By Bob Trask – It was only two weeks ago when the Canadiens, under head coach Dominique Ducharme, were in one of the darkest places in team history. Lopsided losses were piling up, there was a lack of urgency in the level of play and the masses were calling for a complete reconstruction of the roster. Other than Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Alex Romanov it seemed everyone should be made available.
The return proposed in this hypothetical trades was underwhelming. The goal seemed to be to cut salary and shoot for high draft picks, a strategy pursued without much success in the past by division rivals Ottawa and Buffalo.
Kent Hughes mystified the crowd by saying he wouldn’t be giving away players who were struggling. He felt that value still existed, either to the Canadiens or to a team looking to acquire one of these players. You could sense the skepticism among the fan base and the media. Then he made two moves that indicated he was willing to think outside the box and that he was not afraid to be bold.
The hiring of Martin St-Louis as the new man behind the bench, he of no coaching experience, was the first move. It demonstrated that Hughes was not going to take a narrow view, but nor was he going to try to appease the masses by hiring a popular figure. He clearly sent a message that this was his team and that he was the man in charge.
The second move was the Toffoli trade. It was somewhat unexpected both in terms of timing and in terms of the player involved. Toffoli seemed like a guy you would want to build around – productive, popular with team mates and happy to be in Montreal. Some will question the value received in return but when you add it up he received a 1st round pick, a former 2nd round pick and a 5th round pick along with role player. It’s now up to the drafting and development team to make the trade work out.
However, the trade sent a message that, if a team comes with the right proposal, the Canadiens are open for business.
While Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton have been busy evaluating players and various trade proposals that may have been put before them, St-Louis has been busy trying to improve the on ice product.
His positive impact on the team may have shifted management’s think to some degree. The bounce back by by some players who had fallen into disfavour has been remarkable. Even without his number two center and number two left winger in the persons of Christian Dvorak and Jonathan Drouin, the team has been rejuvenated.
The result so far is that players who may have simply been salary cap dumps a mere two weeks ago now seem to have significantly higher value in the trade market, or to the Canadiens should they choose to hold on to them. Yes, it is still highly likely that there will be pre-deadline trades but now, the return garnered in any trades will be better than we expected two weeks ago.
While Ben Chiarot is on everyone’s trade list, the true direction the Canadiens will be taking probably starts and ends with a decision on Jeff Petry. For a variety of reasons, it was reported that Petry wanted out of Montreal. The problem was that his level of play combined with his $6.25 million contract made any move virtually impossible. The consensus of many was that his trade value might even be negative.
A lot of that changed with the arrival of the new head coach. His level of play, both offensively and defensively, would make him a welcome addition to almost any contender. But it is going to cost more today than it did two weeks ago.
Whether the Canadiens trade him or decide to keep him remains to be seen.
Among the players the Canadiens might be willing to trade, there seems to be two major categories: those on expiring contracts and those older veterans who are still valuable, but who may not fit with the timeline envisioned by Gorton and Hughes.
In the first category are Ben Chiarot, Brett Kulak and Artturi Lehkonen. The second category is headed up by Jeff Petry but also includes Brendan Gallagher, Mike Hoffman, Joel Armia and to a lesser extent, Paul Byron.
A third category might include those hard to define player like David Savard and Chris Wideman on defense as well as Dvorak at center along with marginal players who have seen sporadic ice time this year.
It is highly unlikely that all of these players will be traded but it isn’t unreasonable to expect that a couple of players from each of the first two categories will be moved before the trade deadline. The difference from two week ago is that the cost to acquire them is going to be higher.
As the Canadiens play more games, the playoff picture becomes clearer and the trade deadline approaches we will have a better idea of who will be traded and what the return could be. In the meantime we can all enjoy a more exciting brand of hockey in the second half of the season.