As Canadiens approach draft day, trade market for forward help remains cool

Marc Bergevin talks about trying to improve the Montreal Canadiens in the offseason and the work of assistant GM Trevor Timmins.

It was a perfect analogy, really.

Trevor Timmins, assistant general manager and lead amateur scout of the Montreal Canadiens, referred to the first round of the NHL Draft as “Christmas Day come tomorrow.”

Think about how long he’s waited for Tuesday’s event. From June to June would feel like an eternity, but tack on 103 more days and it might feel like Santa’s never coming.

And now that “Christmas Day” is but one sleep away, try to imagine how Timmins would feel about waking up, rushing down the stairs and seeing there’s no gift waiting for him under the tree.

We had to ask.

“Had a feeling you might…” responded Timmins, during Monday’s 30-minute media session via Zoom. “We want what’s best for the organization, and we trust in our general manager, Marc Bergevin. If he needs to move that [16th overall] pick to help make us better, to win sooner than later, then all hands on board, we’re all for it.”

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It might even be a preference, given that the Canadiens’ prospect pool is nearly overflowing and that there’s no particular need — according to Timmins — they must address through this year’s draft.

Still, when Bergevin was asked (roughly 15 minutes after Timmins’s availability) if there’s been much outside interest in Montreal’s first-round pick, he made it clear Timmins should most likely be prepared to unwrap something on Tuesday.

“Pretty quiet, to be honest with you. Nothing… Very quiet, actually. More than [expected]…” he said. “To sit here today and tell you that there’s something that’s going on I would be lying.”

Bergevin sounded disappointed.

He’s staring at one of the best opportunities he’s had in eight years to make a drastic improvement to the Canadiens and the market realities brought on by COVID-19 could very well obstruct that.

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Granted, he said on Tuesday that he’s already improved the Canadiens since their season ended, and we’d agree with his assessment. The early-September addition of Jake Allen, who’s signed for just one more season, promises to give this team arguably the best goaltending tandem in the NHL. Bringing in Joel Edmundson, who signed a four-year, $14-million contract on Sept. 16, helped solidify a defence corps Bergevin accurately referred to as “big” and “mobile.”

But we know he’d agree with us that this team needs considerable help up front in order to earn status as Stanley Cup Playoffs lock, and he seemed less than excited about what might be available to him in that department.

“A lot of teams are trying to move money. And the money they’re trying to move? Obviously, it hasn’t happened much so far,” Bergevin said about a relatively locked up trade market.

“That means that it’s hard to move money,” he continued. “So when it’s hard to move money, that means there’s no money in the system. And usually the money they like to move, so far I’ve heard it’s nothing that really… They’re good players, but will they make a difference when you have your own players that you have to re-sign this year or moving forward? I think everybody’s very, very careful about how money’s being spent right now, and I see that because of the flat cap and with COVID and where it’s heading the next few years.”

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With the upper limit of the salary cap to be fixed at $81.5 million for this coming season and next — and possibly beyond — Bergevin appeared to be talking about his own reticence just as much as he was referring to that of his competition’s.

He has just over $10 million to spend under the 2020-21 cap, but needs to sign restricted free agents Max Domi, Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen, Charles Hudon and Xavier Ouellet. Money frees up next off-season, but that’s when key forwards Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Joel Armia are scheduled for unrestricted free agency — and surely he’d like to retain at least two of those players.

Bergevin will also have to get to work on a second contract for Jesperi Kotkaniemi in 2021, and one for Nick Suzuki will cost a pretty penny come 2022.

So the possibility of trading the 16th overall pick for, say New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri — who’s 29 and under contract for just one more season — doesn’t seem so appealing to the Montreal GM. Even if he fits the exact profile of what the Canadiens need—an aggressive, hard-nosed forward who’s scored at least 24 goals in each of the last five seasons.

“But a player who can help us for many years and can make a difference [immediately], I’m obviously going to look at that closely,” Bergevin said.

Maybe the market unblocks and such a player becomes available in short order, but Bergevin conceded it’s more likely right now that the 16th overall pick is used to add a player through the draft.

It’s not the worst scenario, considering what Timmins and his staff have done to mitigate not being able to see this draft class compete in playoff games back in the spring.

“We interviewed over 200 draft prospects this year and re-interviewed some of them as well,” he said. “We’ve worked really hard and got a lot more hours put in because of the extra time. We worked right through the summer, every week, and gathered a lot more information than in the past, just because time permitted. We got fresh information over the last couple of months, and we’re excited as a scouting staff. We work together as a team, and you know it’s going to be a full-team effort here over the next couple of days, and we’re excited to make our picks.”

The Canadiens have 11 of them, including eight in the first four rounds.

If a trade doesn’t materialize before Tuesday’s pick, perhaps one will at some point on Wednesday.

“In an ideal world, there’s still some things we want to improve,” Bergevin said. “We’re not done. If you look right now, we still don’t have enough players. We need more, especially up front, in order to have 14-15 players. So there’s some depth that needs to be added. But I really like our goaltending with Carey [Price] and Jake, I think, as I mentioned before, with some size, some range and some toughness, I like our defence. So if we can get better up front, I’m definitely going to look closely at that. That’s why I mentioned my first-round pick is available, if that opportunity arises.”


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