Who Should the Habs Keep?
February 22, 2022
By Grant McCagg
The Canadiens have made it known that they will be sellers over the next four weeks leading up to the NHL trade deadline. It already started with the dealing of Tyler Toffoli, and unless Ben Chiarot does the improbable and signs an extension over the next three weeks, he is the next to go. Here are the 13 roster players who are not likely going to be dealt by March 21, and in order of importance.
1a. Cole Caufield – The biggest no-brainer. He’s going to be a 40-goal, 80-point player. As we’ve seen the past 29 years without coming close to winning a Stanley Cup…you need those guys. Caufield is a kid you build around.
1b. Nick Suzuki – The perfect complement to an offensively-gifted and creative winger like Caufield. He will take care of all the little details…especially away from the puck…to free up CC to worry about scoring and setting up goals. Suzuki will be an invaluable all-around center for the next decade. He’s untouchable.
3. Alex Romanov – He’s not going anywhere. Montreal’s most physical blueliner…and he’s just 22. Romy is part of a very bright future on Montreal’s blueline. Future visions of a defence group that includes Eddie, Romanov, Guhle, Xhekaj, Fairbrother, Struble and Mailloux, or at least most of those guys, suggests that it’s not going to be an easy group to play against. Just like the top two guys…keeping Romanov is an easy decision.
4. Josh Anderson – Sure- he’s a little inconsistent, he has limited playmaking and dangling skills, but the size/speed/power/shot combo is something that has been so rare to see in Montreal in recent decades. He drives to the net, he opens up space for linemates, and he looks like a perfect complement to Suzuki and Caufield.
He has five years left at $5.5M…and that’s fine for several reasons. He is 27, he’s a workout machine, and he’s strong as a powerhouse. That’s not going to change in the next five years, and that’s not even mentioning his leadership and toughness. He can protect Caufield, mentor young players and he’s a fan favourite. He is averaging 26 goals per 82 games as a Hab. Considering everything else he brings…$5.5M is by no means an overpayment. He stays.
5. Joel Edmundson – Everyone talks about how much the Canadiens have missed Shea Weber. Edmundson’s absence has been just as noticeable. He and Weber were Montreal’s best defencemen in the playoff run, and he was a huge part of St. Louis’ Cup winner two years before that. A 20-minute per night 6-4, physical, mobile shutdown defenceman signed at $3.5M for the next two seasons, and in his defence prime at 28. I would not only keep him, but if his back injury isn’t a long-term concern I would extend him after next season. Defencemen often play their best hockey in their late 20’s/early 30’s, and the young defencemen coming up will need some guidance. The best may yet be to come for Edmundson, who will be a great mentor for Guhle/Xhekaj/Struble/Fairbrother.
6. Carey Price – I made my feelings known about keeping Price in an article here: https://recrutes.ca/keeping-price-is-right/
7. Jake Allen – The uncertainty around Price’s future and Cayden Primeau’s readiness to play at the NHL level make keeping Allen a priority unless the Habs’ braintrust decides that one more deplorable season is in order. My sense is that Gorton and Hughes think the club can be in the playoff mix next season with a few offseason moves, the graduation of promising prospects, and the return of key vets who’ve missed most or all of this season.
I don’t see management sabotaging the club in the present in the hope of securing another top-five pick next season. Certainly, MSL is not going to want to be part of any tank job next season…there’s just too much good young talent on the team and in the system to be the worst club in the league next season. MSL isn’t going to tell Caufield and Suzuki to stop scoring it Romanov to stop hitting. Allen is solid insurance for the start of next season, and if the team ends up getting off to a terrible start and looks like a bottom feeder once again, then you explore dealing him before the next trade deadline.
8. Ryan Poehling – His age, size, position and potential are four reasons to hang onto the club’s 2017 first-round pick. Swapping a young player for yet another puck or another prospect makes little sense for a club that is retooling. Poehling has made strides in his all-around game.
9. Brendan Gallagher – He turns 30 in May, he has a $6.5M cap hit over the next five years, and he’s battled injuries five of the past seven seasons. He is on pace for his least productive season since turning pro in 2012. All of which means his trade value is at an all-time low. You keep him, you wait for his game to pick up (signs of that happening tonight), and you welcome his leadership in the meantime. A million or two overpayment on your de facto captain isn’t the end of the world on a club that is going to have plenty of players on ELCs over the next few years. Gally will be moved if and when the time is right…it is not the right time.
10. Jonathan Drouin – Plenty of folks are calling for the trading of Drouin but I’m in the “Let’s see how he plays under MSL” camp. Drouin and Ducharme butted heads more than once, and if the new coach can kickstart Drouin upon his return like he’s done with Caufield, the club has a difference-maker on the second line. He has one year left on his $5.5M contract with a no-move clause.
Much like Gallagher, his stock isn’t very high right now because he missed a lot of time in the past ten months. Drouin is quietly leading the Canadiens in ppg this season. If he’s allowed to come back and play his style of hockey without too many encumbrances we may see him reach a new level of offensive production. I would like to see him on a line with Dvorak and Ylonen after the trade deadline when Jesse is sure to be called and Dvorak is presumably healthy.
11. Artturi Lehkonen – Earlier in the year when he was once again struggling to produce I suggested that he would get hot as he always does in the second half of the season, and this time around the club should consider dealing him when his value is high if the return is right. I still feel that way to a certain extent but Lehkonen’s consistency, character and work ethic are traits that will be invaluable to pass on to the young players coming up in the system over the next few years. Plug him into any slot in the lineup and he can contribute. If a team offers a first-round pick plus, it will be tough to keep him despite all that he brings to a club. Who knows – Blake Coleman got a great return last season and there isn’t a huge difference in the value of the two.
12. Jeff Petry – he is fast approaching his mid-30s but Petry’s physical skills aren’t diminishing, so don’t expect him to start slowing down anytime soon. Petry’s issues this season have been mainly on the mental side, and since the coaching change, he has looked like a new player. I am on the fence with this one. He can be a pivotal part of the future when this team is contending again in a couple of years (it won’t take as long as many expect), or he can be dealt for a hefty ransom if he truly wants out. This may be one where it comes down to what the wife ultimately wants, and if the club is intent on a full rebuild or a partial one. Certainly; the club’s turnaround since the coaching change clouds things a bit.
13. Rem Pitlick – All he’s done since joining the Habs is score goals, so I would expect him to remain in the organization, along with little brother Rhett, unless a team looking for scoring depth comes along offering a second-round pick. That’s quite unlikely considering that he was a waiver pickup a month ago.
The rest of the roster players are up for grabs for the right price. Ben Chiarot and Mike Hoffman are the most obvious ones to be moved but Evans, Kulak, Byron, Armia, Wideman, Montembeault, Perreault, Tyler Pitlick, Clague and Dauphin can all move on if teams make any sort of worthwhile offer. Evans and Byron should be kept unless clubs make a decent offer – at least a third-round pick for Byron and a second- round pick for Evans, who turns 26 this summer. The rest are quite expendable, and some won’t likely fetch anything.
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Surely keep Evans, another heart and soul player!