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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The Captain’s Return – Domino Effect

It’s been a while. As a matter of fact, it’s been too long. Fans missed him. Coaches missed him. But none missed him as much as Carey Price and while others have stepped up their game in his long absence, they simply can’t replace him. He’s big and strong. He defends. He hits. He shoots the puck… hard, very hard. He quarterbacks the powerplay. He is key on the penalty kill. He plays against the opponents’ top lines. He eats up minutes in a game, quality minutes. And he’s the undisputed leader. For the first time since the start of last season where he broke his foot in game one… he’s healthy and ready to go!

It will be an emotional day for Shea Weber when he sports his number jersey number six and that, for a couple of reasons. Yes, he will find the letter ‘C’ on his upper left chest, something that he is truly honored to do. But mostly, it will be his first NHL game since December 16th of last year, when he was shut down for the season. A few surgeries and a long rehab later, his hard work to come back playing seems to be finally over. And everyone is happy about it… expect his opponents and a few P.K. Subban fans in the Canadiens’ fanbase. 

Jeff Petry has done well, very well during his absence, but he’s no Shea Weber. While the team has performed admirably well so far this season, well beyond what “experts” predicted for the first quarter of the season, the Habs’ struggles on defense have cost them some important points. “Dad”‘s return will push everyone down one notch in the depth chart and that’s a good thing. While he won’t be in game shape and will likely show signs of rust for the first week or two, until he catches up to the rest of the league, Weber will bring some stability at the backend in front of Carey Price and Antti Niemi. Further, he will bring a much needed joult to a powerplay in dire need of something… anything.

Making room on the roster

Victor Mete

With Weber back, Petry will slide to the second pairing and, at the same time, it will provide Claude Julien‘s group with another much needed right-handed defenseman, something lacking since the facial injury to youngster Noah Juulsen. At the time of writing this, there has been no decisions made about who will be sacrificed, either by trade, waivers or simply sent down to Laval. If Marc Bergevin can’t find a taker for one of his veteran defensemen prior to Weber’s anticipated return, Victor Mete could very well be sent down for the simple reason that he doesn’t have to clear waivers. This would obviously be a temporary solution until the Canadiens’ GM finds a trading partner.

While nothing has been decided quite yet, the defense pairing could look something like this:

Kulak – Weber

Reilly – Petry

Schlemko – Benn

(Alzner – Ouellet)

(Juulsen IR)

Okay, this group won’t instate fear of God into any opponent and it won’t compare to Nashville, Calgary or Minnesota’s group, but the addition of Weber will make opponents fear the front of the net and the boards a bit more, and it will make opposing goaltenders and penalty killers aware that there’s a canon of a shot coming at them. It’s a step in the right direction, although if the Canadiens are serious about making a push for a playoffs’ run, they will need to find a way to use some of their available cap space to land a good puck-moving left-handed defenseman. Go Habs Go!