Canadiens Mailbag: How realistic is a Carey Price trade before the deadline?

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price stands in the crease during the second period of Game 2 of the team's NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. (AP/file)

New year, fresh mailbag. Let’s start 2022 by digging into these excellent questions.

Happy new year, Brian!

You’ve asked the biggest whopper of them all, so might as well chomp into it with a massive bite.

In his current situation — having not played all season, coming off knee surgery and a stint in the NHL/NHLPA’s player assistance program — I can’t see Carey Price getting traded ahead of the trade deadline.

But if Price’s situation changes between now and then and he comes back and gets some games under his belt and looks like the Price we last saw, teams will certainly be interested in acquiring his services.

With a full no-movement clause in his contract, Price won’t go anywhere unless he wants to. And there’s no question a conversation between him and Jeff Gorton about his future, and that of the Canadiens, is pending if it hasn’t already happened.

At 34 years old, it’s unimaginable Price will be willing to sit through what could be a five-year rebuild before he gets another chance at the Stanley Cup.

But there’s no guarantee Gorton is taking the Canadiens down that path, so that’s what the initial conversation is for.

Another one could be pending if Price gets games in and shows well, because I can see the Colorado Avalanche calling on his services.

I can also see the Oilers doing so, if they can afford to wait.

The big question is: How can either of these teams and Montreal make it work?

Given their cap situations, both would likely need the Canadiens to eat up to 50 per cent of Price’s contract, which has four years left after this one and counts for $10.5 million per against the cap. Both teams would also likely need the Canadiens to take a salaried player back as part of the package.

If you’re Gorton, and you’re willing to do that, the rest of that package needs to be more considerable than both teams are probably willing to offer. You don’t want your first move running this team to be trading the franchise goaltender for a just decent return while absorbing half his contract and taking on someone else’s.

You’re also not under the gun to move Price ahead of March 21.

If neither the Avalanche or the Oilers, or any dark horse suitor, is willing to give Gorton a deal he’d consider much better than decent, he can wait until one or the other has once again missed their chance to win the Cup because goaltending once again failed them. Then he can revisit the conversation in the off-season.

And, to reiterate, all of that is still contingent on what Price wants. He’s the one who decides if he moves, and he also gets to decide where he moves if he wants to move.

Hi, Karine!

I think the Canadiens have four untouchables: Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Alexander Romanov and Kaiden Guhle.

I’m sure they have other players they’re not necessarily looking to move, but they have to be listening to offers on virtually everyone else.

I think many of their veteran players can prove valuable to ushering in a new core, but you’re not “building” around any of them.

In today’s NHL, teams are built around the young, up-and-coming players like the ones mentioned above as “untouchable.”

Thanks for the question, Michael!

There has been a lot to like, not the least of which is that they actually got a chance to play in the NHL this season.

For someone like Ryan Poehling, that was expected. Lukas Vejdemo and Jesse Ylonen were probably penciled in for at least a few games, too.

But the injury situation, coupled with the COVID outbreak, opened a door that was previously slammed shut for Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Cam Hillis and Corey Schueneman to make their NHL debuts this season.

I think the Canadiens have benefited from seeing all three — especially Gorton, who had a lot to learn about the players in the system upon taking over hockey operations at the end of November.

I don’t know that Gorton’s made the same evaluation as I have, but I see some players in this mix who figure to turn into reliable NHLers.

Working backward, Schueneman was able to confirm what a scout had told me a year ago — that he’s a good skater, a physical presence and a solid puck mover.

The sample of his NHL work, like the rest of the players mentioned above, was very short. But it also revealed that the more responsibility Schueneman took on, the better he showed.

I see an NHL-ready depth option who could prove to be more than that if he gets more opportunity when the season resumes.

I think Harvey-Pinard is going to be more than just a depth option down the line. My opinion of him has been the same since the day he was drafted — that he won’t be denied an opportunity to eventually graduate to this level and become a mainstay.

It may take a year or two more for Harvey-Pinard to do it. But with his work ethic, his willingness to pay the price, and his unheralded offensive talent, I’m not betting against him.

I don’t think many people in the organization are, either.

Hillis has a longer road to travel to be viewed the same way. He showed good things in his first NHL game. It was pretty incredible to see him go from playing in the ECHL to winning faceoffs against reigning Selke Trophy winner Aleksander Barkov. Now, the hope would be that this singular experience was richer than any other he’s had to this point and that it pushes him further along in his development.

Getting back to Vejdemo, I see a player who’s ready to play at this level right now. He’s dynamic at both ends, versatile enough to play both centre and wing in multiple situations, and as Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme mentioned more than once, he’s mature enough to be tapping into his strengths in order to show well.

Lastly, since you asked about Poehling, I think the 23-year-old has taken a big step forward from last season to this season, despite inconsistency on the recent road trip. His skating is up a level. His decision making, too. And so long as he continues to progress, I can see him turning into a reliable third-line centre.

If Poehling ends up running a new-school fourth line — a trio capable of wearing down the opposition with speed, offensive-zone presence and finish — on what figures to be a better team in a year or two, I wouldn’t see that as a failure.

Thanks for the question, Marvin!

The caveat included in it obviously extends beyond Mailloux’s on-ice performance in his first games with the London Knights. Signing him to an entry-level contract will also largely depend on his ability to follow through on the objectives the Canadiens have set for him to prove he’s worthy of the chance they’ve taken on him.

I wish I had concrete news to share on what specifically is expected of Mailloux. I know he’s been in therapy, has been taking additional classes on respect and consent and that there’s more planned for him to prove up his character, but am waiting for the Canadiens to more clearly define what he’ll need to do.

What’s clear is that Mailloux, under the supervision of the Hunters in London, did enough to have the OHL lift his suspension on Jan. 1. And I would think, if he meets whatever criteria the Canadiens have set and performs well in junior, that he’ll eventually sign his entry-level contract with the team.

No one can undo what Mailloux did in Sweden. And the Canadiens can’t undo drafting him, embarrassing themselves and offending everyone.

But all parties need to make the best of this. If they can, cutting bait at this point wouldn’t make much sense.

Still, there’s no rush on that process.

Thanks for the question, Chris!

You weren’t the only one to submit it, but I chose yours because you’re right — this is a lingering question only Jordan Harris knows the answer to.

Because that’s the case, I can only give you my opinion based on what I know.

I had been told last spring that Harris wasn’t going to sign with Montreal upon completion of his degree and final season at Northeastern.

But a lot has changed since then. Looming opportunity on the Canadiens’ blue line is much bigger than it was a year ago, when he elected to return to school for his senior year, and it’s only likely to grow between now and when he makes his decision. The Canadiens’ front office has also changed considerably, and it’s going to continue to change.

What hasn’t changed is that Harris can sign wherever he wants this summer, and there will be many other teams that can offer him similar opportunity to the one waiting for him in Montreal.

Perhaps the Boston Bruins have fewer openings than some of those teams, but I was told the pull toward his hometown team is quite appealing to Harris.

Here’s the thing, I haven’t been told anything by Harris himself and this is his decision. So, you’re right, the huge question remains.

Happy new year, Allie!

In short, yes.

To expand, while leadership is hard to quantify, there’s no question Gallagher brings a lot of it to the table. It’s obvious to see just watching him play, but, given that the organization might be heading toward a reset or rebuild, management should also note that every prospect that’s come through the system since Gallagher debuted in 2013 has said they want to be just like him.

Those aren’t qualities you turn away from just to get a contract off the books.

But Gallagher would be the first to admit he needs to score more goals and accumulate more points than he has this season to justify hanging on to him and that big contract if a reasonable trade offer comes across Gorton’s desk.

One thing is certain, I think Gallagher will have a say in whether or not he sticks around or is traded. Submitting a six-team no-trade list and owning a no-movement clause guarantees that.

Thanks for the questions, Lori!

The first one would be much harder to answer if the Canadiens weren’t already paying so much for third- and fourth-line players. Unless no one is willing to offer fair value for Artturi Lehkonen, hanging on to him makes little sense.

It’s a shame for the Canadiens because they drafted and developed him. And in spite of the limited offence he provides, Lehkonen does everything the right way: he’s the team’s best forechecker, arguably its best backchecker, and he plays every shift like it’s his last.

But knowing that, I don’t think it’ll be hard for the Canadiens to obtain fair market value trading Lehkonen. A lot of teams should be interested, and for multiple reasons.

In addition to the way he plays, he makes only $2.3 million, which, by the deadline, equates to a very digestible cap hit. He’s also a restricted free agent when his deal expires, leaving him under team control for one more year. So, a reasonable bump in pay over a longer deal isn’t likely to cripple the team that acquires him, assuming that team hasn’t spent as much on players like him as the Canadiens have.

I can also say that there’s at least one rival executive I’ve talked to who has always thought Lehkonen would eventually have a bizarro season where everything he shoots goes in the net, and that executive might be excited about the idea that it’s still ahead.

Ironically, I think a lot of Montreal fans have envisioned the same, knowing Lehkonen always gets himself to places goals are scored from and actually has a very good shot.

I’m not holding my breath on the Finn pulling off what William Karlsson did in his first year with the Vegas Golden Knights, but I don’t think rival GMs need to feel he’s going to do that to give up at least a second-round pick for him. I think most GMs do believe there’s some untapped offensive potential there.

Could Gorton get more — and when I say more, I mean an additional fourth- or fifth-round pick—than a second for Lehkonen? I think that might be difficult, but not impossible.


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