MONTREAL — You won’t find a general manager with more incentive to buy over the coming weeks than Montreal’s Marc Bergevin.
Even if that idea runs contrary to what the Canadiens have shown in achieving the NHL’s 23rd-best record since the middle of November, he’s come too far to throw in the towel now.
When Bergevin looks under the hood of this team, he should see that they have the assets and the depth to be significantly better than they’ve shown over the past month. They’ve fought through more injuries to key players than any other team in the league for two months and that was after securing a massive lead in the Atlantic Division with a 13-1-1 start to the season.
This is a team begging for a boost, in a year in which they must contend.
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, who’s struggled of late, is locked in for one more year after this one at $6.5 million on the cap. Captain Max Pacioretty, who’s on pace for a career high in goals and points, is making $4.5 million for two more seasons after this one. And with top centre Alex Galchenyuk and dynamic winger Alexander Radulov up for contract renewals, putting together a winner becomes that much more complicated from this point forward.
Bergevin took a big risk bringing Shea Weber into the fold in exchange for P.K. Subban. He took another one trading for and then signing Andrew Shaw for six years. He has a lot of the pieces in place. Adding a couple more could make all the difference.
A top-six forward is a must, while a puck-moving defenceman is a desire.
There’s a lot of talk about the Canadiens needing to upgrade at centre, but finding an elite one at the deadline is a costly proposition. It’s going to take some creativity for Bergevin to make that happen. If he can’t stomach the price, he could go shopping for a scoring winger to help the centres he currently has.
Either way, dealing for a forward could come at the cost of a defenceman off the roster, which would turn bringing one in from the outside into a must.
Forwards: Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Patrick Sharp, Martin Hanzal, Brian Boyle.
Defencemen: Kevin Shattenkirk, Johnny Oduya.
Pending Free Agents, age, salaries:
• Alexander Radulov, 30, $5.75 million
• David Desharnais, 30, $3.5 million
• Brian Flynn, 28, $950,000
• Andrei Markov, 38, $5.75 million
• Alex Galchenyuk, 23, $2.8 million
• Sven Andrighetto, 23, $650, 000
• Nathan Beaulieu, 24, $1 million
• Nikita Nesterov, 23, $725, 000
Potential assets to move:
From the roster:
Nathan Beaulieu. Not because the Canadiens would want to, but you have to give in order to receive. He’s a developed asset who skates and moves the puck very well and still has upside. He’s also arbitration eligible this summer and owed a significant raise.
David Desharnais. A throw-in who’s on an expiring contract. Even if it means retaining some money in the deal, he has no place on the current Canadiens roster and serves little purpose as insurance at this stage.
Off the farm:
Goaltender Charlie Lindgren. The 23-year-old is a pending RFA who’s well on his way to an NHL future. Not a piece the Canadiens would like to lose but one that could help attract a big fish as part of a package.
Goaltender Michael McNiven. A standout 19-year-old prospect currently playing with the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL. Another piece the Canadiens would rather hold but one that could prove attractive to other teams.
Defenceman Noah Juulsen. The 26th overall pick in 2015 is a piece you dangle if you don’t want to lose a defenceman off the current roster to improve at forward.
Forward Nikita Scherbak. The 26th overall pick in 2014 is a skilled forward still in need of some seasoning. Montreal needs a skilled forward now.
2017: 1st, 2nd (own), 2nd (WSH)
2018: 1st, 2nd (own), 2nd (own), 2nd (CHI), 2nd (WSH)
One bold move the team could make:
Trade Alex Galchenyuk and a defensive/goaltending prospect to Colorado for centre Matt Duchene. Trading the 23-year-old Galchenyuk for 26-year-old Duchene would be a considerable sacrifice, but one that could pay immediate dividends.
They don’t call it a “bold move” for no reason.
For as unlikely as it is that the Canadiens go down this road, it’s a possibility for them to consider—especially if they can’t maximize Galchenyuk’s potential without putting him on a line with Radulov and Max Pacioretty.
Duchene plays all three forward positions, has the same scoring potential and is one of the best faceoff men in the NHL at 61.3 per cent efficiency. He’s a piece that gives the Canadiens better versatility now and one that adds value over the next two seasons at a $6 million cap hit.
The Canadiens shouldn’t….
Trade stud defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev, no matter what he fetches. The ninth overall pick in the 2016 Draft is a keeper on a team that’s lacking high-end talent at the position in the system. With 38-year-old Markov on an expiring contract, there could be a hole to fill on the Montreal blue line as early as next season.