’s not the sexy choice, a Canadiens’ defense with Russell is superior (and deeper) than it is today without him. Period. So at the right price, he would help the Habs. He is 31 years old, so he will be 33 at the end of his contract. By that time, Alexander Romanov will be ready to step in on the Canadiens’ blue line. The cap? The Canadiens don’t have any major contracts to renew during Russell’s term. It’s a none-issue.

The deal: I think that something along the lines of Charles Hudon would get it done, give or take on one side or the other. The question: are the Canadiens a better team with Russell or Hudon? Asking the question is answering it.

Granted, there are other options. But what I’m offering here is one that seems to be a good stop-gap at a very low cost. Go Habs Go!

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Hanging The Turtleneck

PlekanecCountdown2

Sunrise Florida, June 23rd, 2001. With their first round pick, the Montreal Canadiens are happy to select… from the University of Michigan, Mike Komisarek. With their second first round pick, the Canadiens select… from Avangard Omsk (Russia), Alexander Perezhogin. Quebec National holiday, the St-Jean Baptiste is in full course, June 24th, 2001, same location. The 37th overall pick belongs to the Montreal Canadiens who select… from the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos, Duncan Milroy. All this time, there’s a young Czech wondering if his name will be called to fulfil his dream to play in the highest caliber league in the world, the National Hockey League, in North America.

He had to wait to pick number 71 in the third round, before his name is finally called. With their third round pick, the Montreal Canadiens select… from HC Rabat Kladno in Czech Republic, Tomas Plekanec. For those who are curious, the Canadiens also selected in this draft, Finnish defenseman Martti Jarventie, center Eric Himelfarb (Sarnia, OHL), defenseman Andrew Archer (Guelph, OHL) and another Czech, right-winger Viktor Ujcik. Who would have thought back then that Plekanec would be not only the longest serving Canadiens, but the one playing the most NHL games of that group? As a matter of fact, Plekanec played more NHL games (1,001) than the seven other players combined by a wide margin (685)!

“It’s great in many ways. He scored the goal, it’s his 1,000th game. We win the game. There’s all the reasons in the world for him to be happy and have a real good souvenir about his 1,000th game. He looked like a guy who had drank from the fountain of youth tonight. He was really skating well. He had lots of energy. You could see he was excited to play his 1,000th game and he wanted it to be a real good memory for him. So I really liked his game.” ~ Claude Julien

We’re not going to put you through his career highlights, plenty of other blogs and/or media outlet have done so or will do so in the next little while. Here, I simply want to thank Plekanec for the person that he is, the true and true professional that he is, and what he stands for. Over his long NHL career, he has had a multitude of different wingers ranging from high end Alexei Kovalev, to some grinding forwards. He was asked to play an offensive role and always did so by being very reliable in his own end. As a matter of fact, had the definition of the Selke Trophy not changed to become yet another offensive award (Pavel Datsyuk won it while not playing on the penalty kill), Plekanec probably should have won a few.

Never a peep about him in the media which, in Montreal, is almost unheard of. One of the first guys at the rink, on the ice, one of the last off the ice. He has always taken good care of himself. Quiet leader, he cherished teaching the ropes to young players. Plekanec took Artturi Lehkonen under his wing when he broke into the league and just recently, Charles Hudon was praising his return to the organization after a stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs late last season as Plekanec was a mentor to him last year. Pleky1000

There was (and still is) a mutual respect between Plekanec and team General Manager Marc Bergevin and many believe that when he was traded to Toronto at the trade deadline last season, there was a verbal agreement that Pleky, as his teammates call him, would return this season to play his 1,000th game in a Habs’ uniform, a game in which he will have scored his last goal in the NHL. Fun fact: new Canadiens’ sensation Jesperi Kotkaniemi was born the year Plekanec was drafted.

It is with mixed feelings that I watch him retire in mid-season. Part of me is thrilled that he was brought back to play this milestone in a Habs’ uniform. Part of me is sad to see him fade away without winning a Cup with the team where his heart has been since June 2001. So long Pleky. On a team so rich in history, you may not have accomplished enough to get your jersey number 14 retired in the rafters in Montreal, but your blue turtleneck will be hanging in the hearts of Habs’ fans for a long, long time. Go Habs Go!