By JAG – Three years ago, at about this time of year, in a quaint little NHL town, the GM of a team in need of a rebuild made a faithful decision. He was already set with good upcoming draft picks, the team’s core was clearly defined and, seemingly, all he had to do was sit, wait and watch the budding young players develop into stars. Maybe there would be growing pains for a few ho-hum seasons, they would bring suffering but also more good picks. Possibly a few trades and signings would be needed and, eventually, in time, with a bit of luck, he would have himself a playoff team. That’s the recipe, isn’t it?
But what was that faithful decision, you ask? Did he sit and wait, or did he do something rash? Well, he didn’t sit, not at all, not even close! That GM broke the mold and took a swing for the fences, he decided to go out and get his city one of the best, most sought after, expensive but totally worth it prime time player money can buy!
And if you wonder how one gets a high-profile UFA bent on winning to sign for a losing team, join the club! It is simply not done; it goes against all accepted wisdom but that man made it happened. By all accounts, with the results we see today, it should be called the ‘’Miracle off ice’’!
Almost ‘’Ground hog day’’
You might not have been fooled by my little deception and have already figured out that the quaint little city was New York city, the GM was Jeff Gorton, and the player was Artemi Panarin. That signing at the time was impressive and it is even more so now. Three years later, Artemi Panarin is the motor and the heart of the Rangers, and they are a prime contender for the cup, not bad for a rookie GM! And so much for the time-honoured recipe.
Jeff Gorton is now a rookie VP with the Habs. Already, he has broken the mold with his new hired GM, ex -players’ agent Kent Hughes and surprised the hockey world with appointing Martin St-Louis as the new, soon to be ex-interim, newly confirmed coach (hopefully)!
He has already declared that trades and UFA signings would be as important to the rebuild as the draft and subsequent players’ development. He has already defined, in concert with Mr. Hughes, the doctrine for the Habs’ organization. And even though he has shied away from revealing the strategies and tactics they will use to deploy said doctrine, it is clear that these are being plied as we speak.
Soooo …. if history repeat itself, and I’m hoping that it will. Habs fans had better buckle up because I do believe that Gorton and Hughes may have a big game hunting expedition in the planning! Let’s be clear, to qualify for a Panarin like move, a forward has to drive offense at point a game clip or has the ceiling to get there and a D-man has to drive offense at least at half a point a game. It is preferable if they just reach free agency and are less than 28 years old to support a peak window in sync with the young players already on-board.
The pursuit of UFAs as the Montreal Canadiens in 2022
If you have paid any attention to the UFA signings of the Bergevin regime, you’ve learned two things. The first one is that Montreal was not a very attractive destination for UFAs for a long time and second, signing UFAs can be a very tricky business. From the Bergevin regime, only three good ones come to my mind: Radulov, Edmundson and Toffoli. The rest is a list of mitigated outcomes from decisions based on the language of a player, long gone heroic deeds or plain poor evaluation of his fit to the team. From Daniel Brière to Karl Alzner, the list is long in names and definitely short on results.
With that in mind, it seems to me that if management was to sign one quality UFA in the light of the season we just had, maybe not a Panarin like move but say someone in the range of a Tyler Toffoli or a Joel Edmundson, it would be quite an accomplishment. Getting any UFA to come to Montreal with the grim prospect of a next season being a mere repeat of this last one will be a bigger challenge to the Hughes/Gorton team than trading for a quality player. This leads me to believe that in order to bring a high-level UFA to Montreal, they would have to show their resolve in turning things around fast by signing a center with a solid offensive resume.
As a last thought on the UFA market, there are certainly a few quality players that will be available and the Habs should pursue them as needed but it seems that the swing for the fences will have to occur on the trade side.
Quid pro quo and the trade market
As I was writing this piece, the Habs won the draft lottery…. and it changed everything! If I was of two minds before on trading the Habs’ first pick, let me tell you that now, I know exactly what I would do! Before any decisions on who I should pick first was made, I would make phone calls and inquire about players availabilities. Big name players, impactful players, players that will cost a lot!
Montreal has picks galore, high profile prospects and seasoned veterans with character and, to boot, if you need cap relief through LTIR, we can provide that too. There are teams out of the playoffs – or soon to be out – that will have a lot of soul searching to do and serious cap decisions to ponder. Some of these teams have signed players and RFAs that are serious candidates for the second, or first center the Habs are desperate for.
What would you give if a Pierre-Luc Dubois or a Leon Draisaitl became available? Or better…. what wouldn’t you give to get either of them?
Any one of them would be a much better acquisition than a first overall pick, even if extra incentives were required! Staying away from the trade/don’t trade Shane Wright debate, I really think that the first pick overall is the cornerstone of such a deal. It has nothing to do with Shane Wright’s bright future, it has everything to do with the Habs getting an impact player, a real one, now!
I also think it is small minded to talk about a Lafreniere-Wright straight-up trade. The same goes for a trade of the first overall pick for 2 other first rounders. It makes for good reading but in the end, I think it misses the mark. It is not about the value of the first overall pick, it is about holding a full hand and playing it to its potential. It’s about going for the fences!
Quid pro quo; Something for something. What a lesson! If you want something of value, you have to pay the price. You can’t get a big Quid if you don’t give a big Quo!
The baseline for the value in such a trade can be established by the top value in an offer sheet. By that yardstick, PLD would fetch 4 number one draft picks if he signed an offer sheet. Leon Draisaitl is worth more than that. Knowing that both Edmonton and Winnipeg have cap issues, that both have holes in their draft picks, and both have a rather depleted prospect pool, compound that with issues on defense, I think a hockey trade is feasible.
Edmonton gets the first overall pick in 2022, the second pick in 2022 that was traded to the Habs, Christian Dvorak, Rem Pitlick, Corey Schueneman, Logan Mailloux and mid-rounds third and a fourth pick. I would loath it but if push came to shove, I’d replace Mailloux and Pitlick by Joel Edmundson in a heartbeat to get Draisaitl. I would only stop at giving away a 2023 first round pick.
Call me crazy if you wish but hey, it’s Leon! Think of this, if Leon was to be redrafted this year, he would go before Shane Wright, no questions asked! And if he was eligible for an offer sheet, there would be a pile of offer sheets on his desk and he still would be a steal at a cost of 4 first rounders!
If successful, I would announce the trade on the floor of the Bell Center on draft night and give fans, haters, journalists and bloggers a field day and memories for years to come!
Edmonton gets NHL ready players, salary control, cap relief and 4 additional picks in 2022 including the first overall, real value to say the least. If I am the Edmonton GM, I can meet the press with this type of result and know that I made a fair deal that will benefit my team for years to come.
That’s a big Quid …. For a Big Quo!
And if I am the Habs GM, my team has acquired an elite player. The money nearly works and the Habs have a serious one-two punch at center…. And they become much more attractive for UFAs.
Sooo …. What’s your big move, would you swing for the fences?