MONTREAL— “I’d be surprised if you can get a fourth- or fifth-round pick for him right now,” said one scout in attendance at Saturday’s 5-2 win for the Philadelphia Flyers over the Montreal Canadiens.
He was talking about Charles Hudon, the Montreal forward who showed well in Saturday’s game but has been pushed to the margins for exactly half of this season after putting up 30 points in 70 games as a rookie one year ago. He was outlining why the 24-year-old remains a member of the Canadiens despite such sporadic use.
We’re over a month away from the NHL’s trade deadline and this is the most appropriate time for teams to be asking themselves whether or not players they’d be willing to sell would be more valuable to their team than they would on the market. As it stands, Hudon, who’s a pending restricted free agent with a $650,000 cap hit, is currently worth more to the Canadiens as a depth option and insurance policy than he is on the market, otherwise he’d be gone by now.
It’s a situation that could certainly change from here to Feb. 26, especially if Hudon gets to play a stretch of games to boost his value or if the Canadiens get another depth forward they feel slots better into their lineup for spot duty. It could also change in a hurry if they remain healthy and Andrew Shaw returns from a neck injury in short order, creating a roster crunch that forces the Canadiens to move somebody.
But with Shaw only skating on his own and still out indefinitely — and with Paul Byron a game away from coming off his three-game suspension for charging Florida Panthers defenceman MacKenzie Weegar — it appears more likely that Hudon will have to live with the status quo of being a frequent healthy scratch.
“We don’t have any injuries up front except for [Shaw],” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said on Jan. 7. “But I’ve spoken to many GMs recently who have a lot of injured players. (Injuries happen, so) we’re going to need all our players, and Charles Hudon is a young player who has potential and will stay in Montreal for the time being.”
Frustrating as it might be for Hudon, it’s what makes the most sense for a team that is well-entrenched in the playoff race. One that’s threatening on a nightly basis to move into either one of the two spots behind the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division.
It won’t be pressed to sell off assets — and certainly won’t be pressed to do so at a loss.
Yes, the emphasis is still very much on the future for the Canadiens, with Bergevin also stating two weeks ago that he wouldn’t mortgage a first-round pick or any of his top prospects to acquire a rental player prior to this year’s deadline. And yes, Bergevin did add he’d consider moving certain players out before 3:00 p.m. ET on Deadline Day. But there’s no rush for him to do that, and no reason for him to if it makes the current edition of his team worse.
That brings us to Jordie Benn, the 31-year-old pending unrestricted free agent who’s playing as well as he ever has at any point over his eight-year NHL career and costs just $1.1 million on the cap. He certainly fits the criteria of a player Bergevin has to consider trading.
Benn has four goals and 12 assists and is on pace to at least match career-highs he set in both categories back when he was 26. But that’s just icing on the cake, really, considering the Victoria native’s role of being depended on as a stable, defensive defenceman who starts more than 60 per cent of his shifts at 5-on-5 near his own net and is deployed regularly on the penalty kill.
That type of asset would traditionally go for a second-round pick around the deadline, but the same scout who assessed Hudon’s value at Saturday’s game said Benn probably wouldn’t net the Canadiens anything more than a third-round pick at this point.
“It can change as we approach the deadline, but there are so many established sellers in the market that the second-tier UFAs like him could go for less than what we’ve seen in the past,” he said. “If you get a second-rounder back, you probably pack his bags for him and send him on his way. But it might be tough with this year’s market, and it’s still a hard choice to make even if you get that.
“I’m not sure why you’d consider trading him for less. I wouldn’t. Look at where they are (in the standings), and he’s averaging 18 minutes a game or so, killing penalties, and he can move up and down their lineup. If he goes, they’re left with who? [Noah] Juulsen’s hurt, and no one seems to know when he’ll be back. You want [Karl] Alzner playing those minutes? [David] Schlemko? [Xavier] Ouellet?”
They are three players who have played more in the AHL in recent weeks than they have with the Canadiens, so they certainly don’t represent better options than Benn. And for a competitive team that already possesses 10 picks in the upcoming draft — and eight more in 2020 — it’s hard to argue keeping Benn for a potential playoff run and then losing him to free agency wouldn’t be a better option than selling him for a third-round pick or worse at this stage.
Trading Hudon for a sixth- or seventh-round pick doesn’t make much sense, either, right now.