Habs to Make At Least One More Move

Lower salary cap and the league going with younger players are two of the reasons making this year’s last few days prior to hockey season more interesting than ever. Is it because teams are asking too much for their assets in trades? Or is it that they know that several teams are in a bit of a bind, being either over the cap or having too many players still at camp, having to place some on waivers? One thing is for sure: it’s neither the quantity nor the quality of players on waivers that’s lacking.

As for the Canadiens, there you have it folks! As predicted by many of us, and contrary to what some Habs’ fans believed, both Charles Hudon and Charlie Lindgren have cleared waivers and the team announced that they are sending them back to Laval. It’s a huge personal disappointment for Hudon I’m sure, while the Lindgren situation will be interesting to watch as he seems to be the odd-man out in Laval. That said, Marc Bergevin and his team still have some work to do, some difficult decisions to make. But before we get into that, let’s have a look at the Canadiens’ picture here.

According to Capfriendly.com, Montreal has around $4 million of cap space available, but that’s with a 25 men roster including Noah Juulsen who is injured. Juulsen is waiver exempt so he will likely be sent to Laval when healthy since he didn’t have a chance to earn a spot yet. This leaves the team with 24 players with someone in the neighbourhood of $5 million of cap space. As teams cannot carry more than 23 players, this means the Julien and Bergevin duo will have to cut one more player off the roster before the season starts on Thursday in Carolina.

Charles Hudon

Further, the Canadiens have a total of 48 players with professional contracts. The NHL limit is 50 so they have to tread carefully, particularly with players on waivers. There are a few ways to “unload” contracts, like trading contract for contract (let’s say two players for one) or players for draft picks or prospects yet under contract. So that’s not the end of the world.

When A.J. Greer was placed on waivers by Colorado yesterday, I was thinking that he would be a good pick up on waivers for Bergevin and his team. A former 2nd round pick (39th overall), the Joliette, Quebec native is only 22 years old and stands at 6’3″ and 210 lbs. Greer has great size and strength, and was projected to become a true power forward at the NHL level. He displays both a quality level of skating and a nasty disposition. Can rile up opponents, too, making him a focal point for teams that line up against him (which helps his own teammates). He is not a natural goal-scorer and the jury is still out on his long-range upside but he can and will drop the gloves if or when need be, something few Canadiens’ players can do. But he wasn’t claimed.

One of my Twitter followers, Daniel Labrecque, brings up a good point when it comes to the number of contracts so it remains possible that a Hudon or Lindgren trade for Greer could still be consumed by both teams. In a one for one trade, the Habs would remain at 48 contracts instead of 49 if they claimed him.

Another interesting player who was placed on waivers today by the Anaheim Ducks is Daniel Sprong, a 22 year old right-winger who had 14 goals in 47 games last year with the Ducks. The question is if other teams who finished lower than Montreal will put a claim in, which would kill the Canadiens’ chances of getting Sprong. But then again if he clears, the Ducks might be willing to trade contract for contract. That said, I have a feeling that they would like to keep him as a quality depth player so my gut tells me that if he clears, he will not be traded.

Who stays, who goes?

As it stands at the time of writing this, here’s how I personally see the team composition. Please note that the lines are for the sake of seeing how many players the Canadiens have and who has earned a spot. Claude Julien certainly can and will have different line combinations, and they are going to change from game to game.

Drouin – Domi – Suzuki

Tatar – Danault – Gallagher

Byron – Kotkaniemi – Weal

Lehkonen – Thompson/Poehling – Armia

Extra: Cousins and one of Thompson/Poehling

Mete – Weber

Chiarot – Petry

Kulak – Fleury

Extra: Folin

Price – Kinkaid

This lineup means that the odd-man out would be Mike Reilly… or if the Habs decided to go with eight defensemen and 13 forwards, it’s Cousins that I would remove as in my humble opinion, Nick Suzuki, Ryan Poehling and Cale Fleury all earned a spot with the big club. Note that it is possible that they send one or two of them down to Laval temporarily to give Bergevin time to make room for them at the NHL level. But all three have clearly showed that not only they are NHL ready, but they can have an impact. For those reasons, I think that Bergevin is not done and he will complete a trade in the next few hours or days.

As I’m heading out hunting with no internet connection and/or cell service, a lot can and will happen by the time I come back. And that’s exciting folks. Are you ready for Thursday? Go Habs Go!

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!