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!

Advertisements

Top Candidates – Centre Position

Centres2018

Amongst many other things, a NHL General Manager’s Spring and Summer job is to analyse his team, his assets, and determine and draw a plan of action to improve on the season that just ended. At the end of the 2016-17 season, the Canadiens showed a great need for offense, particularly at the centre position, and there were serious question marks as to who exactly could fill in on the top-4 on defense, particularly when it was clear that Andrei Markov wasn’t coming back, choosing to go to the KHL. Unfortunately, Marc Bergevin was unable to fulfill the needs and in combination with a few key injuries and unforeseen departures, the results speak for themselves.

This summer, the Canadiens’ GM cannot afford another miss and as we recently touched on the Habs’ needs and top candidates on defense, it’s now time to see what kind of options might be available to Bergevin and the Canadiens to fill a much needed need up the middle, in hope to return Jonathan Drouin to his natural position on left wing. While there might be a few others available through trade, let’s have a look at five of the options that could buy time until Ryan Poehling, the team’s best prospect at that position, is ready to step in and be a contributor on the top lines in Montreal.

5- Joe Thornton – San Jose Sharks

AGE: 38Thornton
HEIGHT: 6’4″
WEIGHT: 220 lbs
GP: 47
G: 13
A: 23
PTS: 36
TOI/G: 18:20
+/-: -9
FO %: 52.0
STATUS: UFA

Old… slow… but still very effective. Great in the faceoffs’ dots, he is a leader with tons of experience. Once catalogued as a playoffs’ no-show, he has stepped it up in recent years for his team. In a league now known for speed, Thornton still shows that one can slow the pace down and find ways to be very effective. One of the best passers in the league in the last decade, he is extremely dangerous, particularly on the powerplay. Unfortunately however, two serious knee injuries (to the same knee) might have taken its toll on him. If San Jose doesn’t want him back, he’s a possibility. Definitely an improvement over what the Canadiens already have.

4- Tyler Bozak – Toronto Maple Leafs

AGE: 32Bozak
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 199 lbs
GP: 81
G: 11
A: 32
PTS: 43
TOI/G: 15:39
+/-: +6
FO %: 53.6
STATUS: UFA

As Tomas Plekanec wore the ‘ugly blue’, Bozak could lend a hand to the Leafs’ arch rivals. Not a true number one centre, he is good on draws and he is responsible at both ends of the ice. Being a right-handed draw is something that the Canadiens could use, particularly in the defensive zone. At this stage in their respective career, Bozak would be an improvement over Plekanec.

3- Paul Stastny – Winnipeg Jets

AGE: 32Stastny
HEIGHT: 6’0″
WEIGHT: 193 lbs
GP: 82
G: 16
A: 37
PTS: 53
TOI/G: 17:02 (WIN), 18:41 (STL)
+/-: +6 (WIN), -5 (STL)
FO %: 53.8 (WIN), 55.2 (STL)
STATUS: UFA

Son of former Nordiques’ Peter Stastny, Paul was born in Quebec and his father was once quoted saying that he would like his son to play in Montreal. Well Paul, here’s your chance. But with the success he’s had with the Jets, the two sides might be tempted to make the experience last longer, depending if Stastny wants to test the market or not. At 32, he still has a few good seasons in him and would be an improvement for the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge.

2- Ryan O’Reilly – Buffalo Sabres

AGE: 27NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 216 lbs
GP: 82
G: 24
A: 37
PTS: 61
TOI/G: 20:49
+/-: -23
FO %: 60.0
STATUS: $7,5M until 2022-23

In my opinion, this is a very viable option for the Canadiens. O’Reilly is a complete hockey player who hustles at both ends of the ice. He can score, he can defend, he can hit, he can grind it out. Vocal against the Sabres’ frame of mind in his post-season press conference, what he was saying wasn’t much different than what Bergevin was saying about his own team. So when you look at attitude and character, this guy oozes just that. Further, the Canadiens can afford his salary.

1- John Tavares – New York Islanders

AGE: 27Tavares
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 208 lbs
GP: 82
G: 37
A: 47
PTS: 84
TOI/G: 19:56
+/-: -12
FO %: 52.9
STATUS: UFA

Pipe dream or reality? Either way, there is no doubt that if Tavares hits the free agency market, he will be the Canadiens’ centre of attention. They will throw everything at him, and while Team Canada teammates Carey Price and Shea Weber will be crucial in trying to convince him, Bergevin and team owner Geoff Molson will have to put forth the sales’ pitch of their life if they hope to convince him to play in Montreal. Yes, it is a wonderful place to win but when you don’t, it can be hell in a hurry, just ask Pacioretty and others before him. Will he and his spouse be negatively influenced by the fact that Angela Price had to come out publicly to deny senseless rumours? We shall see. But the Canadiens have the cap space to make it happen.

Honorable Mentions

– Tomas Plekanec

Is there something that hasn’t been said about the Turtleneck? He’s a true pro. He’s only two games away from reaching the 1,000 games plateau in the NHL, with most of them played with the Habs’ number 14 on his back. He’s still fast and very responsible defensively, but his offense has all but disappeared. He was making $6 million but at the right price, I am convinced that Claude Julien would like to have him back. Many fans have mixed feelings about this.

– Vincent Trochek, Alexander Barkov or Nick Bjugstad

Watch Pacioretty. The Florida Panthers were apparently very hot on the Canadiens’ captain but Bergevin was asking for Trochek and more. While this deal was not consumed by the trade deadline, it is very much possible that the talks have kept going and the Panthers would be trading in a position of strength here, being very deep at the centre position.

– Sam Bennett or Mark Jankowski

Call it a gut feeling, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if the Flames were interested in the 3rd overall pick to draft Matthew Tkachuk‘s younger brother Brady. What do they have to offer? There’s no way that they will trade Sean Monahan, they would rather pass on Tkachuk but is there a deal possible, perhaps a bigger one involving Charlie Lindgren to help Mike Smith? What plays against the Flames is that they don’t have a first, second or even third round pick this year. In order to make something happen, a third team picking between 5 and 9 might have to get involved in a three-way and we know how rare those are.

– Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

For the longest time, a Max Pacioretty for RNH deal, with spare parts here and there, was the most logical deal to not be completed. The Oilers were deep at centre and paying Nugent-Hopkins $6 million to play on the third line didn’t make much sense, when they needed a speedy winger who could keep up with Connor McDavid. But guess what? Todd McLellan decided to try RNH with McDavid and they formed immediate chemistry. Now, it’s very unlikely that Peter Chiarelli will trade him as not only does he produce with McDavid, but he gives the team options in the event of injuries. So maybe earlier last year, but as it stands today, this ship has likely sailed.

– Jonathan Toews

In the most unlikely rumours flying out there, the one about the Habs and Blackhawks trying to work something out for the one nicknamed ‘Captain Serious’ is way out there. While definitely a good player and a strong leader, Toews’ contract is too long and for too much for the Canadiens to bite… or is it? Sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures. Let’s just hope not.

As we can see, there are some options out there but when it comes to UFA’s, the price is often way too steep. Marc Bergevin has always rightfully claimed that you don’t build a winner on July 1st. But at the NHL draft is when most of the trades occur, as every team has cap space and many have holes to fill and changes to make, whether it’s to put them over the top after a disappointing loss in the playoffs, or a rebuild/retool process. Regardless, it promisses to be a very interesting month ahead for Habs’ fans. Go Habs Go!