The Habs and the trade deadline

This is the year where the Montreal Canadiens should be buyers

It’s been a while since the Montreal Canadiens have had such an opportunity to go deep in the playoffs. With the realigned divisions for the 2020‒21 National Hockey League (NHL) season, the Habs are only playing fellow Canadian opponents in the regular season.

The best four of their seven-team division will qualify for the playoffs, and with those teams only playing each other until the Stanley Cup semi-finals, the chance to make it past the first two rounds is there for the Habs.

The Canadiens have started the season strong, but have had some trouble in the past month, even firing their head coach. Yet, they’re still in a playoff spot and seem confident on the ice against pretty much all their opponents. It would be fair to think that this season, for the first time in years, General Manager Marc Bergevin would try to improve his team by the NHL trade deadline, with hopes to shock the hockey world and win the Stanley Cup.

After adding key players Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson last offseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bergevin add depth for his third and fourth lines. Bergevin doesn’t often make trades, but when he does, he rarely fails to improve his roster, either in the short-term or long-term.

An important player who could be traded is Phillip Danault. Despite being a great centreman and good defensively, Danault is in the last year of his contract, and hasn’t offered much offensively this season. Any team looking for depth at this position would give a lot for him, especially at the trade deadline, when teams often overpay.


Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion


NHL trade deadline is a crucial time for the Montreal Canadiens

The National Hockey League trade deadline is one of the most exciting days of the year for hockey fans.

After weeks of rumors all over social media, we’ll finally know who’s getting traded and where some players are heading in the last sprint before playoffs.

The Montreal Canadiens have been quite calm during the trade deadline the past few seasons, mostly trading picks and veterans. While some teams make the most of trade deadline day, moving their superstars in exchange for the acquisitions they need, Habs general manager Marc Bergevin has largely opted for making his key moves during the summer break instead.

In 2016, Bergevin made a trade that people still talk about today, acquiring current team captain Shea Weber from the Nashville Predators in exchange for defenceman P.K. Subban. He also traded Lars Eller before acquiring right-winger Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Blackhawks in another deal. The following year, he got Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 2017-18, the Canadiens traded their 2012 first-round pick, Alex Galchenyuk, to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi, who scored 72 points in his first season in Montreal. Finally, Bergevin traded Shaw back to Chicago last summer.

Montreal’s biggest acquisition on trade deadline day goes back, arguably, to March 2, 2015 when the team acquired defenceman Jeff Petry from the Edmonton Oilers. Since then, the team made no significant trades, considering the only moves were trades for picks and players like Jordan Weal, which weren’t enough for the team to qualify for the playoffs since 2016-17.

As teams not qualifying for the postseason often trade established players for future assets, like draft picks, and become what we call “sellers.” The chances of seeing the Canadiens do so and be on the selling side are fairly high.

Assuming Bergevin decides to be a seller in the upcoming days, many players could interest the other 30 general managers of the NHL. Does that mean superstar goalie Carey Price could get traded? It would be shocking to see it happen. However, veterans Ilya Kovalchuk, Nate Thompson and Petry are all on the well-known TSN Trade Bait list, a list of the players most likely to be traded before the trade deadline has passed.

With the emergence of young forwards like Cole Caufield, Ryan Poehling and Joni Ikonen, in addition to great hopes on defence with Alexander Romanov, Cale Fleury, Josh Brook and more, Bergevin knows the goal is for them to be in the lineup fairly soon.

In fact, Fleury already played with the big club this season, showing great signs of development, and what he could bring in the coming years. Head coach Claude Julien sometimes scratches him as the team’s seventh defenceman, but if a trade happens, perhaps with Petry, he might have a chance to play as a regular blueliner for the remainder of the games this year.

Recent years at the deadline have showed how much value depth centres are worth. For example, 35-year-old veteran Brian Boyle, who signed a one-year contract with the Florida Panthers in October, has been traded twice the past three years, all around the trade deadline. Both times, the club who traded Boyle acquired at least a second-round draft pick.

Thompson can win faceoffs, play important minutes defensively, on the penalty kill, and can bring depth to a contending team looking for that extra forward entering the playoffs. As injuries can seriously impact a team’s season, and sometimes be the reason for them falling short of expectations, general managers of contending teams often prefer trading away their draft picks for those extra, proven players—in order to be prepared for any scenario. Thompson could be a player to fill that role elsewhere.

Of course, the Canadiens aren’t lacking draft picks for this year’s NHL Entry Draft, which will be held at the Bell Centre in June. The team currently has 11 selections, with three second-round picks. In that sense, the urge to trade players for picks right now isn’t there.

If Bergevin decides to trade someone like Thompson, it could help the case of Poehling, or Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was sent down to the American Hockey League (AHL) Laval Rocket on Feb. 1.  It’s doubtful that both will spend the entire season with the Rocket next year, so an option could be to let at least one of them finish the season with Montreal.

Both Poehling and Kotkaniemi have NHL experience, especially the latter, who has more than 100 games played with the Canadiens already. These two young forwards are expected by many to play an important role for the Habs in the future, as they could be the top two centres in a few years. However, for that to happen, they’ll need to fit in somewhere in the lineup, which currently has enough centres.

Last season, Poehling played his first career NHL game on the last game of the Canadiens’ season because the team was already out of playoff contention.

This year, the team’s fate seems to be already known, which could lead to more ice time for prospects, especially if trades happen.

We’ll have many questions answered today at 3 p.m. Who knows what the 31 teams will look like once the trade deadline has passed.

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