Canadiens Trade Deadline Preview: Chiarot gone, Lehkonen next?

Canadiens GM Kent Hughes not ready to divulge their deadline strategy publicly, but does mention Jeff Petry's name as a guy that they will look to deal if they can and if the deal makes sense for his club.

Here we are, just four sleeps away from an NHL trade deadline that seemed so distant for so long, with many of the pieces still on the board and the chess masters readying their moves.

We’d suggest this is the first real test Montreal Canadiens executive vice president of hockey operations Geoff Gorton and general manager Kent Hughes are facing if they hadn’t already been tasked with taking over a last-place team. They acted swiftly on a coaching change they didn’t originally have any intention of making, and they’ve already made several transactions— plucking Rem Pitlick off waivers, pulling off a trade for Andrew Hammond, swinging another big one by moving Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames and waiving Cedric Paquette and Mathieu Perreault.

On Wednesday, the Canadiens traded defenceman Ben Chiarot to the Florida Panthers for a 2023 first-round pick, prospect Tyler Smilanic and a fourth-round pick in this coming draft. By all accounts, it was a whopping return for a player on an expiring contract.

As Hughes put it on Thursday morning, “We felt that was, without question, the best trade that we could do.”

He added that the Canadiens were, from the start of trade negotiations, targeting a 2023 first-rounder since they were already in possession of three picks likely to be made in the top 35 this coming summer.

As for targeting Smilanic, a 20-year-old, 6-foot-1 centre playing at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, Hughes had his reasons.

“I know him,” the GM said. “He played for the U.S. national development program, he was a year ahead of my son. I saw him play a lot. Also, my sons (at Northeastern University) played against him at Quinnipiac a couple of times this year, so I watched him.

“He’s a player with a lot of speed who’s capable of scoring. I said from the start we need to find players who can improve our speed, so he’s another player who helps us do that.”

There could be more on their way to Montreal between now and the end of the season. And the moves they make — no matter how many of them are coming — between now and Monday at 3 p.m. ET., will have a big impact on shaping the future roster.

We don’t have to guess the nature of them; they will be sales made with the intention of collecting draft picks and prospects.


Projected deadline cap space: $8.71 million

Cap space committed to 2022-23: $80.65 million


2022: 13 PICKS: MTL 1, CGY 1, MTL 2, MTL 3, ANA 3, CAR 3, MTL 4, TB 4, FLA 4, MTL 5, MTL 6, MTL 7, STL 7

2023: 9 PICKS: MTL 1, FLA 1, MTL 2, MTL 3, MTL 4, MTL 5, CGY 5, MTL 6, MTL 7


This is not to be mistaken with wants, because the Canadiens would like to clear out as much salary as possible and obtain as many future assets as they can.

They might need to move out players on expiring contracts, and they want to sell off some on longer-term deals if, and only if, their prices can be met.

Whether or not they can accomplish that second part ahead of the deadline is questionable.

Regardless, as Hughes told us in this interview last week and reiterated again on Thursday, this isn’t a fire sale. He and Gorton have no intention of just jettisoning anyone and everyone.

As for potentially making an acquisition or two, Hughes said that they might look to add players to a strong Laval Rocket team in the AHL, and he and Gorton have put a premium on scooping up players already in development for the organization.

“If somebody’s two years older, two years post-draft, you have more information on that player,” Hughes said in our interview. “It’s easier to predict what you’ll get out of a 20-year-old than an 18-year-old, easier to predict an 18-year-old than a 16-year-old.”

“That doesn’t mean we don’t want draft picks,” he continued. “We’re going to look at anything, including former picks who are already playing.”

They’re not going to want to acquire players on expiring contracts — or ones with term, unless they fit with the program they’re trying to build — but they probably will need to in order to move some of their players who are signed long-term.

You can say the same for retaining money on the salary cap.


Another first-round pick in 2022

Because we know the first-round pick they got from Carolina (as compensation for the offer sheet tendered to Jesperi Kotkaniemi) is going to Arizona to meet the conditions of the Christian Dvorak trade, this is something the Canadiens would like to acquire. Even if Hughes sought a 2023 first-rounder in the Chiarot trade, he won’t turn away from adding another one before Monday’s deadline.

A-B Prospects

It’s fair to say this is what the Canadiens covet most.

Go through the list of teams the Canadiens might do business with, and you can decipher which prospects they might have interest in acquiring. The contenders have good ones, but there are no guarantees they’ll be on offer.

Jack McBain

As our Elliotte Friedman reported, the Minnesota Wild are trying to trade the rights to McBain, who’s wrapping up his college season and is more inclined to sign elsewhere. We can confirm the Canadiens are very interested, but whether or not they move an asset to gain an edge on the market is to be determined.

The Wild have reportedly asked for a second-round pick in return for McBain’s rights. The 6-foot-4, 208-pound centre has 19 goals and 33 points in 24 games at Boston College in his senior year.


Artturi Lehkonen

A 26-year-old winger who can play either side, kill penalties, contribute on the power play and play on any line on any given night. The Canadiens would lock him up to a new deal if they weren’t jammed with expensive players in the middle of their lineup.

But considering Lehkonen is in the process of authoring a career year ahead of holding the arbitration hammer this summer in pursuit of his last contract as a restricted free agent, it probably makes more sense to trade him — especially if a first-round pick or a high-quality prospect can be obtained for his services.

Hughes told us he’s not trying to trade Lehkonen, but teams are going to be calling on this player and it’s highly likely at least one of them makes an offer he can’t refuse. That we're talking about a player with a track record for elevating his game come playoff time only makes it more likely.

Lehkonen’s on a prorated, $2.6-million contract from here to the end of the season. Meaning he’s a cheap add for the cap-strapped teams out there. And his value, as a player who is still under team control for one more season after this one, is undeniable.

Brett Kulak

Depth defencemen are always precious commodities for any playoff team, not just the contenders, so the market could be wide for Kulak, who’s a 28-year-old pending unrestricted free agent with a prorated $1.8-million salary.

Whether it generates the type of return that would make it worth it for the Canadiens to move him is the question. As they attempt to integrate more young players on the back end, keeping a veteran like Kulak around at reasonable pay on two-year deal could prove to be a more worthwhile investment than taking a fifth-round pick for him.

We suspect if the Canadiens can do better in trading him, they’ll make the move.

Jeff Petry

The 34-year-old has been better of late but has been working through a very disappointing season after putting up the three best years of his career.

With three years remaining on a contract that pays him $6.5 million per, the chances he moves ahead of the deadline are slim — especially when you factor in that Petry has a 15-team no-trade list.

Still, Petry is unquestionably available, as Hughes confirmed once again on Thursday.

But Petry is not available at just at any price. That the Canadiens don’t have much of anything coming up on the right side of their defence makes it unpalatable to trade him just to clear his salary.

But even if that was their intention, there aren’t many — if any — teams that can afford to take Petry’s contract on ahead of the deadline without asking the Canadiens to retain salary in all three remaining years and/or take back a player on a similarly onerous contract that perhaps expires sooner. And if that’s something they’re going to consider, it’s going to have to come with an asset that really sweetens the pot.

Other assets who might move: Andrew Hammond (G), Chris Wideman (RD), Mike Hoffman (LW/RW), Christian Dvorak (C), Joel Armia (LW/RW), Kale Clague (LD), Mathieu Perreault (C/LW), Cedric Paquette (C).

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