Second Line Centers

By Bob Trask – The calls for Sean Monahan to be traded for anything from a first round pick plus prospects to a second round pick or less refuse to die down. Many want general manager Kent Hughes to pull the trigger before a more complete analysis of the situation can be done.

Fans’ arguments are many. It’s a deep draft. Monahan is old (28 years old) and injury prone. The Canadiens aren’t close to being contenders yet. Make the trade while his value is high. And there are many others.

But let’s take a closer look at the situation.

Possible Replacements

It’s already been pointed out that late 1st round picks have a low probability of developing into a player of Monahan’s quality and even if they do, it takes four to five years before they are ready to contribute in a significant way. While Hughes wants to build a team that can sustain success over a long period of time, it’s doubtful he want to be in a constant state of waiting for draft choices to develop while the team struggles. Counting on a late first round pick to immediately take Monahan’s spot would be s step backward.

Sean Monahan

A look within the organization also reveals that there is no one close who would be able to replace what Monahan brings. With all due respect to Owen Beck, he needs a couple of years. Even if he makes the squad next year, it wouldn’t be as a 2nd line center. Riley Kidney is skilled but not the physical presence that Monahan brings and could use a couple of years in Laval – for physical development if nothing else. Oliver Kapanen is still plying his traded and developing in Europe. A pick like Adam Fantilli might be able to step in but the likelihood of the Habs choosing top 3 seems remote. Perhaps a trade for a highly rated prospect might help but it would be far from a sure thing.

And it’s more than the on-ice skills that must be considered. Monahan brings an element of leadership to the team. Removing that leaves a void.

Age Comparisons

The fear of many is that Monahan will be too old before the Habs are ready to compete. A look at some of the second line centers on top contenders may help to dismiss that argument. These are all players who are teams currently in a playoff spot, with the exception of Kadri who played for the Stanley Cup winner last year at the age of 31. At least two of them, Stamkos and Malkin, have suffered through serious injury. So maybe the age/injury argument is overdone.

  • Joe Pavelski – Dallas Stars +10 years
  • Evgeni Malkin – Pittsburgh Penguins +8 years
  • David Krejci – Boston Bruins +8 years
  • Jordan Staal – Carolina Hurricanes +6 years
  • Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay Lightning +4 years
  • Nazem Kadri – Calgary Flames +4 years
  • John Tavares – Toronto Maple Leafs +4 years
  • Brock Nelson – NY Islanders +3 years

Based on this, Monahan has the potential to be a solid contributor when the Canadiens are ready to compete. If it takes them three more years to be competitive, Monahan will still be younger than than everyone on this list and exactly the same age as Brock Nelson is this year.

Team Structure

Every GM has his own vision of how a team is constructed but successful teams often have a blend of youth and experience. As this season unfolds, Hughes will undoubtedly be evaluating the talent on the team along with trying to determine the potential for success in the next couple of years. That evaluation combined with the quality of assets he may be offered in return for Sean Monahan will determine the course of action that he takes.

Nothing is a slam dunk at this point. In the meantime, Monahan’s value has continued to rise, whether it is on the ice or in the trade market.

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It Takes Two To Tango

By JAG – It is common knowledge that Montreal could use a couple of trades to clear up Cap space and free a couple of spots for the young prospects. To conclude a trade, you need a trading partner. It takes two to tango. It’s the first step in getting a deal done. But before you look for a trading partner, you should decide what you are willing to put on the market, NHL players, prospects and draft picks alike. You should also know what you are looking for as a return.

The need to trade

Let’s be honest. In the Habs case, they only need/want a trade because they have too many forwards and the Cap is tight. They could just as well run this roster until the trade deadline and only make deals then. The reality is that if Martin St-Louis puts the right forwards on the ice, as he did against the St. Louis Blues. The team is already competitive enough to win their share of games and valiantly, barely, not qualify for the playoffs …. BUMMER!

I am not surprised, I have long been a proponent that the Habs were a better team that they showed last season and so far, they are proving me right.

But it is a big conundrum, if/when you bring back Edmundson and Matheson, the defense core will be that much stronger and winning will be more frequent. You can’t be a close to playoff contention and hope for a top 5 draft pick, the math doesn’t work! So, if you are on the ‘’Tank for Bedard wagon’’, you’d better get the tissues out right now, you ain’t getting him! On the other hand, if you’re dreaming of trades that will improve the team right now and hope for more wins, this team might just end up as the closest also-ran for the playoffs …. and a measly 16th pick for the effort (no offense to Kayden Guhle). Considering what we are right now, it seems that the hope for a top pick is slim at best …. BUMMER AGAIN!

What are the Habs to do?

Assuming that Martin St-Louis will not coach to lose and knowing that Kent Hughes has stated clearly that winning is necessary for growth, it leaves a very narrow path to satisfy the wish to tank for a high draft pick and the opposing need to create a winning culture. Even with some attrition through trades, Martin St-Louis can get this team to achieve a decent season. It’s on him and the players to do so but they are all saying that they believe in themselves. I say let them play it out!

You can’t serve two masters anyways. You either pursue tanking or you play to win, period! I say play to win. Tanking sucks anyways. It’s defeatist, it makes your life meaningless and teaches you nothing other than tanking sucks! And by the way, every player, manager and coach in this league will tell you, they are quite able of dealing with the consequences of winning (duh!). And if establishing a winning culture means getting a 16th pick instead of a top three, so be it! The VP will deal with it, the GM and the coaching staff will deal with it, the players will play to their potential and the fans will love it. So, let them play it out!

But trade some players they must! I can’t see a positive outcome for this group if the young guns are not afforded the ice time that they are genuinely earning right now! Regardless of waiver exempt situation, economics or the need to show off a veteran player for trade purpose, WHEN ICE TIME IS EARNED, IT MUST BE GIVEN! It is the unwritten rule. That alone should drive the need to make a move.

However, sadly, the Habs don’t have much to offer other than quantity. They have veterans to unload, prospects in throve and picks galore …. But what is their worth?

The answer is, at this point in the season, really not much! I see only three players that could fetch a number one pick. Not surprisingly, they are also the type of players that are hard to find or replace and they are players that I’d like to keep on the roster but, life being what it is, you only get value when you offer value. They are Josh Anderson, Joel Edmundson and Sean Monahan.

If Sean Monahan keeps trending in the same direction and he is willing to re-up in Montreal, I see no reasons to trade him. From what I have seen of him so far, he may be in the 70 points range by the end of the season and, even as a new guy, he is a stabilizing veteran presence. That’s a keeper! The Habs need size and speed on the wing and Anderson provides just that. Another keeper! This leaves Joel Edmundson, an experienced playoff veteran. He is the Clydesdale who may become, for a serious contender, the biggest catch at the trade deadline. Just look at Montreal’s record once he came back from injury last year, day and night! And he is a great catch financially with a low salary and another year  for term. Actually, if healthy, he will get more than a first-round pick. So, if any trade can bring a first-round pick, this would be the one…. And the Habs would still have plenty of strength on the left side of defense.

On a side note, I think that if Justin Barron gets his power play footing in Laval or if any one of Guhle, Xhekaj or Harris can move to the right ride effectively, the problem on defense will be solved for this year even after trading Edmundson.

Results of trading up

That would give the Habs three first rounders this year starting with probably the 16th pick belonging to the Habs plus a couple of acquired late first rounders, including the Florida Panthers’ pick (acquired in the Ben Chiarot deal). Add to this the Habs first pick next year and the eventual, floating Calgary first pick and you’d have a good start in your quest for a suitable tango partner. If you want to trade-up, better have a bag full of goodies!

Also, other players may also have value at the trade deadline or before. Pitlick, Drouin, Hoffman, Dadonov and possibly Dvorak might be moved for assets and/or picks. I see these players as part of a strategy to partially replace the first rounders traded in the above scenario by actively seeking second round picks for this year and the next ones. These transactions may need to include some actual Habs picks, Habs prospects and/or retained salary to sweeten a move and get the desired second round picks but it would strengthen the Habs drafting position for a few more years.

I know that Kent Hughes has said he wouldn’t retain salary but, push comes to shove, at some point it may become the only way to get some value for signed players or let them become UFAs and get nothing in return.

Conclusion

There you have it. Trade a player that you like for a first rounder and trade surplus players for secondary picks and assets. Put your best team on the ice and let them play! That’s what the Habs should do!

Don’t get me wrong, I know how exciting it is to get a first round draft pick… for everybody! We just got one and it provided some of the best Habs fan moment of my life and I loved every minute of it! But let’s face it, getting the first pick doesn’t guarantee a Stanley Cup at all, even getting so called generational talent is no guarantee. Case in point, right here in Canada, Toronto and Edmonton have yet to prove that jockeying for generational talent is a sound Cup winning strategy.

Also, as a rhetorical question, what happens if, come draft day, Habs management decides that keeping the picks they have accumulated provides more value to the team than a trade-up would? My answer remains the same. Let management put their best team on the ice and let them play!

What gets you the Cup is the right mix of players that play the type of hockey identified in the vision and the plan. Tampa Bay and Boston have been perennial contenders without the benefit of drafting high, at least not in a long time. It is up to Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes to get Montreal to that level of excellence, sooner than later, I hope! We get to sit and watch!

But in any case, let the tango begin, this is going to be a very entertaining year!

Thanks for reading

Keep your stick on the ice, the puck is coming!

JAG

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