By Bob Trask – With Christmas approaching it is hard to envision Kent Hughes making any trades in the near future. There is no urgency to try improve the Canadiens’ position in the standings and players who might be trade candidates might also appreciate a Christmas without disruption. Hughes just seems like the kind of GM who considers the personal situation of his players and in doing so, is making Montreal an attractive destination for players. As a result, any call-ups from Laval in the next couple of weeks are unlikely. With that said, the New Year is an entirely different story.
The Canadiens will be returning from a gruelling seven game road trip after their January 3rd game in Nashville. That road trip will tell general manager Kent Hughes and coach Martin St-Louis a lot about the team. Will some players break out of season long slumps? Will the power play come to life? Will the grind of the NHL season and the long road trip takes it’s toll on the many rookies on the team? The next two weeks of the season will bring more clarity to the situation.
There are a few things that could happen well before the trade deadline. Last year Tyler Toffoli was traded on February 14th, five weeks before the trade deadline. With a March 3rd deadline this season, Hughes could pull the trigger on a trade even earlier this year – perhaps mid to late January. And he could also choose to waive a player or two.
Last Chance Saloon
Evgenii Dadonov and Jonathan Drouin have to be living on borrowed time. If they don’t rebound offensively in the next 10 games, their future with the Canadiens looks dim. Both have to put up points to be effective because neither could be considered two-way players or a physical presence.
With little trade value and both player on expiring contracts, it isn’t unreasonable to expect Hughes to throw in the towel on this pair and put them on waivers for assignment to Laval. If another team wants to claim them, so much the better. It would give Hughes more room to retain salary for trade deadline deals.
Potential Replacements: Jesse Ylönen and Anthony Richard are both having a solid season in Laval and, in replacing Dadonov and Drouin, wouldn’t be expected to bring any muscle.
A Longer Leash
Joel Armia and Mike Hoffman might be on a longer leash, if for no other reason than they have term remaining on their contracts. Hoffman has had some reasonable success at putting the puck into the net and while Armia has dried up offensively, his talent and his size are something the Canadiens can use… at least for the next couple of months. Those attributes may also appeal to playoff bound teams.
Because both players could be considered support players rather than key contributors, any potential acquiring teams would likely wait until the last minute for making a deal.
Potential Replacements: Any potential replacements for the remainder of the season would not be determined until March. It could be a player acquired in a trade deadline deal who fills in a roster spot for the remainder of the season in much the same way that Tyler Pitlick filled that role last year. For next season, Emil Heineman could be in the running for one of the spots and so could Sean Farrell.
The addition of Joel Edmundson has created a complex situation in Montreal and the team’s goals against average has soared since he rejoined them in early November. That doesn’t mean it’s Edmundson’s play has been responsible for the demise of the defensive efficiency but his addition, along with that of Mike Matheson, disrupted a surprisingly efficient defense corps by forcing some of the young defensemen to play on their weak side and/or sit in the stands.
With too many players best suited to the left side, room has to be made. Mike Matheson is not going anywhere and neither are Kaiden Guhle or Arber Xhekaj. That leaves little room for Edmundson and creates a very tough situation for Jordan Harris.
At the same time, playoff races are very tight and teams in those races might be tempted to get ahead of the curve and make a move sooner rather than later. In the west, Edmonton is clinging to a wildcard spot with Calgary, Vancouver (yes, Vancouver) and St. Louis breathing down their necks. One of the Oilers biggest needs seems to be on LD and Edmundson fits the bill rather well.
Potential Replacement: Justin Barron is having breakout year offensively, plays right defense and has shown potential on the power play. Yes, he probably needs to work on his overall game but he checks a lot of boxes. There seems to be little need for a defenseman to be part of a trade package coming back to Montreal. In fact, the team might want to look at trying to beef up organizational weaknesses at other positions in any trade involving Edmundson.
The case of Sean Monahan remains unclear with so many questions hanging in the air. Does Kent Hughes see Monahan as part of the picture for the longer term? If so, what role does Hughes envision for him and what would his salary demands be for dollars and term? Does Monahan even want to be part of the team going forward? The answer to those questions and others will become more and more clear as the season wears on.
If the answers add up to Monahan not returning, the asking price in a trade will depend to a large degree on how well he performs going forward. So far, he has exceeded expectations but his recent injury, however minor it may be, could raise red flags for opposing GMs.
Potential Replacement: At the moment there is no one in the system or on the current roster who check off the same boxes as Monahan. Christian Dvorak may be the closest but Kirby Dach is a completely different kind of player. If Monahan were traded, I don’t see anyone being promoted internally for the balance of this season. In the short term it could be a player acquired in a trade deadline deal or a re-shuffling of the lineup with Dach going back to center. For the longer term, it leaves a big hole unless Dach can improve his all-around game, particularly in the face-off circle.
Breaking the Bank
The list of names covered so far is not complete and Kent Hughes will likely be hearing offers for other players like Josh Anderson and Christian Dvorak but unless the offer breaks the bank, I can’t see either one moving. Both are still young enough to be key players in the future and both have skill sets that are necessary for winning teams. In addition, there is nobody knocking on the door to replace them. But GMs can get crazy at the deadline (see the Florida Panthers of last year) so there is a possibility for a trade.
Timing and Probabilities
There is always the question of whether a move will be made, and if so, when it will be made. Here are a few thoughts:
- Dadonov and Drouin probably have until mid-January to prove they belong in the NHL and I doubt they will. I put the probability of them finishing the season in Montreal at low.
- Edmundson could be in relatively high demand and if he is traded it could be well before the deadline, in late January or early February. In my opinion, there is a high probability of an Edmundson trade.
- Decisions on Hoffman and Monahan will likely be made closer to the deadline in late February or early March. It seems highly probable that Hoffman will hit the trade market but with Monahan the picture is still unclear. My guess for Monahan is that the probability of a trade for him is probably at 50% but not extremely high at this point.
- For all other players including Armia, Anderson, Dvorak and others, I can foresee a deal on deadline day or not all – but for different reasons. The Habs may be longing to shed Armia’s contract even it the return is almost non-existent but would want above average compensation for Anderson or Dvorak. I put the probability at low for all three.
Post Deadline Promotions
The Canadiens roster will look different after the trade deadline from what it does now. Some promotions could occur sooner than the deadline and some after March 3rd but three prominent names on my scorecard are Jesse Ylonen, Anthony Richard and Justin Barron.
What are your thoughts?
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