The trade freeze is over, Mr. Bergevin. The time has come to fish or cut bait. The answer is indeed in the room, and it is clearly “No…this team is not good enough.”
The Habs needed to be back to .500 after 32 games to be back in the playoff race, but the objective was to keep playing .600 hockey after that, not .400 hockey. Nine points back of both the Leafs and Bruins and no games in hand with a moribund offence that never has more than two or three players producing at the same time? Even though there are still 45 games left this playoff race looks to be over.
It is time for players with letters on their sweaters to move on, and I’m not talking about Gallagher and Weber. The team that let Lafleur, Robinson, Savard and Lapointe move on can do the same with the two veterans who are clearly on the decline offensively even if they are the team leaders in career points by a country mile.
This is no time to be nostalgic; it’s time to be shrewd. Pacioretty has had 19 games to break out of this slump…it’s not going to happen in Montreal. It’s not just a question of being snakebitten, he is simply not playing well enough to even be a 20-goal scorer this season. The only center with the skills to get him going on this team is Drouin, and it’s highly evident that there is more chemistry between cats and dogs than those two.
I don’t like the term rebuild in today’s NHL. Teams don’t truly rebuild as there are pieces on every team…yes…even the Habs. The core players are all in their prime or just reaching it, so no use dealing the top defenceman or goalie, this team can get good in a hurry with a few right moves.
This is turning into a pretty solid draft in terms of depth, and Trevor Timmins has shown an ability to excel at the draft table when given the ammunition in strong draft years. With three top 60 picks in 2007 the Habs selected Ryan McDonagh, Pacioretty and PK Subban; last year with three top 60 picks they grabbed Ryan Poehling, Joni Ikonen and Josh Brook. They were all very solid picks.
The other variable is picking in the top ten in the draft. That is where you get top-line players the vast majority of the time as teams don’t often trade them away. Trading away a few veterans increases the team’s odds of finishing at the bottom of the standings and ensuring that the club has a top-ten selection. Timmins has selected Price, Galchenyuk and Sergachev with top-ten picks since 2005 on the three occasions the club has had high selections; it just goes to show the importance of drafting in the top ten on occasion if you ever hope to contend.
So no time like the present. The Habs biggest needs at this time are a young defence prospect or two that can play in the top three down the road and a top-two center prospect, and the best way to ensure that is to deal Pacioretty, Plekanec and anyone else that might be able to secure a young defence or center prospect and draft picks.
Pacioretty is the best chip the club could use in seeking a blueliner that can vie for a top-pairing spot in the future. A team like Carolina might be a great option if they are willing to part with Jake Bean or Haydn Fleury. They are loaded with young defencemen, and at some point, one would think GM Ron Francis will pull the trigger to get a veteran forward to help the team win now. Attendance isn’t getting any better in Carolina, and the team has a new owner that is going to want to win after several years of mediocrity; the time to win is now.
I would think that at this point the Hurricanes are higher on Bean than Fleury, so Fleury may be the more viable option if they have any interest in Pacioretty. What would make that trade even more intriguing is that it would mean both Cale and Haydn Fleury would be in the same organization.
If the Habs can’t pry a potential top-three defence prospect from a team for Pacioretty, the other option is to look at obtaining a younger center with top-six potential, or perhaps even a big winger with some goal-scoring abilities that doesn’t mind going to the net.
Those are the club’s three biggest needs going forward, and it is hoped that there is a club out there that will be willing to part with one of those three pieces to get Pacioretty and bank on him regaining his scoring touch playing with better offensive players.
The fourth option if none of those tickle Bergevin’s fancy is to seek a first-round pick (or more) for Pacioretty, and if even that is not plausible, at that point you don’t trade him at all and hope that somehow he can break out of his troublesome funk. That would surprise me though, there are 20 or more teams in the playoff race, and as Nashville showed last season, sometimes all you need to do is get in the dance to shake your booty.
Fans that are reticent to see #67 depart argue that the club will not be able to “replace a 30-goal scorer”. That is likely true – the Habs won’t get a current 30-goal scorer in return for him – but the fact is, Pacioretty right now is a “one goal in 19 games scorer.” That is a five-goal scorer. Obviously, Pacioretty isn’t a five-goal scorer, but he’s no longer a 35-goal man on this team. He is quite replaceable by Nikita Scherbak, who is leading the AHL in points per game this season.
Scherbak will not likely ever be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL, but there is a strong likelihood that he will be a 30-40-assist playmaker who creates a ton of chances, especially on the power play, and that is almost the antithesis of Pacioretty, who has ten power play points in his past 85 games and two power-play goals in his past 52.
Plekanec will be of value to teams seeking a shutdown veteran center at the trade deadline. It may shock some Habs fans just how much he will garner on the trade market if Geoff Molson agrees to pay half his salary over the remainder of his contract, money that he most definitely will be able to spare, particularly if it results in the Habs getting a late first-round pick from a team making a serious run at a Cup. At the very least Plekanec gets a second-round pick, and the Habs go into the draft with a minimum of five top 60 picks for the first time in 30 years.
The last time they had an abundance of top-60 picks they took Andrew Cassels, John Leclair, Eric Desjardins and Mathieu Schneider…an indication of what a team can accomplish when given the opportunity to draft five or more times in the top two rounds.
It need not stop there either. Brett Lernout will require a roster spot next season or he’ll be lost on waivers, and as far as I’m concerned he is ready to replace Jerabek, Benn, Alzner or Morrow at any time. All four should be candidates to be moved as will Schlemko, and yes…even Petry if he can fetch another first-round pick, especially if trading Pacioretty nets the team a young mobile defenceman like Fleury.
Up front Danault, Shaw, Byron and Froese should all be available. If Danault or Shaw can get first-round picks they would be moved, and if a club comes looking for Byron for a second-round pick…same deal. Hard to pass on a second-round pick for a player obtained on waivers if the club falls out of the race.
You can “retool” pretty quickly if you have three or four first rounders and four or five seconds, especially when you consider that Juulsen, Scherbak, Mete, Poehling, Brook, Walford, Evans and several others are also going to be pushing for NHL spots within a couple of years.
Some of those picks can be used in trades, or, even better, to move up in the draft. It might finally be time for the Habs to leave a draft with two top 15 selections in the system. The last time the club did that was in 1984 and the team selected Petr Svoboda and Shayne Corson.
Adding Noah Dobson and a center like Joe Veleno, for example, would go a long way towards plugging the holes in the system, and in Veleno’s case, in particular, he is likely only one more year away from playing in the NHL with his all-around game and the fact that he already has three years of junior under his belt.
Dobson and Veleno would be making an impact in the NHL within a couple of years along with Poehling, Juulsen, Scherbak and others…the team’s talent level could be upgraded in a hurry.
Let’s say the Habs enter the draft with the 8th, 23rd and 27th picks in the draft along with five second rounders. With that type of surplus, you don’t hesitate to package the 23rd, 27th and a second for the opportunity to move up to the early teens if a player like Veleno is there and you want him. There are no guarantees a team will accept such an offer, but it will be enticing to a club that only has one or two picks in the top 60 to turn a top 15 pick into three top 50 ones.
Even if you can’t trade up, the depth is good and the Habs will get solid prospects in the 20’s if they end up with three first-round picks, or even two.
To a certain extent the Habs can control their destiny if the owner is on board for a retool, and at this point, I don’t see why he’d object.
A young core of Gallagher, Galchenyuk, Drouin, Lehkonen, Hudon, Scherbak, Poehling, Ikonen, Veleno, Dobson, Brook, Juulsen, Mete, Lindgren, several second-round picks from 2018 and secondary prospects is an intriguing scenario for a team that has a goalie in Price who should remain among the league’s best for the length of his new contract. That would give the fan base plenty of hope, and right now that may be the most important thing of all.