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!

Coaching Decisions Costing the Habs

The General Manager gathers the players. The players play and the coaches make the coaching decisions. In order for a team to win games, the GM must get the right players who in turn, must provide their best effort. But if the coach makes the wrong decisions behind the bench, all of this is moot. Often times, coaches get too much credit but sometimes, they don’t get enough blame.

The Canadiens were up to a good start on the road as we’ve touched on recently. But that’s until team head coach Claude Julien made a couple of decisions which might just have cost his team a few points.

The first decision was, in my opinion, to save the best goalie in the world for the home opener when the team faced a more ferocious opponent the night before on the road. It’s no secret that Julien will use both his goaltenders when his team is playing back to back nights. But the choice of playing backup Keith Kinkaid in Buffalo against stronger Sabres just to keep Carey Price for the home opener is a decision that I personally don’t support.

A home opener is only special because there’s a players’ introduction prior to game time. It’s a marketing tool. The game itself is just like any other game. It’s worth two points and those two points are just as important as two points late in the season. It can be the difference between extending the season in April or grabbing the golf clubs… again.

Claude Julien

You have the best goalie in the world. You have got to play him against the tougher opponents and that, regardless of a home opener or not. The goal of any NHL team is to win games and there’s no denying that Price gives the Habs the best chance at winning games. So you play him against the tougher opponents. Period. Is Kinkaid an improvement over Antti Niemi? André “Red Light” Racicot would be an improvement over Niemi the way he played last year. But he’s no Carey Price… far, far from there.

You see, on the second night of a back to back, the team is tired. Your best chance of winning is in the first game. So you go with your best goalie, particularly against a stronger team. On the second night, you hope for the best. People were saying that “they would be mad if they had tickets for the home opener and Price wasn’t in net”. To that I reply: does that mean that Price must be playing every single home game? After all, people buy their tickets for those games too, no? That was a marketing decision going against a hockey decision. They picked the marketing which could have very well cost the team in terms of hockey.

Second mistake

Julien’s second mind boggling decision was not so much to scratch the defensive pairing of Brett Kulak and Cale Fleury in Buffalo and replace them with Mike Reilly and Christian Folin, but to stick with them in Montreal the next day. Three reasons to go back to the Kulak-Fleury pairing:

  • For one, Kulak is the best defenseman today of those four.
  • Two, Julien has the last change in Montreal so he can better control the match-ups for young Fleury.
  • Last but not least, they are fresh, not having played the night before. You have spares Claude, use them!

I know that some folks will think that this is blaming Kinkaid and/or the Reilly-Folin pairing. It’s not the case. Price and fresh players give you a better chance to win. That’s all. The end result of those two questionable decisions is that the Canadiens came out with a single point off a possibility of four, against division rivals, teams who they will be battling with to make the playoffs. That’s not on the GM, nor is it on the players. Those results are solely on the coach. Here’s hoping that Julien minimizes those mistakes so it doesn’t cost his team a playoffs’ berth. Go Habs Go!