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:
Andrew Sturtz 2021 5th round pick (OTT)
2020 4th round pick (SJS)
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
Twitter is heating up… rumours are starting to fly… NHL Insiders are starting to get some material fed to them, which they pass on to fans… players and teams are jousting for position, looking for a Summer game plan. The NHL Draft will be held in Vancouver on Friday, June 21st and Saturday, June 22nd. The very next day, pending free agents (restricted and unrestricted) will be allowed to speak to teams other than the one they finished the season with, in order to gauge not only interest, but contract details to see if there is a fit or not. How exciting!
When you’re in a hot bed like Montreal or Toronto, this is enough to keep everyone in the sports media industry employed and when big names are being mentioned, it makes front page of local newspapers and occupy sports radio and TV shows for days. Remember the John Tavares watch last summer? Remember the Toronto sports TV stations going on, and on, and on about the possibility of him going to the Maple Leafs? Remember how they were all but laughing at the Montreal Canadiens because JT didn’t even want to give them a chance to talk to him? Well folks, the roles are reversed this year.
Two of the top pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs), defenseman Erik Karlsson and centre Matt Duchene, seem to have strong ties to the Canadiens and that, folks, has the City buzzing as the Stanley Cup finals between the rival Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues are battling it out for the Holy Grail, still two and a half weeks away from the June 23rd date.
It’s been well documented that one of Duchene’s favourite teams growing up was the Montreal Canadiens. While this doesn’t guarantee that a player, later in life, will want to play for them, it certainly doesn’t hurt as we witnessed a year ago with Tavares.
Yes, Max Domi did well in his first year at centre. Some fans are concerned that moving him back to the wing risks bringing him back to his production in Arizona. It’s not the case. Both Max and his father Tie Domi have said numerous times that the younger Domi needs to play in a hockey market. He thrives under pressure. It’s not the fact that he was moved to centre that brought him success, it’s the breath of fresh air of playing in Montreal that did it. They believe that. I believe that.
Adding a legitimate offensive centre like Duchene, a perennial 30 goals scorer, a guy whose faceoffs’ percentage has ranged anywhere between 52.18% to 62.57% in the last five years, and the potential of putting Domi to his left, would improve the Canadiens immensely.
Yes, Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be good and he’ll continue to improve but we can’t make the same mistake the Edmonton Oilers have done with their young prospects by putting them in roles they’re not ready for. Playing on a 2A or 2B line (Phillip Danault centering the other) and sheltering him for a couple more seasons would be the sound decision.
Yes, Ryan Poehling had a great game in his NHL debuts last season. But until the World Junior tournament last year, the guy has never been seen as more than a future third line centre. He’s used to playing 30 games a year in the NCAA and will need some maturing. Not physically in his case, but hockey-wise.
Yes, Nick Suzuki had a great camp last year and he had a fantastic year in the OHL, particularly in the playoffs. He is the Canadiens’ only right-handed centre prospect, which is important. But both he and Poehling would greatly benefit from a year or two of maturing under Laval Rockets’ head coach Joel Bouchard. It’s the old adage: better to play big minutes with a key role in the AHL as a young player than fourth line minutes in the NHL. As good as they are, they are not (yet) in Kotkaniemi’s talent pool.
Duchene’s next contract
I’m not in the secrets of the gods here. I have however done some research and from it, I personally figure that Duchene, who earned $6 million per season, should see a substantial raise. I figure that anywhere between $8-9 million would be in the ballpark as this would put him in the category of the likes of Claude Giroux, Steven Stamkos, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Getzlaf, Blake Wheeler and yes… Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
According to the Ottawa Sun, citing a well-connected source, the two-times Norris Trophy winner hopes to receive competitive offers from two teams in particular — the Senators and the Montreal Canadiens. Why? Because his wife, Melinda, who was born and raised in Ottawa, is homesick and would very much like to live close to her family again. While Toronto and Buffalo are also relatively close to Canada’s capital, the source says that, as far as he knows, they’re not on the Karlsson’s list.
Many Habs’ fans are going completely crazy about this news. Some because they have yet to swallow the P.K. Subban trade, others because they remember the Karlsson of… three years ago! You know, the fast skating, point per game player who was a big contributor to getting the Senators to the Stanley Cup finals. Those people conveniently forgot the Karlsson two years ago who battled a serious ankle injury, and this past season’s Karlsson battling a sore groin which he just had surgery on.
The narrative that the addition of Karlsson will make the Canadiens Cup contenders is based on him getting back to his old form of three years ago. Further, did the San Jose Sharks, a much better team than Montreal, a team with Brent Burns on the blue line, win the Cup with Karlsson? Why would the addition of Karlsson make the Canadiens a Stanley Cup contender?
I’m from the school of thoughts that a defenseman’s number one job is to defend. Points are an added bonus. For those who, like me, were fortunate enough to watch Bobby Orr play, he was an outstanding defender and tough as nail. The bonus is that he was an excellent skater who changed the game by supporting, even driving the offense. But he was a defender first. Karlsson? People look at the points and “forget” about the defense. Oh you want proof?
In 2016-2017, the Sens’ All-Star had, in my opinion, the best all-around season of his career. He managed 71 points in 77 games with a respectable +10 rating. In the playoffs that year, he added 18 points in 19 games with an outstanding +13. Even his 2015-2016 season when he had 82 points in 82 games wasn’t that great considering that he was -2 that year. Oh I know, plus-minus isn’t the end of it all but if you’re on the ice for more goals against than goals’ for, it’s never a good thing. It negates the points you put up.
His play drastically dropped in the past two years, mostly due to injuries affecting his speed, as pointed out above. In 124 regular season games, he managed 107 points (12 of them goals) and was… -19 overall. While some people are raving about his 16 points in 19 games in the playoffs this postseason, he was -3. His teammate Brent Burns had 16 points in 20 games and was +2. Remember folks… in order to help your team, you have to be on the ice for more goals for than goals against and that, even when putting up a lot of points as to win hockey games, you need to outscore your opponents!
Now that’s just hockey-wise folks. Think a bit further, as will Marc Bergevin. Subban makes $9 million a season. Drew Doughty in Los Angeles makes $11 million. Karlsson is on record saying that he won’t accept anything less than fair market value. Based on that, isn’t it fair to say that he will request between $11.5-12 million per season? Is the gamble of him returning to form worth taking that chance, with a bullet-proof No-Movement Clause protecting him against expansion draft or trades? As a fan with crystal balls, who cares, right? As hockey management, in the real world of the NHL with a salary cap, rest assured that it does matter a whole lot.
Karlsson’s next contract
Again, no scoop or particular science here folks, certainly not pretending to be “in the know” but simply looking at logic. Up until recently, Subban was the highest paid defenseman with a cap hit of $9 million. That was before the L.A. Kings signed Drew Doughty to a $11 million cap hit. Karlsson himself stating that he wants fair market value would bring him to, at the very least, in $11.5-12 million range. Now that’s a whole lot of money to tie into a player period, but especially one coming off not one, but two serious lower body injuries impeding his greatest strength: skating.
If I’m Marc Bergevin, I go hard at Duchene and I consider lowballing Karlsson. Preferably, there are a couple of good options for left-handed defensemen rumoured to be on the market: Nick Leddy and TJ Brodie (yes, Brodie is a LD even if he played RD due to the Flames’ overload of LD). Duchene up the middle, Domi moving to left wing, sacrifice one of Tomas Tatar, Paul Byron or Andrew Shaw to get one of Leddy or Brodie and you have a better team without jeopardizing the Canadiens’ entire future cap into a very questionable player in Karlsson. Go Habs Go!