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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Habs Are Neither Buyers or Sellers

Ah this time of the NHL season. It’s like Christmas for hockey fans. Some teams are sellers, wanting to stock up on picks and prospects, while others are considered buyers, trying to improve their team for the immediate future in hope of either make a run at the elusive Stanley Cup or at the very least, earn a playoffs spot and a couple of home games for the owners to cut their losses or fill their pockets. Either way, fans and media members alike are anxious to see what their local team will do.

With five weeks to go to the February 25th trade deadline, teams are justleling and the race is tight in many places. The Atlantic division sees the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens within a point of each other, battling for 2nd and 3rd in the division, and/or for a Wild Card spot at the very least. The Buffalo Sabres are four points from a playoffs spot too, but they have been trending the wrong way as of late.

The Metropolitan division has four teams within two points, with the Tavares-less New York Islanders overtaking the Columbus Blue Jackets and Stanley Cup champions Washington Capitals to lead the division, while the Pittsburgh Penguins (58 points) occupy the last Wild Card spot, two points back.

In the weaker Western Conference, you can dream of the playoffs if you find yourself around the .500 mark. You have Colorado, Dallas and Vancouver with 50 points, with Minnesota, Edmonton and Anaheim a single point back, while Arizona (46) and St. Louis (45) are still mathematically in the race. Only three of those teams will make the playoffs.

Habs neither buyers or sellers

If you pay attention to what Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin is saying, it is very unlikely that he will be pursuing short-term help. This means that he will not be a buyer. And why would he be? His team is one of the youngest in the league and it has performed beyond what most people thought they would this season.

“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)

Only Kenny Agostino, Jordie Benn and Antti Niemi are pending UFAs at the end of the season. With the Canadiens in a playoffs’ spot, don’t expect any of them to be traded as they are, in fact, some very good “rentals”.

If Bergevin makes a move, it will have to be a hockey trade, one that makes sense not only for now, but for the future. The Canadiens have just over $9 million of cap space available so it is not out of the realm of possibilities that teams might come knocking with offers like the one with the Winnipeg Jets, which saw them unload a contract in Steve Mason, bringing in Joel Armia into the Habs’ fold as a reward for doing so.

Joel Armia

The Canadiens’ biggest need right now still is a suitable partner for Shea Weber, someone who can eat up 25 quality minutes a game against the opposition’s top lines. Victor Mete is doing fairly well but if they want to be taken more seriously, they need an improvement at that position. While Alexander Romanov has made huge strides, he is likely a few years from having the necessary impact to play such a role. A while back, I had created a list of 24 potential target for Bergevin and while the list likely has changed somewhat, some names on that list would still be pretty good options.

It is also very much possible that Bergevin sits there and doesn’t do anything. If that happens, he will be criticised by some but rest assured, this would not be a bad move at all. The future is bright, very bright in Montreal and in spite of what some want you to believe, Bergevin knows what he’s doing. Go Habs Go!