Canadiens trade deadline preview: Expect Bergevin to be active

In the first edition of Trade Deadline Matchmaker, Mike Futa and Kris Versteeg each pick a player they believe would be the ‘perfect match’ for all four ‘buyers’ in the Canadian North division ahead of the trade deadline.

MONTREAL — Just a couple more sleeps before Marc Bergevin says he’s done and we can finally believe him.

The NHL’s trade deadline is upon us on Monday, and with the sudden flexibility to add depth to the Canadiens without subtracting from the roster — on defence seems like the strongest possibility — we expect the Montreal Canadiens’ general manager to be active. As for his incentive to continue adding to a team that’s been more Jekyll and Hyde than he expected before the year started, it still has to be reasonably high.

The Canadiens spent over $100 million during the off-season, Bergevin said he checked four key boxes on his needs list with the acquisitions of Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson, Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli, and that was before he brought in Corey Perry. He made coaching changes a quarter of the way through the season because his expectations were still very high and the team wasn’t meeting them.

And after they rebounded and Bergevin said he liked his team and wouldn’t do anything else barring a money-in, money-out deal, which he said was likely too complicated to achieve, he moved a third- and a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft (and no money) to the Buffalo Sabres for Eric Staal at half price.

The Canadiens are firmly in a playoff spot with games in hand on everyone above and below them in the standings, with the exception of the Vancouver Canucks, who are eight points back and facing much uncertainty after a COVID-19 outbreak has affected almost every member of their team. So, given all that, and Bergevin no longer having his hands tied by the salary cap, we don’t see him stopping now.

Brendan Gallagher’s $3.75-million salary has been moved to the long-term injured reserve list since it was announced he’ll miss at least six weeks — the remainder of the regular season — with a fractured right thumb. As a result, the Canadiens can exceed the cap by as much. And even if that means Bergevin doesn’t necessarily have to trade a player off his roster to obtain a depth defenceman, he might choose to move one for other reasons.

We’re not expecting any more declarations from the GM about being done, at least not until the deadline passes and he can no longer tweak his roster.

RFAs

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, 20, $925,000

Artturi Lehkonen, 25, $2.4 million

Victor Mete, 22, $735,000

Ryan Poehling, 22, $925,000

Cale Fleury, 22, $771,666

Otto Leskinen, 24, $925,000

Gustav Olofsson, 25, $750,000

UFAs

Tomas Tatar, 30, $4.8 million

Phillip Danault, 28, $3.08 million

Joel Armia, 27, $2.6 million

Corey Perry, 35, $750,000

Michael Frolik, 33, $750,000

Xavier Ouellet, 27, $737,500

Charlie Lindgren, 27, $750,000

Jordan Weal, 28, $1.4 million

Lukas Vejdemo, 25, $700,000

Vasili Demchenko, 26, $792,500

Draft picks

2021: 1st, 2nd, 2nd (TBL), 3rd (CHI), 3rd (WSH), 4th, 4th (STL), 4th (VGK), 5th (PHI), 6th, 7th

2022: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 7th (STL)

Financial situation

Current cap space: $1.45M

Projected deadline cap space: $1.61M + $3.75M in LTIR relief

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Needs

Need 1: A puck-moving defenceman/third-pairing defenceman on the right

Need 2: Left wing

You know who makes the same exact amount of money as Gallagher and fills the most pressing need the Canadiens have? Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm.

He’s a big, physical, mobile and efficient puck-mover who can play top minutes and would qualify as the ideal partner for Shea Weber. The problem is the Predators have gone from likely seller to potential buyer with wins in 11 of their last 13 games, so it’s highly improbable Ekholm gets traded. And outside of Ekholm, no one else on the market fits that description.

But the Canadiens do have a need for some depth on the right side. They’ve played four players on the right of their third pairing — Alex Romanov, Brett Kulak, Victor Mete and Xavier Ouellet — and none of them are right-side defencemen. Neither is Otto Leskinen, who will step in for Mete on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets.

Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme has said it’s a preference to keep Romanov on the left, and no one else has looked as comfortable on the right. So, would Columbus Blue Jackets veteran David Savard make sense? Would Anaheim’s Josh Manson, who has one more season after this one at $4.1 million, be a possibility?

If the Dallas Stars fall farther out of the race after their two games this weekend, could Jamie Oleksiak — a big, experienced left-hander who’s comfortable on the right side — be of interest?

Still, we don’t expect Bergevin to overpay to fill this hole. He’s got left-side denfenceman Ben Chiarot nearing a return from a fracture in his right hand and Joel Edmundson is capable of bolstering the right side if the Canadiens wish to use him there.

But if Bergevin can get a deal done on defence that qualifies as a bargain he can live with, even one that eats up the remainder of his space and dips into the majority of that LTIR relief, it wouldn’t surprise us to see him tweak something at left wing.

That’s a move that could involve trading one or two players out, but Bergevin has that option at his disposal and we’re not eliminating the possibility he might exercise it.

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Potential Assets to Move

Asset 1: Paul Byron, 31, $3.4 million through 2023

Asset 2: Artturi Lehkonen, 25, $2.4 million through the end of this season

Asset 3: Joel Armia, 27, $2.6 million through the end of this season

Asset 4: Victor Mete, 22, $735,000

Asset 5: Any and all draft picks

Asset 6: Any prospect not named Cole Caufield

Byron and Lehkonen, who have both been pulled out of the lineup at points this season, are players who could be used to create cap or roster space. Byron would obviously be more difficult to move given the length of his contract, but Lehkonen would be attractive for any team.

Even if the Finn doesn’t produce much, he’s such a reliable player. And he holds his value well as a player who’s not in line for a big pay bump and one who still remains a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

Armia is a good depth option for the Canadiens, but he could also be used to clear some room. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent who probably has a better claim to a roster spot elsewhere, even with Gallagher sidelined for the rest of the season.

Even if Mete’s not being trusted to do the job right now, it doesn’t mean the Canadiens would just give him up for the sake of it. He could move as part of a deal to clear space, but he could also stay to provide insurance in case of injury.

The Canadiens won’t move Hobey Baker winner Cole Caufield. In fact, the prolific scorer, who debuted with two goals and an assist for the Laval Rocket Friday, likely represents the most valuable addition the team can make between now and the end of the season.

But Bergevin could trade any other prospect without significantly weakening the depth pool. Ryan Poehling, Jesse Ylonen, Lukas Vejdemo, Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Mattias Norlinder are just some of the names they could consider if there’s a player available truly worth an asset like this.

With Ekholm likely staying put, it’s hard to pin one down.

Seattle Expansion Considerations

None.

Goaltender Jake Allen remains the most likely player Seattle would be interested in.

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