The Situation at Center

By Bob Trask – The center ice position for the Montreal Canadiens is a bit tricky to evaluate at the moment. The hope for many was that Sean Monahan would have a solid season and give Kent Hughes the opportunity to trade him for significant assets at the deadline. But an injury has led to Monahan missing 28 games for the Habs this season. Any team looking to bolster their center ice position by giving up assets in a trade will want to make sure that Monahan is healthy and he only has three weeks to prove that it is the case.

If Monahan is able to come back and play at the level he exhibited in the first third of the season, his services will be in demand and he would become an attractive trade target – particularly if Hughes eats half his salary. However, given the short time frame, it seems increasingly unlikely to happen. But I’m prepared to be happily surprised.

A more reasonable assumption would be that teams may still be willing to bet on him, but would be unwilling to pay a high price. It could be something more like a mid-level prospect and a conditional draft pick but not a first rounder.

Sean Monahan

Here is where it gets tricky. If Hughes is relatively confident in Monahan’s health (i.e. more confident than his rival GMs) and cannot get a return that satisfies him, he may turn his attention to Christian Dvorak as an asset who could be in demand. Of course, that would also hinge on Hughes ability to sign Monahan to an appropriate contract. And that brings up another debate: what would be appropriate in terms of both AAV and term.

If Hughes sees Monahan and Dvorak as relatively equal pieces going forward but prefers to keep only one of them, then the player who brings the most in a deadline trade could be the one moved. The top 3 centers on the team next year could be Nick Suzuki, Kirby Dach and Monahan, or Dvorak. Or Hughes could pull off another surprising move this summer and acquire a center much like he did with Dach.

Of course all of this becomes moot if Monahan’s recovery is incomplete and neither the Habs nor any other team feels it is worthwhile to take a gamble on him. One way or another it feels like at least one of Monahan or Dvorak will not be returning next season.

Dropping down farther into the lineup, Jake Evans will be up against Owen Beck for fourth line duties but it seems like a longshot for Beck to make the NHL with junior eligibility remaining. Hughes may not want to rush the process and prefer to let Beck develop further with another year in the OHL. Riley Kidney’s name hasn’t entered this discussion yet and while he is scorching hot offensively a year or two in Laval to learn the finer points of the pro game is probably in order.

So there you have it. The situation at center for the Canadiens next year probably depends to a large degree on a player who wasn’t even on the team’s radar until last August. However it turns out, we can only wish a healthy career for Sean Monahan going forward.

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