Elliotte Friedman revealed this week, to the shock of many, that Marc Bergevin may not be doing exactly what he told the media in a press conference.
This never fails to amaze a certain segment of fans: “How could he say one thing and then do another? The nerve of him not revealing to everyone his intentions!”
Does a smart poker player reveal what he has in his hand?
It is often essential to at least attempt to read between the lines in these press gatherings. Yes…Bergevin DID say to the masses that he is not looking to make a deal because he is tight against the salary cap…but that isn’t etched in stone, is it? If he can move salary back in that trade…or in a separate deal….then guess what? If the deal is right, he will make it.
I don’t believe for one second that Bergevin’s intention is to sit idle before the trade deadline. The Canadiens have two gaping holes to fill, and for the first time in decades, have the young assets to offer sweeter packages than most, if not all other clubs that will be looking to be buyers. A stable full of promising young prospects, a couple of high-end impending UFA’s, and an overabundance of picks for the upcoming draft make the Canadiens an attractive trade partner for teams in the selling mode.
Trade deadline sellers are usually in search of young prospects who are close to being ready for NHL action. More often than not, they like to get one playing the same position as the major asset they relinquish.
It is with that in mind that we have to presume that the Canadiens will be one of the teams most willing to pick up an accomplished defenceman, and that one of the team’s bright young defence prospects will be heading in the other direction if that takes place.
Rudimentary mathematics tells us that Alex Romanov, Kaiden Guhle, Matthias Norlinder, Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble will not all be playing left defence for the Canadiens in three years’ time. Even if the club were to switch two of them to the right side…does one really think that any NHL team would ice a lineup with five blueliners under the age of 25? There is also Cale Fleury and Josh Brook. Seven defencemen on the roster under the age of 26? When one considers that the current lineup has all but one regular defenceman OVER the age of 26; it is hard to imagine. Petry will still be around in three years, as will either Ben Chiarot or Joel Edmundson I’d suspect. Even Weber has five years left on his deal.
All that said; with Chiarot’s injury (and even before that), there was a need for another defenceman – preferably an above-average puck mover. What Bergevin is going to have to do is to determine through his prolific phone calling and messaging which teams will be sellers over the next three weeks.
Some are quite obvious: Buffalo, Detroit, Ottawa, New Jersey, San Jose and Anaheim. All would have to go on historic runs to even come close to finishing in fourth place in their divisions, and that’s not happening with any of them.
So which defencemen might the Canadiens target from those clubs, and what would be the asking price?
The most likely defenceman to be shopped by Buffalo would be Rasmus Ristolainen. Few defencemen have struggled as much defensively as the former top-10 pick, who has never quite lived up to his potential. He still flashes moments of promise, especially offensively, but I do not see him being the type of blueliner Bergevin would gamble on even if he could help the power play. Buffalo would have to take back a salary like Paul Byron’s, and if that happened, there would have to be extra assets included for doing Bergevin that favour.
It’s possible that a team with as little depth as the Sabres may see a top-six NHL spot for Victor Mete, and if that’s the case, then the Canadiens could offer something along the lines of Mete, Byron, the rights to Jordan Harris, and a third-round pick. Personally; I don’t see Bergevin wanting to gamble on a player as inconsistent and mistake-prone as Ristolalainen unless he figures Luke Richardson could turn his game around. Jake McCabe would have been the most logical target for Bergevin, and he is out until next season with a serious knee injury.
The Red Wings don’t have much to offer unless Bergevin wants a player like Marc Staal as a replacement for Chiarot on the defensive side of the puck. Staal has one power-play point in his past six seasons, so there certainly wouldn’t be any help in that regard. He makes little sense for the Canadiens at a salary of $5.6M, and the Red Wings would not want a player like Byron in return unless the Canadiens kicked in a lot more. The Red Wings are also one of the few clubs who could find a spot for Mete in their regular lineup, so perhaps a package of Byron, Mete and a pick would work. This deal to me makes little sense for either team, though, so I’d strike Detroit off of the list.
The Senators would have one defenceman that would interest Bergevin in Artem Zub. The glitch would be that Ottawa would have zero interest in moving him, especially at that salary. No chance penny pincher Melnyk would want to part with him.
Will Butcher’s name comes up on occasion on Twitter as a possible fit for the Canadiens. The 2017 version of Butcher would certainly be of interest to the Canadiens. Alas; it is 2021, and Butcher went from 20 power-play assists in his rookie season to 13 in Year 2 to one power-play assist in the past two seasons. Throw in the fact that he can’t defend competently at the NHL level, and he’s not what a team in playoff contention will want to add.
It seems like every year there is a suggestion that the Canadiens target either Cam Fowler or Hampus Lindholm in Anaheim. Strike Lindholm off of the list with him being out the next month with a wrist injury…. Montreal needs help now. Fowler? It’s a similar scenario that exists with Mattias Ekholm in that Anaheim would have to take back a significant contract for it to work for Montreal financially. What makes it even less plausible is that Fowler makes $2.75M more than Ekholm, he has a no-move clause, and there is no indication that the Ducks are looking to move him. I’m going to strike him off the list because it’s the same rumour every year…and it never comes close to happening.
The only possible defence target on San Jose might be Mario Ferraro. A mobile and slick puck mover, he would fit in nicely on the Canadiens on both the left side and the power play. The thing is, however, why would the Sharks deal one of their up-and-coming young defencemen? Ferraro is just 22 years of age and is already playing top-three minutes on their blueline. GM Doug Wilson would really have to covet one of Norlinder, Harris or Struble, and he’d also want a high pick or two thrown in.
I suppose if he thinks Ryan Merkley and Artemi Knyazev are going to be studs and he absolutely is over the moon about one of the three Canadiens’ defencemen mentioned, he might consider it if the Habs threw in their two second-round picks from 2021, but then you begin to question the price paid by the Canadiens for a 5-10 blueliner who has yet to put up tangible point totals.
The fact remains, however, that Ferraro earns less than $1M per season and is playing more than 22 minutes per game – hard to picture San Jose parting with him. The Canadiens would likely have to offer their first-round pick and a touted defence prospect, or include Kaiden Guhle….and I don’t think Bergevin would pay that price.
There are no ideal trade partners among the obvious sellers if Bergevin is indeed seeking a puck-moving defenceman. I believe that Bergevin would like a blueliner sooner rather than later, however, and if that is the case the most obvious trading partner is Nashville if Ekholm is still on the table. What complicates things now is that Nashville is only four points out of a playoff position, and the team it is chasing, Chicago, has won only three of its last ten and is crashing back to earth. Do you trade a top-notch defenceman if you think you may make the playoffs? It better be for quite an enticing return.
There will be a couple of middle-of-the-pack teams that will fall out of the playoff picture in the next month, but it’s not going to be clearer for at least another couple of weeks. The Rangers, Canucks, Predators, Kings, Stars, Flames, Blue Jackets, Blackhawks, Flyers and Coyotes are all teams see-sawing on the cusp of being sellers at the deadline; yet all today are still very much in the playoff picture.
So who are the possible defencemen the club could seek from those clubs aside from Ekholm?
Charlie Lindgren’s younger brother Ryan would be a nice addition from the Rangers, but you would have to ask yourself (much like with Ferraro) why the Rangers would part with an up-and-coming 23-year-old defenceman just to help out another team? Unless he is the previously undisclosed future considerations in the Ryan McDonagh trade 12 years after the fact, the Rangers won’t be motivated to move him to Montreal without receiving a rather enticing package.
Would it make sense for the Canadiens to trade a defence prospect who may be even better than Lindgren in a couple of years and a high pick to interest the Rangers in parting with Lindgren? Given that his offensive upside is limited, that may not be a scenario Bergevin is willing to pursue. Mind you; I like lots about Lindgren’s game. He’s very smart and competitive, and he could help the Canadiens now if he was ever shopped.
I would never say no to picking up Olli Juolevi from Vancouver as I think he is being misused by that coach and organization, but given that he has sat out much of the past month, would he be able to help the Canadiens now? Considering that he was a recent top-five pick, the asking price would still be pretty hefty. It would cost the Canadiens one of their top defence prospects and likely a first-round pick at the least. Nate Schmidt would be a nice fill-in for Chiarot and a suitable candidate for the bottom-pairing once Chiarot returned, but not at a $6M cap hit.
Philadelphia is not a playoff team today. If that’s still the case in a couple of weeks, look for the Flyers to be sellers at the deadline. They would surely be interested in moving Erik Gustafsson, but the Canadiens should pass on the once-promising defender. Hard to believe it’s the same player who had 17 goals and 60 points as an NHL rookie defenceman. Afraid to take a hit, piles of turnovers, indifferent play defending, soft on the puck…he makes Mike Reilly look like a warrior
Shayne Gostisbehere has improved somewhat defensively, but he’s still 5-10, still inconsistent, and no longer putting up offensive numbers. Twenty points in 64 games over the past two seasons for an undersized defender making $4.5M? Bergevin isn’t going to reshape his roster for a player that once Chiarot returns would probably be sitting in the press box.
The only defenceman that might possibly make sense from Chicago if the downward spiral continues would be Nikita Zadorov as he’s on a one-year, $3M deal and he plays on the left side, but he’s not a savvy puck-mover either. The Habs already have Edmundson and Chiarot on the left side…do they really need another gargantuan defensive defenceman? Perhaps only Bergevin would say ‘yes’. Here’s hoping he decides to pass unless the asking price is minimal.
Even if Dallas is virtually eliminated from playoff contention by the trade deadline, there are no fits for Montreal on defence. Lindell, Klingberg, and Heiskanen aren’t going anywhere; none of the others make sense.
Who would Calgary have who would be of interest? Juuso Valimaki is more than likely untouchable, and Noah Hanifin makes too much money for the minimal return in offensive production. If the Canadiens trade for a blueliner that costs them $5M per season it’s going to be a productive one, not an overpaid defenceman who has never reached his potential. It also doesn’t make sense for Calgary to deal Hanifin when his value is at an all-time low.
You get down to Arizona, and there actually is a defenceman that makes sense for the Canadiens. He isn’t going to excite a lot of fans because he’s been a bit of a journeyman, but Jordan Oesterle might be a good fit.
Would he cost a lot in assets? No. He’s due to become a UFA at season’s end, so he’s essentially a rental.
Does he make a low salary? Yes. He is making only $1.4M this season.
Is he mobile? Yes. He’s one of Arizona’s more mobile defencemen.
Can he move the puck? Yes; that may be his main asset as a defenceman.
Is he left-handed? Yes. He can replace Chiarot in the top four for now; likely drop down to the third pairing when Chiarot returns, depending on how he plays.
In speaking with Phoenix hockey writer Craig Morgan, Oesterle was outstanding for the Coyotes in the playoff bubble; arguably their steadiest defender as the 11th-seeded Coyotes upset sixth-seeded Nashville in the qualifying round. He started off this campaign quite strongly as well but has recently struggled a bit as the team has faltered. He’s averaged more than 19 minutes per game this season, so certainly he’s played a top-four role for the Coyotes.
He can also help on the power play. He has four power-play points this season. In comparison, Jonathan Drouin, who plays on the point on Montreal’s top unit for the most part, also has four power-play points. Picking up Oesterle would allow the Canadiens to use Drouin up front on the PP if they think he can do the job in his place.
The cost for Oesterle would not exceed a second-round pick, perhaps even less given that he’d be a rental. Montreal happens to have two second-round picks for the 2021 draft, so if the cost ended up being that high, the club would still have two picks in the top 62. Montreal wouldn’t have to part with any of its highly-touted defence prospects unless the club decided that trading the rights to Jordan Harris would solve the uncertainty on whether he signs after his senior NCAA season. Otherwise – I’d suspect they’d be more inclined to deal one of their 2021 second-round picks than to part with either Mattias Norlinder or Jayden Struble. Kaiden Guhle would be off-limits, and ideally, Bergevin could get Oesterle for a third-round pick. All it would take is one contender offering a second-rounder for that to become too little, however.
Not exactly a list teeming with defence candidates for Montreal, is it? There is a reason why Montreal is linked to Ekholm in trade rumours – other than Oesterle; there really aren’t a lot of other good fits for a variety of reasons. I suggested that the Canadiens should pursue Ekholm nine days ago in this article: https://recrutes.ca/bring-mattias-ek-home-bergy/
Bergevin may not have been entirely transparent in his remarks to the press last week, but he’s not saying anything that’s false, either. Montreal cannot pick up a veteran defenceman without getting rid of some salary. And right now there aren’t a lot of teams that are in a position to be sellers given how many are still in the playoff hunt.
The roster players most likely to be available for Bergevin to shop would be Victor Mete, Paul Byron, Joel Armia, and Artturi Lehkonen. To a lesser extent….Phil Danault and Tomas Tatar, but neither will move unless Bergevin makes a deal for a significant piece and has no choice but to shed significant salary. Of the two; Tatar is the most likely to depart by the deadline. I still see Bergevin making every effort to re-sign Danault if it dawns on him that he is not a $5.5-6M per year player.
Would Bergevin have the chutzpah to shop Shea Weber or Carey Price before April 12? I think we all know the answer to that question. They are not being shopped for several reasons.
After much perusal of NHL rosters, the stark reality is this – there aren’t a lot of puck-moving left defenceman that will be available at the trade deadline for a reasonable price. The club stands a better chance at picking up a cheap bottom-line center as salary and which way he shoots won’t be as pertinent. Mind you, the club will want to add a center who is proficient in the faceoff circle as winning draws remains a troublesome area for the club.
Ryan Poehling has picked up his game in recent weeks and certainly has a future with the big club. The longer he goes without being recalled, the less chance the club gives him a role this season. I think the “master plan” is to give Poehling a full year in Laval and then a regular position next season. He certainly could still use some work on his faceoffs – even if he is recalled, the club is most likely searching for another above-average faceoff man.
Chris Tierney would be a nice pickup from Ottawa if he ends up being available. The emergence of Josh Norris and Colin White and the imminent signing of NCAA standout Shane Pinto make the former London Knights teammate of Josh Anderson expendable. He doesn’t look like he has a future as a top-three center in Ottawa, and with one year remaining on his contract before hitting UFA status, he becomes a valuable trading chip for the Senators at the deadline as they continue the rebuild. Eugene Melnyk is not going to want to pay a fourth-line center $3.5M.
Montreal could offer a package of Joel Armia and a third-round pick for Tierney. Ottawa could use another veteran winger with size for its top nine, and given that Armia has failed to produce decent numbers this season, he wouldn’t command a big salary as a UFA. Ottawa could have a look at him and either try to re-sign him or flip him at the deadline. The sticking point in such a transaction may be the draft pick. I’m not sure Bergevin would want to offer more than a third-round pick for a center who is winning only 46 percent of his faceoffs this season. His career average is above 50 percent so the hope would be that he’d bounce back in the faceoff dot. Ottawa may want a second-round pick.
If Bergevin is hellbent on picking up a faceoff specialist, then there couldn’t be a better fit than Detroit assistant captain Luke Glendening. Heading for free agency with a cap hit of only $1.8M per season, Glendening is killing it in the faceoff circle; winning 64.4 percent of his draws this season.
I would suspect that the Red Wings would be open to dealing him given that he’ll be a free agent, and it also wouldn’t surprise me if Steve Yzerman is able to wrest a second-round pick from a club in need of a faceoff man. Montreal would certainly fit in that category.
Eric Staal is on his last year of a $3.25M contract on a Buffalo team that has lost 15 straight games. He has a no-trade clause, but it is apparent that even if he says he wants to stay in Buffalo, that he would approve a trade to another team. Whether he wants to be a fourth-line center remains to be seen, but with his waning stats and faceoff prowess, while being on the other side of 35, he may not be able to call his shots and be satisfied with a move to any team in the playoff race. Bergevin wouldn’t be keen on offering something more than a third-round pick and Artturi Lehkonen to balance the salaries. Anything more than that and he’s likely to shop elsewhere but Staal would be a great mentor for Montreal’s young centers and an upgrade at fourth-line center.
Riley Sheahan is another impending UFA on Buffalo and considering that his salary is just $700,000, he’s seven years younger than Staal, he’s won 54 percent of his faceoffs and he’d cost less asset-wise than Staal; he may be a more prudent pickup if the Canadiens swing a deal with their (temporarily) former divisional rivals. Sheahan isn’t going to get you as many points as Staal – he should be able to score goals as often as Byron and Jake Evans, though, and he brings more size and NHL experience at center.
Anaheim center Derek Grant has won more than 52 percent of his draws in his 290-game NHL career, and at a price tag of just $1.5M per season, may be a consideration for the Habs. I can’t see Bergevin getting overly excited about adding Grant, however; may as well just stick with Evans considering that his faceoff percentage and point totals are similar, and Evans is six years younger.
Adam Henrique was placed on waivers earlier in the season, and there were no takers because of his $5.8M cap hit. Henrique has ten points in his last 11 games and is winning 58 percent of his faceoffs. The Canadiens would have to deal either Danault or Tatar to make room for his salary, but it would give Bergevin one less UFA to have to re-sign. Danault wants similar money to Henrique, who would be on the books for three more seasons. Danault likely wants five years or more at $5M plus.
The Ducks had him on waivers earlier in the year, so the price likely wouldn’t be astronomical. Mete, Tatar and a second-round pick? The biggest question then would be – who plays fourth-line center? The Canadiens would have quite a quartet for the rest of the season. Any type of deal like this would have to transpire before the deadline so that the Ducks could turn around and flip Tatar. Either that or the Canadiens deal Tatar first, then make a deal with the Ducks after they’ve cleared enough cap space. Don’t be surprised if the Habs ponder buying out Byron’s contract if it’s needed to free up enough cap space, but buyouts are especially problematic in a season when owners aren’t bringing in revenue from ticket sales.
The Devils have three former top-six picks down the middle in Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes and Pavel Zacha. They also have Michael McLeod, picked 12th overall in 2016, stuck in a fourth-line role, and with those three in front of him, there’s not much hope that he will be climbing the ladder any time soon. He is expendable, and if a club like Montreal with its many tantalizing defence prospects offers one of them and a second-round pick for McLeod, one would think that the Devils may take the bait as they could still use some help on the blueline. They have veteran Travis Zajac on board to play the fourth-line role in the twilight of his career. McLeod’s ELC will be up at the end of this season, so the cap hit would be minimal, and he would bring energy, speed and faceoff prowess to the Canadiens in a fourth-line role.
McLeod was a faceoff dynamo in junior, and he’s just now starting to hit his stride in the faceoff dot at the NHL level. He tends to be a bit streaky still on the draws, but on the nights where he is hot…ride him. He is over 70 percent on draws in his last five games. McLeod to me would be the ideal third-line center on a contender in the future. Not sure that’s going to be New Jersey with the logjam they have right now. IMO, he’d be a perfect replacement for Danault going forward, at a much cheaper price.
Nashville center Erik Haula has played for five NHL teams in the past four years…why not make it six? He is cheap at $1.8M per season, he’s a hard worker and he wins about 55 percent of his faceoffs. The price to pick up Haula if the Predators fall out of the race a bit would be relatively cheap. Even if they don’t, the club is in need of a restocking of their prospect cupboard, and he may be an option to be moved at the deadline whether they are in a playoff position or not.
The other Nashville center who may be a target would be Colton Scissons. The cost to acquire him would be higher than it is for Haula, however, as the Predators would be less likely to be looking to deal a centerman who is a good fit as a bottom-line pivot. Scissons is 27 and signed for five more years at $2.8M per season. Montreal may find that a little deer for a fourth-line role given the cap situation.
The Canucks aren’t yet eliminated from the playoff race and it may send the wrong message to the team and fan base to deal a player to the team directly ahead of them in the final playoff spot, but unless they go on a significant winning streak over the next few games, Jay Beagle may be a player the club looks to unload for a draft pick. Beagle is consistently one of the league’s better faceoff men and ideally suited for a fourth-line center role.
Derick Brassard may be an interesting option. The Coyotes are most likely going to be sellers whether they are in a playoff position or not at the deadline. They won’t be finishing higher than fourth place if they make the playoffs, and will be facing either Colorado or Las Vegas. They have a new GM that wants to rebuild the system that has been depleted of draft picks because the NHL took some away from violating league rules. Brassard is well known to be a clutch playoff performer, and there’s a good chance that teams in the playoff hunt will be interested in his services, especially at a cap hit of just $1M. The only concern is that his career faceoff percentage of 48 percent isn’t great, and the Canadiens could really use another pivot who wins more draws than he loses. If the price is right, though…perhaps something like a third-round pick… expect Montreal to consider adding another Quebecker to the mix.
If Chicago continues to falter over the next three weeks and is looking less likely to snag a playoff spot, Carl Soderberg may be shopped given that he is slated to become a UFA. Kirby Dach is almost ready to rejoin the club, so there could be two outlooks for the Hawks – either keep him because Dach’s addition increases their chances of getting into the playoffs, or deal him because Dach can replace him in the lineup. Decent on draws and only making $1M this season, Soderberg might be an option for the Canadiens if he becomes available.
So there it is! Twenty-five names from teams who will definitely be sellers, or are on the cusp of being sellers. It doesn’t mean that a team or two headed to the postseason won’t make a deal with the Canadiens – there are usually a few UFA’s that get moved regardless of where their teams are in the standings. Who knows – perhaps the Canadiens even move Tatar or Danault. If that happens though, I would expect it to be a fairly large deal where the Canadiens get back a significant roster player.
None of the players mentioned above will command a king’s ransom, so that’s what makes them more likely to end up in Montreal than the bigger names that fans always hope get moved. Because the Canadiens are at the cap limit, a blockbuster trade of some sort is not likely to transpire, as much as it would be nice to have an Ekholm on the roster.
Glendening and Oesterle would seem like logical additions given their salaries, free agency status, and roles. Glendening can take key faceoffs, kill penalties and fill a fourth-center role. Oesterle can add much-needed depth on a Canadiens’ team with a key injury on the blueline. providing the team with another puck mover who might even help out on the power play.
Nothing extravagant – but Bergevin doesn’t have a lot of money in his wallet right now anyway to be shopping for Ferraris. He may even have to settle for a Ferraro.
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