Rebuild… Retool… Resomething!

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With just over five weeks to go before the NHL trade deadline, we have reached the time when some teams are already thinking about what to do in order to become competitive again. Unfortunately for the Montreal Canadiens, they are one of those teams and the thought of the Habs being out so early has many fans and media members steaming at the collar… with reason.

And this tweet by Brian Wilde of Recrutes.ca, quoting Elliott Friedman, has the fanbase stirring prior to the game against the Washington Capitals.

It makes you wonder though… are Carey Price and Victor Mete really untouchable players on the team? In my humble opinion, they are also very much touchable, even Price if, for nothing else, because of his contract.

As a matter of fact, in my opinion again, anyone not named Jonathan Drouin should be considered touchable. Drouin is a very talented and young local product, and it looks like Marc Bergevin paid a high price to get him from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Local, young and talented players are difficult to get and we have touched before, on this very blog, on the importance of having local talent on the Canadiens, a very unique market. They paid a high price for Shea Weber as well but unlike Weber, Drouin’s best years are ahead of him.

There is no doubt in my mind that Bergevin’s best asset is Max Pacioretty. The Habs would get a great return for their captain, who is still under contract for one more year with a cap hit of $4.5 million. If he is offered a return anywhere close to what the Colorado Avalanche got for Matt Duchene, Bergevin cannot pass on trading him.

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Max Pacioretty is a likely candidate to be traded

While we know that Bergevin has always supported Carey Price (remember the grocery store comment), the fact that the goaltender is scheduled to take $10.5 million of the team’s cap hit for the next eight years starting next season should be enough to make him consider testing his value on the market, at the very least. Is Charlie Lindgren the caliber of Price? Absolutely not. But he is ready to take the next step in his career and paired with a quality veteran backup, goaltending wouldn’t be a big issue, particularly if the team improves on other weaknesses.

Would he dare trading Weber after giving up on P.K. Subban, a fan favourite? Again, I’d say that it would depend on what he can get in return. But in my opinion, Weber will be kept no matter what. If Pacioretty is traded prior to the draft as I’m anticipating, the team will need a new captain and while Brendan Gallagher is also an excellent candidate to wear the “C”, Weber would be even more. Why? Because when either of them stands up and speaks, teammates are more likely to listen to Weber. He has this presence and respect from everyone. You need some quality veterans to lead by example, as the Edmonton Oilers finally realized. Having said that, if a team is willing to pay the big price for him, then pull the trigger.

There are some glaring holes in the Canadiens’ line-up, everyone who knows a little bit about hockey can see it. But there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Bergevin tried to improve his team at the centre position. He’s not a dumb hockey man, as some around Montreal seem to think. But he was unsuccessful doing so and that is his biggest failure since taking over the team. Trading a couple of veterans would be the fastest way to replenish the blue-chip prospects’ cupboards while filling key holes in the organisation, the centre position being one.

Team’s best trade candidates

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Tomas Plekanec could be gone by trade deadline.

Prior to trade deadline, the Canadiens’ best trade candidates based on fair return is pending UFA Tomas Plekanec. If a team knows the importance of quality depth at the centre position, it’s the Canadiens and while he’s not the offensive player that he used to be, Plekanec is an excellent defensive and responsible centre who would play a key role, particularly on a third line. He does carry a cap hit of $6 million so the Habs might have to eat some salary to help a contender pull the trigger, but the return should be excellent because of the position that he plays.

 

Max Pacioretty, Carey Price, Shea Weber, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher are the team’s best assets for potential trades, but they would get best value during the off season. Why? Not only are they the team’s best players but only Price has any say in where they could be going with his full non-movement clause. It’s then up to the highest bidder with any team in the NHL and everyone has cap space in the summer, not so much at trade deadline. Put quality players and add bidding wars between teams and you have the recipe for a good trade return.

No matter what happens from now on, Bergevin cannot miss on any major trade from now on. He cannot waste his best assets without getting full value in return. The team that he built is underwhelming and under-performing and even Geoff Molson’s patience has to have its limits. The Canadiens’ GM is playing big from now until the trade deadline as what he does will likely decide if he will be the one getting a chance to rebuild, retool or resomething this upcoming summer. Go Habs Go!

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Pacioretty: When, Where And How Much?

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With the Montreal Canadiens’ 2017-2018 season taking a turn for the worse, at risk of missing the playoffs, many fans and media members have reached the decision making point. In fact, there are three options: start a full rebuilt, a reload or load up at the deadline, a very unlikely scenario. With 40 points in 42 games, the Canadiens have to leapfrog six teams in hope to make the playoffs, or three teams to make it to the bottom three in the league for a better shot at the number one overall draft pick.

While showing his disappointment and acknowledging that the odds were stacked against his team, General Manager Marc Bergevin said, during his recent press conference, that he still believes that this group can turn things around this season. For that to happen, everyone knows that some changes need to happen and that’s where the rumour-mill is going wild around the NHL.

The most often mentioned name out there for the Habs? Captain Max Pacioretty who, with his 10 goals in 42 games this season, is far from his steady 30-39 goals production in the past few years. Many will agree, Bergevin included, that his failure in finding an offensive centre worth that title is what’s holding Pacioretty back and no one knows better than the GM that if traded to a team with such asset, the sniper would likely heat up wherever he’s traded. And that’s why Bergevin must be very careful. The “step back” from this season weights a lot and if he doesn’t get full value for his best asset, he might as well submit his resignation.

Pacioretty’s worth

But how much can the Canadiens realistically expect for their captain if they were to trade him? Everybody and anybody can take a stab in the dark in hope to find Pacioretty’s trade value but let’s take a more… logical approach. Let’s find parallels, similar situations that will at least give us a gauge of what such player can fetch.

Some have brought up the Phil Kessel trade when acquired by the Leafs from the Bruins… but that was over eight years ago. A better barometer might just be the most recent trade of a saga which finally came to an end: Matt Duchene. The Avalanche’s centre was rumoured to be on the trade market for a long time and team GM Joe Sakic stuck to his guns… and got full value for him. Here’s how the trade broke down:

To Ottawa
(C) Matt Duchene

To Nashville
(C) Kyle Turris

To Colorado
OTT’s 1st round pick
OTT’s 3rd round pick
NSH’s 2nd round pick
(C) Shane Bowers
(G) Andrew Hammond
(D) Samuel Girard
(LW) Vladislav Kamenev

In other words, the Avalanche received a first, second and third round pick, a prospect recently selected in the first round (Bowers), two prospect recently selected in the second round (Girard and Kamenev) and, watch your food, the Hamburglar. They received all of that for a guy who came out of 41 points season with a not-so-flattering minus – 34 rating. It sure makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

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In fact, just looking at the last three years, we can compare Pacioretty to Duchene very favourably. The Habs’ captain had more goals (obviously), but also more assists and more points than his counterpart. While playing similar minutes on the powerplay, Pacioretty has been more productive and to top it up, the winger can be used in shorthanded situations.

Duchene playing centre is a plus, definitely, but Pacioretty is one of the NHL’s top goals’ scorers over the past few years, a legitimate, fast left winger who has never had a true number one centre feeding him the puck. Duchene has one year left to a contract with a $6 million cap hit, while Pacioretty also has one year left, but with a $4.5 million cap hit.

So put yourself in Bergevin’s shoes for a minute. What is your asking price for Pacioretty? We know that the Canadiens have two glaring needs: a top line offensive centre and a mobile left-handed defenseman to eat up minutes alongside Shea Weber.

Taking into consideration that Pacioretty does not have a no-trade or no-movement clause in his contract, meaning that he can be traded to the most offering team, adding the fact that American teams would love to have one of their own, a member of Team USA, rest assured that Pacioretty’s value is quite high and that, in spite of his sub-par season thus far.

Trade deadline

Some people are arguing that Pacioretty could be moved prior to the February 26th trade deadline but allow me to doubt that. Not that it couldn’t happen, but the likeliness is minimal, unless a team offers Bergevin the moon, which teams tend to avoid doing in a trade.

“If [a trade] happens, it happens. I’m very proud of the past success I’ve had in Montreal.” ~ Max Pacioretty

If you’re Bergevin, why not wait until the NHL Draft before pulling the trigger? For one thing, the picks’ position (if any) would already be assigned, avoiding the conditional clauses in a trade. But also, there are those teams who would love to add Pacioretty but find themselves in a playoffs’ spot battle, so they can’t afford to give up enough, as much as they might be able to during the off-season… particularly for those teams under the gun after an early exit or those who will go through a GM change.

If I were a betting man, I would say that when comes March, the Canadiens will have the same captain in place but as the Draft approach, I would definitely keep my ear to the ground to listen for that freight train coming. Go Habs Go!