MONTREAL—It’s hard to believe these coming days would turn out to be the most important ones of the Montreal Canadiens’ season for all the wrong reasons.
Whatever optimism there was for this team fell almost entirely by the wayside by the third week of the season, and whatever hope was remaining in the weeks that followed died before New Year’s Eve.
So here we are, in Year 6 of Marc Bergevin’s tenure as Canadiens GM, with the team barreling into the trade deadline as one of the most clearly established sellers in the league. It’s an opportunity for Bergevin to brighten the team’s future and regain some confidence the fans have lost in him.
Don’t expect a full rebuild.
“I prefer the word reset,” Bergevin told reporters at the halfway point of the season.
He didn’t get into the details regarding how he’d go about that process, but he set things in motion Wednesday by trading depth defenceman Jakub Jerabek to the Washington Capitals in return for a 2019 fifth-round draft pick.
We anticipate more moves coming down the pipeline over the next five days.
We’re talking about the 28th-ranked team in the NHL, which features arguably the worst centre group in the league and a defensive group that is suspect at best.
It’s hard to imagine key roster players at centre or defence joining the Canadiens between now and February 26, but NHL-ready prospects at those positions are the top targets.
The Canadiens will also take as many draft picks as they can get their hands on.
Pending free agents, age, cap hits:
• Ales Hemsky, 34, $1 million
• Antti Niemi, 34, $700,000
• Phillip Danault, 24, $912,500
• Daniel Carr, 26, $725,000
• Jacob De La Rose, 22, $725,000
• Logan Shaw, 25, $650,000
• Joe Morrow, 25, $650,000
Potential assets to move:
Max Pacioretty: It’s hard to imagine there’s a better time to move Pacioretty if you want to redeem full value. He’s still on the right side of 30, he has scored 30 goals in each of the past five full NHL seasons, and he has a steal of a contract that keeps him at a $4.5 million cap hit from here to the end of the 2018-19 season.
Bergevin has set the price high—reportedly a first, a second, a prospect and a roster player. We believe he’d settle for a first-rounder and a prospect who projects to be a top centre. All kinds of buzz has linked the St. Louis Blues to Pacioretty, with Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou being prospects the Canadiens would covet. As Elliotte Friedman suggested in his 31 Thoughts column one week ago, don’t discount a team like the Florida Panthers from taking a run at Pacioretty.
We’ve been told the Calgary Flames have inquired. The Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders have incentive, too. And don’t be shocked if the Winnipeg Jets take a serious look. The fact Pacioretty has no-trade protection in his contract makes a lot of different scenarios possible.
Andrew Shaw: Reports have surfaced that Bergevin has told rival GMs Shaw isn’t available, but it’s impossible to think he wouldn’t be compelled to move him if the right offer came along. Shaw’s under contract for four more years after this one at $3.9 million on the cap. If a playoff contender is looking for some experience—the Jets come to mind again—he’s got it. Shaw brings grit and clutch scoring, as he showed off en route to capturing two Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks. He’s just days away from returning from a lower-body injury that’s kept him out of Montreal’s lineup for the past 16 games.
Alex Galchenyuk: We can see you cringing, Canadiens fans. The odds are that Galchenyuk is staying put, but it would be irresponsible of us not to include him on this list. Bergevin was serious about trading Galchenyuk in the off-season, but wasn’t willing to do so without getting back an established young player of equal value. We know he’d listen. But, short of obtaining a top young defenceman or a top young centre in return, we don’t see Bergevin pulling the trigger. After all, Galchenyuk still has massive upside and is only making $4.9 million on the cap over each of the next two seasons after this one.
Jordie Benn: A bottom-pairing defenceman who’s out of his depth as a top-pairing guy in Montreal, but Benn could be very serviceable for a team that can put him in the right chair. With a cap-hit of $1.1 million through to the end of next season, he’d be a smart buy for any playoff team willing to sacrifice a middling pick.
The others: Defenceman David Schlemko is up for grabs, but with two more years on his contract at $2.1 million per season, it’s hard to imagine anyone is biting at the deadline. Fourth liners Jacob De La Rose and Daniel Carr are pending RFAs who could likely be had for middling picks. Both Logan Shaw and Byron Froese are fourth liners who would cost less than De La Rose or Carr. If there’s a taker for goaltender Antti Niemi, he’ll move. Depth defenceman Joe Morrow, anyone?
2018: 1st, 2nd (own), 2nd (CHI), 2nd (WSH), 3rd, 5th (own), 5th (EDM—turns into a 4th if goaltender Al Montoya plays three more games this season), 5th (LA—turns into a 4th if the Kings make the playoffs), 7th.
2019: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th.
One bold move the Canadiens could make:
Trade for Ottawa Senators centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau. You asked for bold, we’re thinking really outside the box on this one. Pageau is under contract for two more years at $3.1 million and would be a great fit on a Canadiens team he’s tortured almost every time he’s played against them. If it means losing one of the three second-round picks Montreal owns and dishing Carr or De La Rose to make it happen, it would be worth it—especially now that Plekanec brought another second-rounder back. We doubt this will happen, but considering the Canadiens have tons of cap space ($7.1 million this season and $15 million next season), it wouldn’t surprise us to see them get creative about acquiring roster players before 3:00 p.m. ET on Monday.
I think the Canadiens should not…:
Stand pat. That’s not to say Bergevin should take less than what he needs to obtain in selling off any of his assets; it’s just to say there’s opportunity in the air at a time when teams tend to overpay. And by our count, there are many teams who have reason to believe in their chances this season and many more who could dramatically increase their odds by picking up some of the pieces Montreal has to offer.