Some Potential Habs’ Trade Targets?

February 25th is fast approaching, the NHL trade deadline, otherwise known as Christmas for hockey fans, is almost upon us. As teams are fighting for a playoffs’ spot, others know that their dream of playing hockey in late April has evaporated with their disappointing season. Other teams are thinking that they are contenders with a legitimate shot at winning it all. Most of teams feel like they must tinker with their line-up one way or another.

General Managers have had their meetings with their assistant-GMs and pro-scouting staff. They know what their team needs, who is likely to be available and how much they are willing to pay to address those needs, or what they’re willing to accept for players they want to unload. Teams pretty much know by now which unrestricted free agents want to re-sign with them or those who want to wait to late June to test the offers from other teams as well.

Marc Bergevin has also met with his brass and they too know what they want to do. No need to be in that war room to figure out that the Canadiens’ biggest needs are finding a suitable left-handed defenseman to play on the top pairing with Shea Weber and trying to find a solution to get their anemic powerplay. But the injury to Noah Juulsen might have created an unexpected need for depth for a right-handed defenseman as well.

As it is the case every year, many names have come up in recent days on the trade rumour mill and while not all of them are a good fit for the Canadiens, some could be of interest.

Shayne Gostisbehere (LD)

Shayne Gostisbehere

Flyers’ GM Chuck Fletcher was quoted earlier this week saying that only team captain Claude Giroux wasn’t available on his team. This comment alone should be enough for Bergevin to be all over the phone enquiring about the status of Gostisbehere. We’re talking about a mobile left-handed defenseman, only 25 years old and signed at $4.5M until 2022-23. Ghost has outstanding skating ability, plus solid puck-moving skills and excellent offensive acumen. He can quarterback the power play and has some clutch ability in big games. From his own standards, he’s having an off-year with only eight goals and 20 points in 48 games. Still, he won’t come cheap due to his age and affordable contract. He has no trade protection so the Flyers can shop him to any team, therefore opening the market to any potential suitor. He would be a prime target if I’m Bergevin.

Alec Martinez (LD)

Alec Martinez

Most of the talks in Los Angeles were around Jake Muzzin and rightfully so. However, there’s another similar player who has now fallen next on the list of possible trade baits for the Kings and we didn’t hear as much about him, mostly due to the fact that he’s missed a month of action and only returning to the line-up on January 10th. Martinez is a strong, swift and well-balanced skater with two-way ability. He has solid puck-moving and passing skills, as well as excellent defensive awareness. Good veteran, he usually keeps things simple and limits his mistakes, a Claude Julien type of player. His cap hit sits at $4M until 2020-21. He would be more affordable than the Ghost for sure, but is older and doesn’t bring as much offense.

Olli Maatta (LD)

Olli Maatta

This “rumour” came out of the non-mainstream media so take it with a grain of salt (or the whole salt shaker for that matter). The 24 year-old Finnish defenseman has 12 points in 49 games with the Penguins. The scouting report on him is that he has excellent size and offensive instincts. Maatta plays a smart game in all three zones on the ice and he is thought to be capable of logging big minutes. Pittsburgh just traded Jamie Oleksiak to Dallas and even with Justin Schultz on the verge of coming back from injury, I personally doubt that they would trade Maata at this point… unless it’s as an incentive for taking on a big contract to free up some space for another move, a Joel Armia type of trade. If that’s the case, the Pens won’t want a contract back so it would have to be picks/prospects going back to Pittsburgh.

Radko Gudas (RD)

Radko Gudas

His name has been mentioned in Flyers’ rumours although to my knowledge, he is not linked to the Canadiens per say. But with the news of Juulsen possibly being unavailable this season, Gudas would be a good addition as a right-handed depth player. He is a great open-ice hitter and very good at disrupting offensive players’ flow in the game. He definitely will punish players with physicality and while not a juggernaut offensively, he does owns a heavy point shot. Like Weber, he definitely would protect Carey Price against anyone getting too close for comfort. His cap hit sits at $3.5 million until 2019-20 and should come rather cheap.

Tyler Toffoli (C/RW)

Tyler Toffoli

Yes, Toffoli is having a disappointing season this year with only eight goals and 20 points this season but in the last few years, he has been a consistent 20-30 goals’ scorer. He is highly skilled and plays with excellent anticipation and patience. He can let go of a shot quickly and he does have a good shot. Right-handed, he can set up on the left side on the powerplay. Versatile, he can play centre or on the wing and he skates very well. He is also a solid penalty-killing option. His cap hit sits at $4.6 million until 2019-20 but perhaps the Kings could be convinced to keep some, as Vegas did with Tomas Tatar. Hey Marc, what about a package with Martinez and kill two birds with one stone? (wink-wink)

Wayne Simmonds (RW)

Wayne Simmonds

With Bergevin stating publicly that he’s not in the market for a rental player, I personally don’t believe in the Canadiens’ chances (or willingness) to acquire Simmonds. Pending UFA at the end of the season, the competition will be high to get him. He has 15 goals, 23 points in 51 games this season with the Flyers and he carries a $3.975 million cap hit and has a modified NTC where he has to submit a 12 teams no-trade list. I did put him on here because he is a right-hand shot who could help with the powerplay while adding size on the forward group, and in the even that Bergevin was thinking of re-signing him. Long shot, not my personal favourite target… but packaged with the Ghost or Gudas? Bergevin has a tendency to surprise us.

Brayden Schenn (LW/C/RW)

Brayden Schenn

This one came out of nowhere when I read Frank Seravalli mentioned Schenn as a Habs’ target. A left-hand shot is not what the Canadiens need at this point and with his nine goals and 27 points in 45 games with the Blues, the 27 year-old Saskatoon-born forward is not having his best season. But there is no doubt that he would be an improvement over several players in the Habs’ line-up. He plays relentlessly like Andrew Shaw, Brendan Gallagher and Max Domi and he can play all three forward positions. His cap hit is $5.125 million until 2019-2020. But with the Blues having climbed back in a playoffs’ fight, I’m not so sure that he would be available. He is, however, definitely worth a phone call if you’re Bergevin.

Artemi Panarin (RW)

To my knowledge, there are no (serious) rumour circulating about the Canadiens and Panarin. However, if memory serves me right, Bergevin and the Habs were one of the finalists on Panarin’s list when he chose Chicago as his destination, coming to the NHL as an undrafted star from the KHL. If the Canadiens had interest back then, rest assured that they have interest now and I would bet that they’ve made the call to Columbus’ GM Jarmo Kekalainen to enquire about the asking price. There would have to be some certainty that he would want to re-sign in Montreal however. Between you and I, the chances of Bergevin pulling that one off is slim to none. Having said that, Bergevin has the Canadiens in an ideal situation. There’s a strong possibility that the team wanting to acquire Panarin will have to free up some cap space to make room for him and that’s were Bergevin could be a major player. This isn’t only with the Panarin trade, but with any cap-strapped team trying to add to their line-up.

So folks, keep an eye on Bergevin and the Canadiens and that, sooner rather than later as Bergevin has shown us that he likes to get a leg up on other teams by trading early. He could very well be in on the ricochet effect, an Armia-type deal for the Habs, probably the most likely scenario. Go Habs Go!

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NHL General Managers On The Prowl

Late November, early December. Hunting season is drawing to an end and the lucky ones have a freezer full of game. Storefronts are getting a facelift with Christmas decorations. Cities put their colourful lights up for the season. We take our own decorations out of storage in anticipation, rearrange the living room to fit the tree, and we start making plans for the holiday season. Everywhere we go, we cannot escape it. Christmas is coming.

Hockey fans are looking at their favourite team. Some have already written the season off. Others are ecstatic with where they are in the standings. For most, they are hoping that Santa brings them a shiny new player or two in time to help them make the playoffs. And General Managers are working like elves at the North Pole to make it happen. The phones are buzzing, the conversations are dense and numerous. Will someone be willing to danse? 

For various reasons, some GMs are more active than others right now. Whether their team is performing well below expectations, whether they find themselves in a playoffs’ race, a position they didn’t really expect to be in, or whether some feel the heat from above and want to save their own job, the phones are hot. But who exactly will be tempted to shake things up at this time? Who cannot wait to the February trade deadline to make moves? Let’s try to be the fly on the wall. 

Eastern Conference

Columbus

GM: Jarmo Kekalainen

The Blue Jackets are up to a very good start to the season, sitting atop the Metropolitan division, four points ahead of the Stanley Cup champions Washington Capitals. They do, however, have two key pending unrestricted free agents in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, and while there is no rush to make a decision on either of them, they likely don’t want this to become a distraction. It has been reported that Bobrovsky is seeking a deal similar to Carey Price and that is way too rich for Columbus’ blood. Rumours have also been swirling around Panarin and with so many teams looking at trading, it would be foolish to count out the Blue Jackets as a potential trade partner.

Toronto

GM: Kyle Dubas

The William Nylander saga is coming to an end and everyone in and out of Toronto will be happy about that. With or without him, the Leafs have a very potent offense and Frederik Andersen is performing at the elite level, keeping his team in most games. In spite of the stellar play of Morgan Rielly, they do have a dire need of defensive help if they want to compete against the likes of Tampa Bay and Washington in the playoffs. Sacrificing a bit of offense to round up their defense is a must for Dubas, who has yet to put his stamp on the team with a major trade.

Carolina

GM: Don Waddell

The Eastern Conference is tight… very tight. And the Hurricanes are right in the middle of a playoffs’ race, and should be until the end. They have tons of depth on defense and they need goals scoring. We have heard rumours of them going hard after William Nylander but even if they miss out on him, Waddell will (or should) keep focussing on improving his team’s offense. Too bad they gave away Jeff Skinner for practically free, isn’t it? 

Montreal

GM: Marc Bergevin

Bergevin has done, by all accounts, very well this summer in both getting his team younger and more competitive. The return of Shea Weber has been a shot in the arm for a defensive core in need of something, but it has also brought back to light the fact that while they have good depth at the blue line, they also don’t have anyone capable of eating big minutes as his defense partner. With Karl Alzner and Victor Mete in the minors, Bergevin must try to find someone to play with Weber. Will he resist paying the high price for a veteran or will he continue with his plan to get younger, quality players as he did with Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi, Joel Armia and company? And will he find a new home for Alzner?

Pittsburgh

GM: Jim Rutherford

Although only a couple of points out of a playoffs’ spot, the Penguins have been very inconsistent so far this season. The reason for it is rather simple: they are in the bottom tier of the NHL for goals against per game. Rutherford’s contract was just renewed so he’s not going anywhere. His core of players however, while still performing well, is not getting any younger. While goaltending has been an issue in Pittsburgh, their defensive core, with the exception of Kris Letang, has nothing to instate the fear of God into any opponent. Rutherford could very well be on the prowl for defensemen and goaltending improvements. 

Philadelphia

GM: Vacant

The Flyers having recently fired Ron Hextall as their general manager and two days later, they also showed the door to assistant general manager Chris Pryor and assistant coach Gord Murphy. They will certainly want to shake things up on ice as well and it’s not too farfetched to think that pending UFA Wayne Simmonds could be on the market in hope to get some much needed goaltending help. Only the Chicago Blackhawks and the Ottawa Senators have allowed more goals per game than the Flyers this season. While no replacement has been announced at the time to write this article, will team President Paul Holmgren, their former general manager, be tempted to step in to make some player personnel moves or is he still blacklisted by the NHL brotherhood of general managers? Either way, the Flyers need some change on ice too.

Florida

GM: Dale Tallon

Perhaps the biggest deception in the East, the Panthers have suffered a huge blow when Vincent Trochek shattered his ankle. Having lost goaltender Roberto Luongo for the first part of the season really exposed the team’s lack of depth at that position and we have even heard rumblings that they were interested in Canadiens’ prospect Charlie Lindgren. The Panthers are fourth from the bottom defensively, allowing a whooping 3.57 goals per game. Perhaps they could try finding an improvement behind the bench? Oh wait, they already tried that, sending Jack Adams Award winner Gerard Gallant home in a taxi a couple of years ago, gifting him to George McPhee and the Las Vegas Golden Knights! 

Western Conference

Edmonton

GM: Peter Chiarelli

If you look at the definition of “Pressure on a GM”, you’ll find a picture of Chiarelli. However, with a record of 3-1-1 since replacing Todd McLellan with Ken Hitchcock, Chiarelli might have bought himself some time. The team’s biggest need is on the blue line, although getting some speedy forwards with secondary scoring ability, most specifically on the wing, is also pointed as a high need. The problem for Chiarelli is finding someone to trade away, outside of the team’s core, players with enough trade value to bring in the help needed. For many, it feels like the Oilers are wasting some valuable Connor McDavid time to get back into the winning ways of olds. When Milan Lucic is your biggest UFA acquisition when you have a draw like McDavid, you’re doing something wrong.

Chicago

GM: Stan Bowman

Bowman is a good general manager. He has won some Stanley Cups with this core of players in the past. However, like any GM before him who have won Cups, he finds himself at a crossroad. That core of players is taking a lot of money on the cap and their production is diminishing and head coach Joel Quenneville paid the price a few weeks ago. Further, in order to keep under the cap, Bowman had to trade away some key role players over the years, and has traded some prospects and picks to get this team over the top… and he succeeded. He now finds himself in need of replenishing the cupboards of picks and quality prospects and you can’t do that unless you treat hockey as a business and leave feelings and loyalty behind. He may have to sacrifice some of his core players to do so.

St. Louis

GM: Doug Armstrong

With 19 points in 23 games so far, the Blues are tied with the L.A. Kings for dead last in the NHL’s standings. In the summer months, they traded for Ryan O’Reilly and they signed UFA’s Tyler Bozak, David Perron and Patrick Maroon. The expectations were high and saying that they are not living up to them would be a huge understatement. For a tem needing quality goaltending (Jake Allen 3.32 GAA .894 Sv%, Chad Johnson about the same), they let go of Carter Hutton (G) who is the starter in Buffalo now. So far, their solution to their problems has been to play yo-yo with Carl Gunnarsson, Chris Thorburn, Brian Flynn and Robby Fabbri all season. At some point, Armstrong will have to shake things up as it’s likely already too late for his team to make a push for a playoffs’ spot by now. 

Los Angeles

GM: Rob Blake

Ilya Kovalchuk

In spite of “winning” the Ilya Kovalchuk derby this summer, granting the UFA a three year deal with a $6.25 million cap hit on an over-35 contract, the russian star has been in the dog house with his 14 points in 25 games and his whooping minus – 13 differential. The troubles for the Kings continue from last season. After a coaching change that didn’t bring the expected results, Blake will have to come to realization that the problem is on the ice. Too slow as a team, he does have some assets of value to trade. Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Alec Martinez and/or Jake Muzzin could all fetch some quality youth in return. Everyone is expecting some action soon from the Kings, a team to keep an eye on before the December trade freeze.

As you can see, the phones are red hot and there are many willing teams in need to make some change. In a league with a hard salary cap however, trades are not easy to complete and sometimes, creativity is the name of the game when it comes to making it happen. We can expect some creativity to surface in the next few weeks, even the next few days and with any luck, the Canadiens could be involved as Bergevin has clearly shown not being adverse to changing things up and addressing his team’s needs. Stay tuned. Go Habs Go!