Canadiens Trade Deadline Preview: Hughes won’t be pressured into dropping prices

Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis discusses his team's discipline by sticking to their system regardless of the outcome of a game and is proud of how they stay on task and continue to steadily improve.

NASHVILLE — Here’s hoping there’s enough room on the table of the Montreal Canadiens’ war room for Kent Hughes’ feet, because no image better represents his position going into the NHL’s trade deadline than the one that has him reclining into his chair and kicking those puppies up in front of him as he waits for the phone to ring.

Not that Hughes is guaranteed to have a quiet, relaxing day. It’s just that he’s under no pressure to make it a loud and busy one. 

The Canadiens are once again sellers, but they’re not holding a single asset that absolutely must move between now and 3 p.m. ET on Friday. So, if that phone in front of Hughes doesn’t ring, no big deal.

If it does, and the person on the other end of it isn’t offering what it would take to pry someone off his list, he’ll hang up and wait until this summer.

Projected deadline day cap space: $5,654,167

Contracts: 46/50

Cap space committed to 2024-25: $67.38 million (committed to 22 players)

Draft picks

Image courtesy of CapFriendly

NEEDS

The Canadiens, who are in 26th place in the NHL as this article is being typed, obviously have a couple of major ones outside of just draft picks and prospects.

But they aren’t likely to be filled ahead of the deadline, unless there are teams out there willing to uncharacteristically decide this time — as opposed to during the summer — is the optimal one to redeem the best value on rising-star forwards who (for one reason or another) don’t fit with them anymore.

POTENTIAL TARGETS

We’re not looking at specific names here, because we’d just be throwing darts with a blindfold on when it comes to identifying established players the Canadiens would have interest in bringing back to bolster their future.

If the Canadiens just successfully sell, they’ll acquire draft picks and prospects.

They might also target opportunities to leverage their cap space and be third-party brokers.

ASSETS TO TRADE

Note: The Canadiens have one salary-retention slot left, so that will be a huge factor in who does/doesn’t get moved.

And, naturally, retaining salary on any player has its own price to it, so that’s reflected below.

David Savard

Hughes won’t give him away, but that doesn’t mean he won’t trade him. If one of the teams that missed out on Chris Tanev is willing to pay Hughes’ price (most likely a first-round pick, multiple picks, or a top prospect), he’ll sell. 

Whether or not one of them will depends on how much they value the heart and grit Savard plays with and how much they consider it a bonus he’s under contract for one more season at $3.5 million (with up to half of his salary being retained by the Canadiens and, as we’ve seen in other recent deals, perhaps a quarter of it going to another team).

But Hughes values the big, right-handed defenceman, values what he’s done for the Canadiens — and what he can continue to do for the Canadiens — and won’t drop his price for any reason.

Jake Allen/Cayden Primeau

If a team wanted the backup goaltender and was willing to take on his full contract, which counts for $3.85 million against the cap until the end of next season, it would cost no more than a fourth- or fifth-round pick. But if said team wanted Montreal to eat half his salary or take back a player who makes as much or more at a different position, the price would probably become a second-round pick.

And if there are any teams out there thinking Hughes would just accept anything to get Allen off the roster and finally end the three-goaltender rotation this season, they’re wrong. 

The GM should have no concern about waiting until summer to clear a body out of his crease, and he won’t have much concern about what happens from now until then either. 

The idea that Cayden Primeau’s development has been stunted, or that Allen staying beyond the deadline would continue to rob him of opportunity, is simply untrue. 

Sure, the Canadiens would’ve liked to have gotten the 24-year-old into more than 14 games so far this season. But they’ll have an opportunity to get him into at least six more from here to the end and if you had asked Primeau prior to the season if he’d have preferred making 20 appearances in the NHL or 55 in the AHL, he’d have not hesitated on taking the 20 in the world’s best league. 

Also, roughly 135 practices at this level and some quality one-on-one time with Canadiens goaltending coach Eric Raymond has been highly beneficial, and that’s been reflected in Primeau’s performance so far.

He’s boosted his stock with the Canadiens, but also on the market. 

Not that Hughes will be pushing Primeau out the door over the coming days, unless some team out there takes a massive swing at him, which is unexpected.

Again though, if no team plucks a goalie out of Montreal before the deadline, Hughes will still be able to move one this summer.

Tanner Pearson

He’s a Stanley Cup winner, a pro’s pro, a reliable bottom-six forward who plays the type of positionally-strong game Darryl Sutter demanded when they won together in Los Angeles, and Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis feels he’s been playing excellent hockey of late.

But Pearson is making too much money to move without retention.

His $3.25-million expiring contract probably keeps him in Montreal, unless the Canadiens don’t trade one of Savard or Allen and end up eating half of it. 

Even still, it’s hard to see that netting them more than a third-round pick for Pearson at half price.

Jake Evans

In case you’re not catching the theme, here’s another player who doesn’t move without retention or salary coming back.

Even if Evans only makes $1.7 million through the end of next season, that’s still a bit more than contenders want to pay to add an excellent fourth-line centre who can move up the lineup and play in different situations.

That said, there’s interest in the player. 

The Canadiens like him too, though, and would probably want a second-round pick back if they’re retaining salary or taking a contract in return.

Considering all that, the odds are reasonably low that Evans moves.

They’re just not non-existent.

Joel Armia

Any team watching him over the last three months would/should be compelled. Especially one desperate for a depth player who can reliably contribute in a middle-six role.

But they’ll weigh that against the last couple of years of underwhelming hockey Armia has played, and the $3.4-million cap hit he carries through the end of next season, and they’ll low-ball Hughes. And we don’t expect them to up the ante enough, even if Hughes offers to retain half of his salary, which is a prorated $4.8 million through the rest of this season and $3.8 million next season.

If a team does up the ante, then perhaps only then will Hughes consider it. That’s the only reason Armia’s name is here.

Johnathan Kovacevic

He’s a six-foot-five, right-handed defenceman making the league minimum through the end of next season, so you have to consider that teams might be interested.

Hughes could move him for the right price, but probably won’t if someone steps up and pays for Savard.

As for what that price is, it’s hard to pin down at this point. We just know that Logan Mailloux and David Reinbacher are coming for the Canadiens, so they could be enticed to move Kovacevic if Savard is sticking around.

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OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Jordan Harris

Don’t be surprised if Harris potentially moves from the Canadiens blue line to a retooling team like Calgary or Pittsburgh in exchange for a young forward. 

He’s a 23-year-old, solid defenceman who has already established a bottom-pairing floor and has potential to become more than that if coupled with the right player, but the Canadiens have enough players like him and need to plan for the imminent arrival of Lane Hutson. 

Moving Harris could be how they do it, even if it’s just for more draft capital in the end.

That contract paying him just $1.4 million through the end of next season won’t be an impediment, even with it taking him to possessing arbitration rights in his next negotiation as a restricted free agent.

The Canadiens acquire players who not only help now but, most importantly, help them in the future.

Yes, they’re sellers, and they certainly aren’t diving into the market right now aiming to add for this season and further damage their draft-lottery odds.

But the Canadiens won’t turn away from opportunities to advance their rebuild should they suddenly arise.

They typically don’t at this time of year, but that doesn’t mean they definitely won’t before the deadline hits.

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