A Peek at the Canadiens’ Future

By Bob Trask – From the day Jeff Gorton was hired to oversee the hockey operations of the Montreal Canadiens, the mantra has been that the Canadiens were building for the future. This season, some of that future is already contributing. Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach are the Canadiens top 3 point producers. On defense four young defensemen in the persons of Kaiden Guhle, Arber Xhekaj, Jordan Harris and Jonathan Kovacevic have, for the most part, outplayed their veteran teammates on the blueline.

This group of seven players form an important part of the team but the Canadiens are far from a finished product. No one knows what the finished product will look like and even general manager Kent Hughes can’t predict what he might be offered in any trade proposal either before the deadline or in the off season. But we can make some guesses.

Expiring Contracts

Jonathan Drouin

Jonathan Drouin, Evgenii Dadonov and Paul Byron are all on expiring contracts.and would seem to have zero value in a deadline trade. It also seems unlikely that any of this group will receive a contract offer from Montreal in the off-season. Drouin might rate a pro tryout but I can’t see it being much more than that.

Sean Monahan is also on an expiring contract but his situation is completely different. If he can stay healthy and continue to contribute as he has been, he will either sign a multi-year contract extension with the Habs or be traded to a contender. Kent Hughes will not lose this asset for nothing in return.

Verdict: At best, Montreal will retain only one of these players and that player would be Monahan. I would put the current odds of him remaining with the team at about 30% – and that number is just my own personal stab in the dark. In my opinion, it’s the biggest question mark on the team roster at the moment.

Trade Candidates – High Probability

In order to fit into this category, the player must still be considered a reasonable asset for other teams to target and must clearly not fit into the longer term plans of the team. Two players, Mike Hoffman and Joel Edmundson, fit this profile. When you add in the fact that both play positions where the organization has a fair amount of depth, they become obvious candidates to be put on the trading block.

What makes both Hoffman and Edmundson less attractive as deadline acquisitions is that they both have term remaining on their contracts after this season. In the past, Hughes has expressed his reluctance to retain salary for anything more than the remainder of the current season but given that it would be for only one year, it wouldn’t have a long term impact on the team’s salary structure. In taking that approach, if a trade was made, it could make salary retention more palatable if the Canadiens were able to improve the return received for the player traded.

Verdict: My expectation is that both players will be traded before the trade deadline and the return received could depend on whether Hughes is comfortable with salary retention. The return will be an early round pick (not necessarily a 1st rounder) and/or a prospect who is knocking on the door of his current NHL team.

Trade Candidates – Moderate Probability

In order to fit into this category, the player must be considered an important asset to the Canadiens but who could be pried away with an exceptional offer. Names that frequently pop up are Josh Anderson and Christian Dvorak. Both are young enough to be important pieces when the Canadiens might be ready to contend. Anderson’s power forward game and Dvorak’s proficiency in the face-off circle are attributes every playoff team is looking for. Teams that feel they are only a player away from being a strong contender may be willing to overpay – and that is exactly what would have to happen before either of these players were moved.

Verdict: Dvorak’s future with the Canadiens may depend to some extent on Monahan’s future with the team but in the end, I expect both him and Anderson to return to the Canadiens for another year.

Trade Candidates – Low Probability

David Savard

This group excludes all of the young core mentioned earlier. But also, it includes David Savard who, as a right-handed defenseman, is a rare commodity in the NHL and in the Canadiens organization.

Two other players in this group are Joel Armia and Brendan Gallagher. Neither have contracts that are reflective of their production and the Canadiens will simply have to live through that situation. With the Canadiens likely shedding a lot of salary before next season and the salary cap beginning to rise again, the situation surrounding these two players is not as dire as it seems at first glance.

Verdict: I expect both players to be back with the Canadiens who probably hope that Armia rebounds in the last half of the year and has a strong start to next season. It is at that point where he might garner a modest return in a trade. Gallagher is likely with the Canadiens for the foreseeable future. The combination of his cap hit and the term remaining on his contract make him an unattractive acquisition in spite of the energy he brings to the game.

On the Bubble

Jake Evans, Rem Pitlick, Michael Pezzetta and Chris Wideman are all at risk. The three forwards have disappointed offensively while Wideman has been bumped to a role as the 7th defenseman.

As a center who can also play wing and kill penalties, Evans seems like the best bet among the forwards to return next year. When you combine that with his $1.7M salary, he won’t be an attractive trade target. Pitlick and Pezzetta each bring different elements to the game but it seems unlikely both will return, particularly with a handful of prospects who are on the cusp of being ready. Unfortunately, neither have much, if any, trade value and waivers seems to be likely. Whether they would be claimed or not is another matter.

Wideman’s situation is different. He is at the bottom of the pay scale, has lots of experience and has demonstrated that he is content with his role… and he is right-handed. Even if a player like Justin Barron was ready to make the jump, the Canadiens wouldn’t envision him as a spare part. That makes Wideman’s position with the team more secure.

Verdict: Evans and Wideman are likely to return next season but the same can’t be said for Pitlick or Pezzetta. I expect that one or both could be plying their trade elsewhere next season.

Roster Turnover

Somewhere between 7 and 10 players that are currently on the Canadiens 23 man roster or injury reserve list are unlikely to be back with the team next year. Their replacement will come from promotions within the organization, via trade or from the free agent market.

By the time the puck drops on next season, there will be very few faces remaining from the team that faced Tampa in the Stanley Cup finals only 18 months ago.

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