With the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline drawing near, Sportsnet is breaking down what each Canadian club has to work with as they head toward Feb. 24. We’ve sorted each roster into Trade Tiers to hash out who’s safe, who’s available and who’s likely on the move.
Barring a miraculous home-stretch run, the Montreal Canadiens seem set to miss the post-season for the third straight season.
Sitting eight points out of a wild-card spot with a slim-to-none chance of closing the necessary gap before the end of 2019-20, the Canadiens head towards the Feb. 24 trade deadline looking every bit a seller.
Whether GM Marc Bergevin opts for significant surgery — though, such deals may be more likely to come in the off-season — or minor moves to flip expiring deals into futures, Montreal has a number of options given the composition of their roster and salary-cap situation.
The team already made the first of their deadline moves, trading defenceman Marco Scandella to St. Louis in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 conditional fourth-round pick. They also flipped pending-free-agent AHLers Riley Barber and Phil Varone to Pittsburgh for Joseph Blandisi and Jake Lucchini.
Given where Montreal’s currently at and the marquee trade chips that could be moved to help them take a step forward, it seems likely the Canadiens aren’t done just yet. So, let’s take a look at where they stand and who could potentially move next:
Not Going Anywhere
His numbers haven’t been spectacular this season but Price is still the backbone of this team and a necessary part of their cause. He’s in the mix for the long haul (and signed until 2026).
Between the Norris-esque start to the year and the near-superhuman effort to stick in the lineup as of late despite a seemingly painful ankle injury, Weber’s been every bit the captain the Canadiens need at this point in their timeline.
He’s a 27-year-old 30-goal-scorer who only costs $3.75 million a year, and is on the books for next season as well. The team has no reason to look to move Gallagher out.
Byron’s one of only two forwards signed on for longer than a year or two, with three more seasons at $3.4 million annually. Given what he brings to the table when healthy, they benefit more from keeping him in the mix right now.
His potential to be a central part of the club’s future is already clear — at 20 years old, he’s currently the second-highest scorer on the team. There’s also the fact that bringing Suzuki to Montreal (along with other key assets) cost the Canadiens Max Pacioretty, meaning they won’t part with their young star easily.
(Likely) Not Going Anywhere
Three years into his Canadiens tenure and six years into his NHL career, there’s a sense that Drouin still hasn’t reached his full potential. He’s shown flashes of brilliance since coming north from the Lightning, and likely sticks with the club for the three remaining years on his contract. But Drouin has yet to play a playoff game for the Canadiens, and with the team likely to finish on the outside once again this season, we’re approaching the questions of whether this core can do it. A healthy Drouin reaching his full potential likely helps the Canadiens more, but if Bergevin does opt to move him, the return would be hefty.
He’s having his best goal-scoring season yet, sitting one off his career-high mark with 20 games left to play. He’s also a key part of the penalty kill and one of the team’s best faceoff practitioners. If a blockbuster’s on the table, maybe he’s included, else Danault seems too important in too many different areas of the team’s efforts.
The young Finn has been an intriguing weapon so far through his time in Montreal, costing only $2.4 million this year and next while providing some depth on the wing and serving as a key part of the team’s penalty-killing efforts. Unless it’s a blockbuster, it seems unlikely he’d move.
Ditto for Armia, who’s enjoying a career year in Montreal. The former Winnipeg Jet (and brief Buffalo Sabre) has 15 goals to his name this year, the third-highest sum on the team. He’s under control for another year at $2.6 million, adding to his value, both to the Canadiens and as a trade chip.
Yet another affordable ($1.4-million cap hit this year and next) forward option who can be of use to Bergevin or could be flipped if a club’s willing to pay for a depth piece that has some term. Weal’s put up 12 points through 41 games this season, averaging just 13:25 minutes a night.
The 28-year-old is one of the few Canadiens defenders signed past next season, with his current deal stretching until 2022. He’s also one of three Canadiens defenders logging over 20 minutes a night (averaging 23:22, specifically). With Montreal looking for an upgrade on defence, moving Chiarot would seem like a step in the wrong direction.
The same goes for Kulak, who’s carved out a more regular big-league role since heading to Montreal from Calgary. With 47 games under his belt this season, he’s tops among all Montreal defencemen in Corsi For percentage, and — like Chiarot — is inked for two more years, clocking in at $1.85 million annually.
He recently suffered a foot injury that has him out of the lineup at the moment, though it looks like it won’t be too long an absence. The 21-year-old still seems on track to be an important part of Montreal’s future blue line once he puts it all together at the NHL level. That said, he is a pending RFA, which leaves a deal at least somewhat of a possibility.
Petry sits on the paper-thin line between being a crucially important part of the team and a trade chip that could net a franchise-altering haul in return. The right-hander’s got one more year at $5.5 million on the books, and has been an unequivocal hit since coming to Montreal — he’s topped 40 points in each of the past two seasons and is on track for another such finish. But as Sportsnet’s Eric Engels pointed out in his inside look at the Canadiens’ deadline situation, Bergevin shouldn’t be mesmerized by what would come his way if he moved Petry, he should look to keep Petry doing what he’s been doing in Montreal for the foreseeable future.
“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,” Engels wrote.
Probably Safe, But It’s Possible
Domi’s first season in Montreal was a game-breaking 72-point success. This year’s been less prolific, with the 24-year-old on track for closer to 50 points. He would seem to be a central part of the Canadiens’ plans, but the team does have an important decision to make soon given he’s an RFA after this season. Given the success the two have enjoyed together so far, Domi likely sticks in Montreal, but should the club feel wary of what a potential extension might look like, a trade seems at least plausible. Especially given his potential to bring in a marquee NHL-ready return.
Could Be On The Move
The veteran bottom-sixer is a pending UFA, and a useful piece, but doesn’t move the needle a significant amount for the Canadiens at this point, with just four points through 16 games at the NHL level this season and seven points through 27 games with AHL Laval. The Canadiens need to stockpile futures at this point, starting with their free-agents-to-be.
Also a pending free agent — of the RFA variety, though — Cousins has performed well for his $1-million cap hit. His versatility has made him a useful piece in Montreal, but could also make him a more valuable asset should Bergevin elect to move on and rebuild his depth group.
The 35-year-old has fit in well with the Canadiens, but also heads into unrestricted free agency after this season. His faceoff proficiency could entice clubs looking for more stability in their bottom six, though at 35 years old, he won’t be netting too significant a return either way.
In Tatar, Bergevin has possibly his most valuable trade chip. The 29-year-old is enjoying his second straight season of solid production in Montreal, and currently leads the team in scoring with 54 points to his name so far. He’s also signed on for another year after this one, at only $4.8 million. Keeping Tatar in the fold seems the better option right now, given how well he’s fit with the Canadiens’ forward corps, but like Domi, it comes down to how the future contract might play out. If Bergevin and Co. feel they won’t be able to afford the raise Tatar potentially seeks after next season, parting with him now — while he’s still under control for another year — could bring in a game-changing return.
More Likely To Move
While Tatar may be the Canadiens’ most valuable trade chip, Kovalchuk is their most intriguing. The veteran has salvaged his value in the big leagues with a resurgent run in Montreal, posting 12 points through 20 games since joining the Canadiens. And despite seeming near the brink of extinction at the NHL level not too long ago, Kovalchuk’s now drawing deadline interest from multiple teams, according to Engels: “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,” Engels wrote in his deadline primer.
Kovalchuk hits UFA status following the conclusion of this season. If the team feels the fit is right and the 36-year-old can bring a similar impact over a full season in 2020-21, perhaps re-signing him is the smarter option. That said, if they feel a decline coming, moving Kovalchuk for any type of decent return would be a huge win for the front office, given what the perception of the player was just a couple months ago.