WASHINGTON, D.C. — Montreal Canadiens, sellers.
That has to be what they are as we approach the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Even if they still believe they can win enough of their remaining games to make this year’s playoffs, the Canadiens currently have less than a two per cent chance of reaching the threshold of 97 points, which is the expected point total to finish either third in the Atlantic Division or in one of the Eastern Conference’s two wild-card spots.
As for Montreal’s needs — an upgrade on defence and some beef upfront — it’s more likely they address most of them in the summer than over the coming days.
Pending free agents:
• Max Domi, 24, $3.15M
• Nick Cousins, 26, $1M
• Jake Evans, 23, $925,000
• Charles Hudon, 25, $800,000
• Lukas Vejdemo, 24, $792,500
• Riley Barber, 26, $700,000
• Victor Mete, 21, $748,333
• Xavier Ouellet, 26, $700,000
• Noah Juulsen, 22, $863,333
• Gustav Olofsson, 25, $700,000
• Michael McNiven, 22, $682,222
Potential assets to move:
Nate Thompson: A versatile fourth-line centre who wins over 55 per cent of his faceoffs and kills penalties, Thompson is one of Montreal’s most respected leaders. Despite his age, his pace of play is a non-issue. In fact, it’s one of the things that should make him attractive to teams looking to acquire forward depth for a long playoff run.
Dale Weise: A fourth-line energy forward who can still score and is known for being a playoff performer. It’s possible the Canadiens will have to retain some of his salary to move him, but he can be an effective player. It helps that he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty.
Nick Cousins: With nine goals and 22 points, Cousins has been a solid contributor for the Canadiens. He can play up and down the lineup and chip in on the power play, and chances are he’d net a higher return than Thompson or Weise would in a trade.
Ilya Kovalchuk: The 36-year-old has proven he can still make plays at an elite level, having scored six goals and 12 points in 20 games with the Canadiens. While averaging 19:09 game and not looking at all out of place, Kovalchuk has shown that he can be an excellent insurance policy for a team with concerns about an injury to a top-six forward from here to the end of the season (or beyond).
He plays hard away from the puck, he’s an elite presence on the power play, and he’s also gotten rave reviews from both coach Claude Julien and his teammates for his attitude and his work ethic.
From what we’ve gathered, there are at least five teams interested in Kovalchuk’s services, whereas there were none who were seriously considering adding him before the Canadiens signed him out of his contract termination with the Los Angeles Kings.
Tomas Tatar: With one year left on a deal that counts annually for $5.3 million on the cap — $500,000 of which is retained by the Vegas Golden Knights — and an actual salary of $4.2 million in 2020-21, many teams should be interested in Montreal’s leading scorer. Tatar is an uber-competitive player who possesses great offensive instincts and a knack for being extremely hard to knock off the puck.
The Canadiens would prefer to keep Tatar for next season, but with the market on non-rentals being set exceptionally high in recent trades the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning made for Jason Zucker and Blake Coleman, respectively, they’ll have to listen to offers on Tatar. That they have Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi, Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron as depth options at left wing could make them that much more willing to move the 28-year-old, who’s likely to earn a big raise on his next contract.
2020: 1st, 2nd, 2nd (CHI), 2nd (STL) 3rd, 4th, 4th (ANA), 4th (WPG), 5th, 5th (FLA), 6th, 7th (CHI)
2021: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd (CHI), 4th, 5th, 5th (OTT), 6th
One bold move Montreal could make:
Trade Max Domi for a power forward or a top-four defenceman.
Should the Canadiens opt to keep Tatar, they could be enticed to move Domi instead.
By no means are we suggesting they’re going to do it but, this being a bold prediction and all, they might consider doing it if it nets them something that addresses one of their two most pressing needs.
The Canadiens have been linked to Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson, who, at six-foot-three and 222 pounds, fits the exact profile of the type of player they’re looking for.
It’s been an injury riddled season for Anderson, only appearing in 26 games and registering just one goal and three assists. And he topped out at 27 goals and 47 points last season, while Domi put up 28 goals and 72 points. So obviously, we might not have the makings of a one-for-one trade here.
But if the Blue Jackets are going to move Anderson ahead of the deadline, they’re going to want a player who can help them continue this year’s playoff push, and one who can still help them in the future. With both Domi and Anderson seeking new contracts and owning arbitration rights as restricted free agents, perhaps there’s a fit here.
We still find it hard to believe either player will move before the deadline, but it’s a possibility we can’t discount.
Meanwhile, as The Athletic’s Mike Russo recently reported, Domi could be a piece that nets the Canadiens a top-quality defenceman such as Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba. The Wild are looking for an upgrade at centre and that’s where Domi is most comfortable playing.
All of that considered, we still believe the likeliest scenario is that Domi stays put in Montreal and eventually signs a contract extension that comes with a three- to five-year term.
The Canadiens should not:
Trade Jeff Petry.
The 32-year-old has one more year left on a contract that comes with a $5.5-million hit.
There are numerous teams that would give up a sizeable package to acquire Petry over the coming days, but unless the Canadiens acquire a first-round pick plus a player who’s at least five years younger, a right-handed defenceman capable of playing close to half of every game and produce between 40-50 points per season, they can’t seriously entertain moving him.
Despite the future promise of prospects Cale Fleury and Josh Brook, the Canadiens don’t have a viable replacement for Petry in the near future.
They should be discussing parameters for a new contract with the Michigan native, and they should be looking to get him signed as soon as they’re eligible to on July 1.