Scandella: Timing Is Everything

The year 2020 had barely pointed itself that four teams created a tremor, a slight earthquake in a league where in-season trades have become the exception, not the rule. Three of the four teams involved in two separate deals are from the Atlantic Division. The Montreal Canadiens’ Twitter account was the busiest, by first announcing that the team had traded one of their depth defensemen, Mike Reilly, to the Ottawa Senators. Soon after, they were back at it announcing that they had made the acquisition of Marco Scandella from the Buffalo Sabres. Then the Sabres announced that they had acquired Michael Frolik from the Calgary Flames. All of that was announced within a few minutes preceding the first Eastern time zone games.

One of the busiest General Managers in the NHL since taking over the Habs in 2012, Marc Bergevin, was once again was the busiest, completing not one, but two trades:

To To
Mike ReillyAndrew Sturtz
2021 5th round pick (OTT)
To To
2020 4th round pick (SJS)Marco Scandella

in 14 games with the AHL’s Belleville Senators, Sturtz, 25, has managed two points (1 G-1A). Standing at 5-foot 8-inches and 184 lbs, he has also registered two points (1 goal, 1 assist) in four games with the Brampton Beast in the ECHL. Sturtz is described as a small, speedy but injury-prone forward and was likely acquired to provide some much needed help for the Laval Rockets, as several players are either called up in Montreal or are injured.

In the second trade, the Canadiens got a Montreal native in Scandella, 29, who has nine points (3 G-6A), 34 blocked shots (4th on the Sabres) and has a differential of plus -9. The 6-foot 3-inches, 212 lbs left-handed defenseman is averaging 16:36 of ice time per game in Buffalo. The former QMJHL Val-d’Or Foreurs carries a $4 million cap hit and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. He will provide Ben Chiarot a bit of relief, he who has been playing tons of minutes lately, and should help stabilize the penalty killing units.

Trades analysis

Making sense of the first trade was rather easy. Reilly has only appeared in 14 of the Habs’ 41 games this season. He has one more year remaining to his contract after this season, so by trading him, the Canadiens were not only freeing up his $1.5 million salary, but they freed up a spot for prospect Alexander Romanov for next year, he who met with Bergevin in Russia a few weeks ago. Further, Bergevin keeps collecting Draft picks, as he’s done for the past couple of years. So far, so good, everything makes sense.

Marco Scandella is coming home, but for how long?

Then comes the Scandella trade, sending totally mixed signals. Had this trade occurred a few weeks ago when the Canadiens were right in the race for a playoffs’ spot, everyone who doesn’t have an axe to grind against Bergevin would acclaim this acquisition. But with the Habs sitting six points back of the Division’s third place and seven points back of the last Wild Card spot, with five teams to leapfrog to get in, many people, myself included, question the timing of it. No one is questioning if Scandella is an improvement over Brett Kulak. He certainly is. But with Brendan Gallagher just joining Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia and Paul Byron on the injury list, they’re questioning the timing, as none of these guys are expected until at least the third week of January. So why so late? Too late?

The only – somewhat – logical explanation I can think of is one of the following three scenarios:

  1. Scandella plays well, the Canadiens are out of the playoffs by trade deadline, they trade him and get that pick back or even get more than what they paid.
  2. Scandella plays well and by the end of the KHL season, Romanov changes his mind and stays in Russia, so the Habs offer him a new contract.
  3. He plays poorly and they let him go this summer, wasting a 4th round pick.

Many fans and members of the media are puzzled by Bergevin’s actions. Has he given up on the season or not? If not, he might have waited too long to help his team and repeated his previous mistakes. And if f he has given up, then why improve his team now and potentially hurt his chances to get Alexis Lafrenière? Either way, Bergevin’s actions yesterday are murky at best. Something tells me that we will find out soon enough why he’s made the moves that he has but for that, fans and media will have to do something they’re not accustomed to: be patient. Go Habs Go!

Left Defense and Bottom-Six

There are slides and there are… SLIDES. The Montreal Canadiens were doing very well but then, disaster strikes as they lose two key players to serious, long term injuries, both requiring surgeries. Jonathan Drouin a wrist, Paul Byron to a knee. Since then, the Canadiens have yet to win a game in six tries, having a record of 0-4-2, and have literally slid out of a playoffs’ spot. As it stands right now, both Carolina and Philadelphia are ahead of them for the last Wild Card spot, while Tampa Bay (3 games in hand) and the New York Rangers (2 games in hand) are a single point behind Claude Julien’s troop.

While many fans and members of the media are pointing the finger at the team’s defensive core, they are not looking at the entire picture. There is no doubt that the defensemen have to clean up their act by making better decisions with and without the puck, and work on how to defend when outnumbered on the rush. It is clear that Claude Julien‘s system encourages defensemen to pinch in deep along the board in the offensive zone to keep pucks in. But anyone who has coached and played will tell you that the system will also dictate that when a defenseman does this, the high forward, whether it’d be a winger or the centre, has to take his spot in backcheck. That’s not happening, creating a multitude of odd-man rushes. You see, it’s on the forwards too.

Goaltending

While one would be hardpressed to put it all on goaltending, it would be just as wrong to take all the blame off the team’s goalkeepers. Here are their stats for the month of November:

GPWLOTSASVsSV%GAA
Carey Price11452332293.8833.77
Keith Kinkaid20015649.8754.20

One of Keith Kinkaid‘s two appearances was in relief of Carey Price in the blowout game against Boston. This means that he only had one start this month. For starter, that is way too many games for Price. But he is getting paid as the best goaltender in hockey. The issue is that he’s far from performing like it. Since November 16th, during the current skid, his numbers are as followed:

GPWLOTSASVsSV%GAA
Carey Price5041129106.8225.34

No team in the NHL will win games with a goaltender with such stats. Price needs to make the key saves. He’s paid to do that.

Left Defense

Rumours around the Habs all seem to be around Taylor Hall. Unless Hall can play defense, that is NOT the Canadiens’ biggest need. While Ben Chiarot has been a pleasant pick-up, he is not a top pairing defenseman and that’s what the Canadiens need. There are plenty of teams around the NHL in the same boat as Marc Bergevin‘s team, needing to tweak their lineup before the season is lost. For that reason, the “trading in a position of weakness” theory simply doesn’t apply.

While overall, Bergevin has done a great job, his downfall has been his inability or unwillingness to address his teams’ needs in-season or on the fly. It seems like he “doesn’t want to pay the asking price”, or so he says himself.

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch lately.

Listen up Marc… When I go to the mechanic, I swear every time because it’s costing me too much money for my liking. But guess what? My truck is on the road and it works! I could choose not pay the asking price and walk instead. Bergevin needs to pay the asking price to get what the Habs need and that, even if he thinks that the price is too high. When you have a prospect pool as full as the Habs’ have, and you hold 12 picks at the upcoming Entry Draft, you have the means to pay up a bit. He’ll be walking a long time if he doesn’t.

I’ve compiled a list of potential candidates that might help the Canadiens, guys that would solidify the left side of the defense. Some are more interesting than others for sure, but it’s an idea, food for thoughts. I don’t know the young upcoming defensemen of other teams so there are obviously many more candidates.

  • Cam Fowler (ANA)
  • Alex Goligoski (ARI)
  • Marco Scandella (BUF)
  • TJ Brodie (CAL)
  • Erik Gustafsson (CHI)
  • Ryan Murray (CBJ)
  • Jonas Brodin (MIN)
  • Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI)
  • Vince Dunn (STL)

Bottom-Six

The other thing that’s lacking is on the bottom-six of the lineup: grit. Enough already with the cookie-cutter players like Charles Hudon, Jordan Weal and Nick Cousins! No team fears those guys. The Habs need some sand paper. They miss Andrew Shaw and what he brought. They need more of that. The best 4th line in the NHL, in my humble opinion, is with the Islanders: Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. A true energy line. One that makes opponent keep their heads up and get rid of the puck much sooner than they want. One that will “tenderize” opponent in the course of a game and ultimately, a playoffs’ series.

Kyle Clifford would be an excellent addition.

Again, I’ve compiled a list of such players whom I’d rather have on the Habs’ bottom-six:

  • Nick Ritchie (ANA)
  • Lawson Crouse (ARI)
  • Christian Fisher (ARI)
  • Sam Bennett (CGY)
  • Adam Erne (DET)
  • Jujhar Khaira (EDM)
  • Kyle Clifford (LAK)
  • Marcus Foligno (MIN)
  • Sammy Blais (STL)
  • Jake Virtanen (VAN)
  • William Carrier (VEG)
  • Adam Lowry (WIN)

Those guys aren’t goons. They’re NOT like Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen or Nicolas Deslauriers. They can all skate and play hockey, granted not big minutes. Most can be inserted, from time to time, on a higher line to keep opponents honest. In the event of games like the Habs have been having, emotionless, these guys would provide the necessary energy to perhaps wake the team up. But that’s me. That’s the type of hockey that I like. If only Bergevin and the Canadiens saw it the way I do… Go Habs Go!