The rapid development of Victor Mete into a serviceable top-pairing defenceman raises an interesting question that four months ago after the dealing of Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa and before the drafting of four defencemen would have seemed unthinkable:
Might the Canadiens be willing to part with Noah Juulsen in a blockbuster trade for John Tavares?
Clearly, the club would like to hold onto the prospect that many have viewed as one of their two best since selecting him 26th overall in the 2015 NHL draft, but the need for a proven/bonafide number one center remains the key need for the Habs if they ever hope to truly contend for the Stanley Cup.
When you look back at Cup-winning teams in history…one thing stands out on pretty much every club – strength down the middle. Crosby and Malkin; Toews/Anisimov; Bergeron/Krejci; Kopitar/Carter/Richards…the list goes on and on the further you go back.
The last Habs’ Cup winner may not have been loaded with talent and relied heavily on Patrick Roy, but even that team had Damphousse and Muller down the middle. Drouin/Plekanec/Danault? Not sure that will cut it in a 24-game postseason run.
To add fuel to the fire – Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin has been spotted at Islanders’ games recently..and I don’t think it’s because he’s looking to add Cal Clutterbuck or Shane Prince to the lineup.
Best bets are that Brock Nelson, and yes, Tavares are the main targets of his visits.
Tavares has not indicated that he will be re-signing in Brooklyn before July 1, which also likely means he intends to sign elsewhere unless Snow somehow convinces him to stay. Can you blame him? Despite his presence, the Islanders under the inexplicable guidance of the same underachieving GM the past decade in Garth Snow have wallowed in mediocrity.
Some folks have been saying that it couldn’t be Tavares that Bergevin is scouting because he already knows the player. Perhaps that has some merit to it. but in my experience when a GM is looking to deal for a player, he goes and watches him…regardless of his pedigree or stature.
The Habs, after all, would be “giving up the farm” so to speak to get Tavares, especially at this time of year, so it only behooves Bergevin to be studying that player to make sure there is absolutely nothing that might change his mind.
If indeed Tavares is the object of Bergevin’s affection…what would it cost the Habs to pry him loose?
I would think such a deal would have to involve Alex Galchenyuk, Juulsen, Poehling/Ikonen, Lindgren and at least one first-round pick before the Islanders would even consider pulling the trigger.
A hefty price for sure, but one which may make sense for both teams. Juulsen is essentially replaced by the development of Mete and drafting of Josh Brook. I think the club views Juulsen as a future second-pairing defenceman..and Mete alone looks to have already proven that he can, at the very least, be a solid second-pairing NHL defenceman.
In fact…Mete may, in the long run, end up replacing Sergachev, and Brook/Walford/Fleury can duke it out to eventually replace Juulsen as a 3-4 on the team. The other factor is the strength of this year’s draft crop on defence…the draft is loaded with potential top-four defencemen, and there is a good chance that the Habs will be able to draft one next June to further ease the departure of the team’s top-two defence prospects in a four-month span.
For me…the piece that I would be most reluctant to part with in that package would be Poehling. The more I see of him the more he looks like a center that will be able to fill a second-line all-purpose role and help you compete for Stanley Cups. It would be much preferred that Ikonen be part of the deal instead, and if that means the Hab would have to throw in another second-round pick to sweeten the deal…so be it.
Any trade discussion at this time involving Tavares or any other potential top-two center I would have to think includes Galchenyuk…I do not think he will still be wearing a Habs’ uniform by season’s end.
All of this is contingent on it being a deal that may entice the Islanders of course.
Do they think Matt Barzal can be a future number-one center? If they do..and with Ikonen and Nelson rounding out the top three in the future, Galchenyuk stepping into a first-line role on the wing, Juulsen securing a second-pairing spot on the blueline, Lindgren being very much in the mix to be their future starting goaltender as the Islanders have a huge hole there, and having two or three high draft picks…it may be an enticing enough return for a club that ultimately may lose Tavares for nothing if they don’t do a deal.
The longer they wait to trade Tavares the less potential return the Isles will get as the window closes on any team being able to sign Tavares before July 1. And even if a club that trades for him can’t ultimately re-sign him…6-8 months of Tavares is better than two…at the very least it likely gets the team into the playoffs, and then who knows?
It would be hard to see Tavares not wanting to sign with the Habs if he came to Montreal and was part of an exciting playoff run….the atmosphere, the adulation, the sheer excitement in the city as compared to what he’s experienced on Long Island and Brooklyn the past eight years would be infectious.
I also don’t think Bergevin makes such a deal without having some indication that Tavares would want to sign in Montreal, as it will cost a King’s ransom to get him nine months before he becomes a free agent.
The key to any big deal is for Bergevin to remain patient…while the notoriously impatient Snow grows more and more fed up with the direction of a team that I don’t think will challenge for a playoff spot because it is simply not good enough. Too many questionable draft picks, departures and poor trades have quelled the Tavares era in New York when the club should, by rights, be a contender with such a cornerstone piece. We know Snow and Bergevin have a trading history and that never hurts in such deals as more often than not GM’s who have made deals in the past make deals once again as there has been a level of trust developed.
Some media pundits, including of course Pierre McGuire who has never passed up an opportunity to diss the Habs’ prospect depth, have suggested Montreal does not have the assets to make a blockbuster deal for Tavares – I say it is hogwash.
Juulsen, Galchenyuk, Ikonen, Lindgren, a first-round pick in 2019 and a second-round pick in 2018 for Tavares. That in my estimation is plenty of intriguing assets for Tavares. If the Isles will only take Poehling…you exclude one of those draft picks.
There will be plenty of folks who think that is too much to pay for Tavares..but as a very sage GM named Sam Pollock once opined…the team that wins a trade is the one who gets the best player. Others can always be replaced.
How do you replace Galchenyuk? Scherbak is looking closer and closer to being able to fill his once-promising role..and there is always the possibility of moving Drouin back to the wing.
Replace Julsen? As noted earlier…Mete and the three top-90 defence picks make him more expendable.
Lindgren? Michael McNiven and…yes..even Zach Fucale, are both solid goalie prospects..and it’s not like Lindgren stands any chance of being the starter in Montreal with Price extended anyway.
Ikonen/Poehling? The drafting of both last June makes one expendable, especially if the Habs get Tavares to fill the top center role. The future would still look bright down the middle as Tavares has a lot of great years left. For me, the only stumbling block in that package would be Poehling…I think long and hard about making him part of the deal as I think he would be the one potential piece that could come back to haunt you. Nevertheless..it’s hard to imagine him ever being better than Tavares.
What ultimately makes a potential deal like this possible as well is that the Habs have the cap space to take on Tavares’ salary and sign him to a long-term extension today. Bergevin has been taking a lot of heat from Habs’ fans who lament him not spending that money…I have a feeling he would be forgiven pretty quickly if it was used on Tavares.
Let the speculation grow.