Eight days remaining to the 2019 NHL trade deadline and things are heating up around the league. The Edmonton Oilers are making questionable moves at best, the Senators put Matt Duchene on the market in hope to save enough to re-sign Mark Stone, and many pending free agents already have their bags packed knowing that by February 25th at the latest, they will be wearing a different uniform and will be making another city their temporary home.
The rumour mill has been quiet around the Montreal Canadiens this year. Very quiet. Too quiet even. True that GM Marc Bergevin is known for running a ship tighter than Dick’s hatband but even then, it is way too calm in a city like Montreal, particularly at a time when the team finds itself in a tight battle for a playoffs’ spot.
Anyone in their right mind will agree that the Canadiens aren’t Stanley Cup contenders and the Tampa Bay Lightning showed it last night, shutting out Claude Julien‘s team 3-0. But if the team’s goal is to make the playoffs, they will need some sort of injection to their lineup in order to make it happen. They will need to find their way back to the winning side of key games and they have several of them coming up.
The Canadiens will have to face Toronto, Columbus and the New York Islanders twice each. They also have a game left against Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Carolina, Washington and Tampa Bay. In early March, they have a western road swing where they will be facing Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim and we all know how hard those western trips can be. Montreal’s last week of action will see them battle the Lightning, the Capitals and the Maple Leafs.
Players deserve a reward
With all of the changes that were made this past summer, few people predicted seeing the Habs where they are in mid-February. This team is for real but they need help. Teams around them are loading up and games aren’t going to get any easier. In order to keep the morale of his troops up, not only should Bergevin make a trade, but he must do it as a reward for his players’ commitment and hard work. If he fails to do so, it could be perceived as a slap in the face to some of the key players on the team.
We can all agree with the Canadiens’ GM that he should not touch his core group of prospects or his first round pick(s) for temporary help. For that reason, it’s unlikely that he will be dipping into the pending UFA market. Having said that, he has space under the cap ceiling, and lots of it. Teams trying to load up are, for the most part, strapped to the ceiling and need help fitting rental players under their cap. That’s exactly where Bergevin should must become a serious player.
A trade or two like the one for Joel Armia is what he should be exploring. He can then address his long term needs in the summer if need be. But he has to do something. If he doesn’t, I’m afraid his players will lose faith in his abilities or willingness to recognize that they left it all out for the team this year. After all, aren’t those Bergevin’s own words? “The goal is to make the playoffs. Once you do, you never know what can happen.” Go Habs Go!
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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!