What the Torrey Mitchell trade means for the Canadiens

Kyle Bukauskas and Eric Engels discuss the status of the Montreal Canadiens on their recent road trip.

MONTREAL—The Montreal Canadiens’ decision to trade Torrey Mitchell to the Los Angeles Kings boils down to recouping an asset for a player that fell into the margin of their lineup and opening up the possibility for someone from their farm team to fill a role on their fourth line.

The chance to regain the 2018 fourth-round pick the Canadiens gave the Kings last winter in exchange for forward Dwight King presented itself on American Thanksgiving and Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin was happy to take advantage of it.

At worst it will be a fifth-rounder coming to Montreal should the Kings miss the playoffs this season, but Los Angeles currently has the fifth-best record in the Western Conference and is just one point behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the Pacific Division lead.

It’s a bonus that Bergevin was able to find a team interested in giving Mitchell a chance to continue to prove his worth at the NHL level. The 12-year veteran deserves one.

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Mitchell, who hails from Montreal’s south shore suburb, Greenfield Park, was traded to the Canadiens from the Buffalo Sabres more than halfway through the 2014-15 season. He proved speedy, scrappy and serviceable for most of his time with them, turning himself into a valuable member of the team’s fourth line by setting a career-high in goals (11) in 2015-16 and following that up a season later with nine goals and 17 points in 78 games. He even added two goals and four assists in 15 total Stanley Cup playoff games with the franchise.

But it was obvious that Mitchell was going to be in a fight for his job with the Canadiens from the minute Claude Julien took over from Michel Therrien as coach in February of 2017. By the time King, Andreas Martinsen and Steve Ott came over as trade deadline acquisitions, his days with his hometown team appeared numbered.

Mitchell was subsequently made a healthy scratch for three of Montreal’s six playoff games last spring. He has since dressed for only 11 of the team’s 22 games this season, and his sporadic use is at least in part to blame for the fact that he hasn’t been able to produce a single point since things got underway in October.

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Mitchell, who turns 33 on Jan. 30, is in the final year of a three-year, $3.6 million contract. His removal from the books leaves the Canadiens with $5.42 million in cap space and with an open spot on their active roster, according to CapFriendly.com. And the return on this trade gives them seven picks in the first five rounds of the upcoming entry draft.

For a team in (desperate) need of building up a healthier prospect pool, every pick helps.

Also, Mitchell’s trade out of town could open up an opportunity for Daniel Carr to re-ignite his NHL career.

Carr, who has eight goals and 10 assists in 56 games with the Canadiens since signing as an unrestricted free agent in 2014, has spent the entire 2017-18 season with the AHL’s Laval Rocket. He leads their team in points per game and ranks eighth overall in AHL scoring, with 11 goals and seven assists in 18 games.

Rocket coach Sylvain Lefebvre told Sportsnet at the beginning of November that the 26-year-old left-winger had rounded out his game in impressive fashion.

"This is his first year on the penalty kill," said Lefebvre. "He’s doing an amazing job so far.

"He’s on a mission to get back into the NHL."

Carr could be called up as early as Friday, prior to the Canadiens welcoming the Sabres to the Bell Centre Saturday.

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If not Carr, it could be Chris Terry, who can play centre or wing and has amassed eight goals and nine assists in 16 games with the Rocket this season. Michael McCarron, who has appeared in eight games with the Canadiens this season, could step in as well.

If any one of Carr, Terry or McCarron can stick—or work their way up—on a fourth line that’s been mixed around more than any other line on the team since the start of the season, the Mitchell trade will turn out to be a pretty good one for Montreal.

Moving Mitchell without losing him for nothing is already a win for the team.