MONTREAL — No one wants to lose an asset for nothing, but that’s a reality teams have to deal with sometimes in this league.
The Montreal Canadiens, with 24 healthy players available to them, were hoping to trade Jacob De La Rose and get some kind of return on the time and effort they spent turning him into an NHL player. But when no offers were made, they made the difficult choice to place him on waivers on Tuesday in order to comply with the NHL’s 23-man roster limit.
“We still believe in him,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien after Tuesday’s practice. “We’re hoping not to lose him.”
But the Canadiens knew it was a strong possibility that some team would find a place for the 23-year-old Swede who was chosen in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft.
The Detroit Red Wings, who currently own the NHL’s worst record (0-4-2), claimed De La Rose on Wednesday. They got themselves a six-foot-three, 216-pounder who’s an elite skater.
De La Rose also has a good shot, he can play centre or wing, can kill penalties, and he won’t hurt his team on the defensive side of the puck.
But if he were capable of manufacturing offence with any type of consistency, he’d have found a way into Montreal’s lineup. He’d at least have netted the team some kind of return in a trade.
We’re talking about a player who scored just eight goals in 119 games with the Canadiens. A player who produced less than half a point per game in three AHL stints. A player who also left you wanting on most nights.
That’s how Julien put it last season, saying that there were too many games where De La Rose dressed but wasn’t implicated, suggesting he had no tangible impact on the outcome.
Perhaps a new opportunity, on a team with considerable needs at every position, will bring out the player the Canadiens thought they were getting when they picked De La Rose 34th overall. The player former Canadiens coach Michel Therrien once compared to a young Jordan Staal, who impressed on both sides of the puck when Therrien was coaching the Pittsburgh Penguins back in the mid-2000s.
But there was no time for Julien and these Canadiens to wait and see if that was going to develop.
De La Rose, who had suffered a cardiac episode during Montreal’s final pre-season game, was ready to resume play, forcing the Canadiens to make a tough decision on how they would trim their roster. They opted to subject De La Rose to waivers because there was a better chance he’d go unclaimed than there was that Nikita Scherbak—the 22-year-old, 2014 first-round pick who has produced nearly a point per game in the AHL—would.
It’s a move that buys them time to generate interest in Scherbak—or another forward—on the market, in preparation for Nicolas Deslauriers’s return from a facial fracture.
Deslauriers should be ready to play by next week. If the Canadiens remain healthy between now and then, they may opt to buy themselves even more time to adhere to the roster limit by sending him down for an AHL conditioning stint.
But the roster will need to be trimmed again when Deslauriers returns, and that means another difficult decision is looming. Surely general manager Marc Bergevin will do everything possible not to lose another asset for nothing when that day comes.