The Canadiens are doing everything right in the second half of the regular season, besides winning hockey games.
The new and improved Montreal Canadiens won’t make any noise this season, but are clearly trending upwards under interim Head Coach Martin St. Louis. In his short tenure thus far, he’s empowered the team’s youth and energized the franchise in a meaningful way despite the playoffs being completely out of the realm of possibility.
Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes, the team’s executive vice president of hockey operations and general manager respectively, have also done their part in beginning a hopeful chapter since joining the Habs. Here are my thoughts on their first trade deadline with the Montreal Canadiens.
The Florida Panthers acquire defenseman Ben Chiarot
Montreal received a first-round pick in 2023, a fourth-round pick in 2022, and a forward prospect in Tyler Smilanic. Considering how poorly Chiarot played for most of the regular season, it was shocking to see the Canadiens get three future assets back for the 30-year-old defenseman.
The Panthers were already among the best teams in the league, but were looking to improve and bolster up their defence ahead of the playoffs. It goes without saying Florida paid a hefty price for Chiarot, but shows how much they value his game, which tends to shine the brightest in the postseason when physicality becomes of increasing importance.
The Colorado Avalanche acquire forward Artturi Lehkonen
In return, Montreal got defensive prospect Justin Barron and a second-round pick in 2024. While the team has struggled all season, Lehkonen has been having the best individual season of his young career (29 total points in 58 games played). Beyond the stats, the 26-year-old forward plays with a high motor on a nightly basis, and can be a quality depth player on a contending team.
For the Habs, it made sense to move on from their hero from Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Conference Finals against the Golden Knights. Colorado had to offer up a promising prospect in Barron, who should fit Montreal’s contending timeline better. But the Avalanche are a much better team today with Lehkonen, even if he is due for a raise after the season.
The Edmonton Oilers acquire defenseman Brett Kulak
The Canadiens got back 26-year-old defenseman William Lagesson, a 2022 conditional second-round pick, and a seventh-round pick in 2024. This deal involves a couple of depth players and consequently made fewer headlines, but the Habs came away with a couple more future assets.
On paper, Kulak is an upgrade for the Oilers but he’ll need to regain his confidence and perform better to make this worth it for Edmonton. When he’s right, Kulak is a puck-moving, defensively sound player but moving a second-round pick for a marginal upgrade is a steep price to pay.
Graphic by Madeline Schmidt