The Waiting Game

By Bob Trask – Before training camp even started many Canadiens’s fans were clamouring for a trade. Almost every holdover with the exception of Caufield and Suzuki has been suggested as possible candidates. The desired return for trading any of these veterans ranged from absurdly low to ridiculously high. Many suggested sweeteners to the pot, others thought salary retention was the way to go and almost none of these trade advocates had any faith in the overall roster.

Through all of this Kent Hughes has been playing the waiting game. He has been waiting (though not passively) for the right offer to appear and he has shown patience with veterans like Mike Hoffman and Jonathan Drouin in the hopes that they would break out.

The wildcard in the situation is the fact that the Canadiens remain in the playoff hunt. If that continues, the strategy moving assets for futures may change.

Injuries and Slumps

While Hughes has been waiting, a lot has been happening around the NHL. The St. Louis Blues have been abysmal and the Calgary Flames have struggled. Ottawa’s defense is a mess and the situation in Edmonton isn’t much better. Injuries to key players have also cropped up. The Oilers, for example, have lost Evander Kane and there are others.

All of this creates a better position from which Kent Hughes can negotiate with potential trade partners.

Trade Candidates

Joel Edmundson

With the return of Joel Edmundson and the imminent return of Mike Matheson, the Canadiens suddenly have an excess of bodies on the blueline. The first reaction might be to send one of the four rookies to Laval but none of them deserves that fate at this moment. Nor do they deserves to be regularly sitting in the press box. Maybe Chris Wideman should be the odd man out but with his contract and his willingness to serve as a #7 defenseman, it seems more likely to keep him around. On the other hand, Edmundson could be in high demand with his physical style of play, his leadership qualities and his Stanley Cup experience. Hughes has to at least listen to offers – and there should be a lot.

At forward, Mike Hoffman has caught on fire just as a few teams have developed a need for some scoring punch. To his credit, Hoffman has worked harder at his two way game than I’ve seen from him in the past and his five goals so far this year would look good on almost any roster. Interest should be heating up in Hoffman and with Slafkovsky coming back from suspension the picture at forward is getting crowded.

Jonathan Drouin and Evgenii Dadonov probably hold little or no value right now. Hughes can afford to play the waiting game with them. At the moment both seem to offer little value to another team or to the Canadiens but there is a long shot possibility than one or both could come to life. With both contracts expiring at year end, Montreal could retain salary in a deadline deal if there was any interest in them.

Joel Armia is the perennial trade candidate who teases with talent and disappoints with results. As with Drouin and Dadonov, Hughes can continue to evaluate Armia as coach Martin St-Louis tries to coax more out of the big winger. Because of his contract he could be harder to move and it more likely to be a deadline deal or a post season deal if indeed Armia is traded.

Sean Monahan is probably the cream of the crop when it comes to potential trade candidates. But he has fit in very well with the Canadiens and provide the team with depth down the center ice position that they haven’t seen in years. His big contract is a deterrent to any contender picking him up in the near future, but at the trade deadline the Habs would demand a boatload in return for Monahan and some salary retention. I am not an advocate of trading Monahan unless the return is staggering and the longer the Canadiens stay in the playoff race, the less likely he will be traded and more likely that he will be offered contract extension. Again, Hughes will be playing game to see how both Monahan and the Canadiens perform.

Outlook

The Canadiens could consummate a trade with another team of one of these veterans before Christmas. The prime candidates for me are Edmundson and Hoffman but they may not be the prime candidates for Hughes. For the others, I expect the Hughes will watch and wait while he monitors their performance and opportunities that may arise. There are other trade candidates including Josh Anderson and Christian Dvorak but for now, I believe they are farther down the list of potential moves.

If no opportunities arise, waivers may be an option that Hughes resorts to again. As mentioned, if a playoff berth is deemed to be withing reach does the strategy change. Yes, non-contributors could be moved through trade or waivers but if Hoffman and Edmundson, for example, prove to be valuable pieces will Hughes be more inclined to keep them around?

For now we play the waiting game.

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Habs’ Bringing The Heat

By JD Lagrange – When you’re hot, you’re hot! With the Boston Bruins, the Montreal Canadiens are the hottest team in the tough Atlantic Division, having won three games in a row. This past week, Martin St-Louis’ team has defeated division rivals Detroit, then Vancouver and Pittsburgh, coming out with all six points available to them. And they are still without Mike Matheson at the blue line.

As we still see some fans mumbling their dissatisfaction through their social media teeth about seeing the team doing so well, a vast majority of the fan base is surprised and excited to see some exciting hockey from their beloved ones. Seeing that the Canadiens are predominantly being carried by the young guys on the team is very encouraging as well.

With that said, let’s see who is hot at the moment and you will notice that there are a few on that list.

NICK SUZUKI

The Captain has 19 points in 15 games this season and he is tied for 10th in the NHL’s scoring race.
He has 7G-5A-12 Pts his last 7 games
For the season, he is on pace for 55G-49A-104Pts

COLE CAUFIELD

The 21 year-old Caufield has 16 points in 15 games so far. An impressive tidbit is that he has been kept off the scoresheet only 4 times all season.
He is on pace for 49G-38A-87Pts for the season.

KIRBY DACH

With 14 points in 15 games this season, Dach is on everyone’s mind right now. To think that some media members and fans were starting to turn on the 21 year-old already, prior to him being moved to the top line…
He has 3G-8A-11Pts, with a +7 rating in his last 7 games
For the season, he is on pace 22G-55A-77Pts.

MIKE HOFFMAN

With 4 goals and a +3 rating in his last 3 games, Hoffman has risen from the dead!
Prior to that, he had 1G-1A-2Pts in 10 games. Now, perhaps some teams will show some interest for a trade?

KAIDEN GUHLE

The 20 year-old Guhle leads all Habs’ defensemen with 7 points this season. Remember, he’s a rookie.
In addition to playing on the top pairing, he has 4 assists, with +3 rating in his last 4 games while playing against the opponents’ top opposition alongside his partner David Savard.

CHRISTIAN DVORAK

There were some growing concerns about Dvorak to start the season but with a production of 3G-3A-6Pts in his last 8 games, those concerns have pretty much dissipated.
Prior to that, the center was pointless in his first 7 games.

JONATHAN DROUIN

Okay, I’ll admit, a 2-games point streak is a bit of a stretch but there is a heartbeat there.
Prior to that, he had 2 points in 10 games. So while it’s modest and too soon to be qualified as “being hot”, it is something to build on for Drouin. He did only play just over 10 minutes last night against the Penguins though…

JAKE ALLEN

Jake has won his last two games. In the process, he stopped 61 of 67 shots for a .910 saves percentage. In those two games combined, which includes last nights’ game against Pittsburgh where he was less than stellar, he maintained a 2.86 goals against average.

SAMUEL MONTEMBEAULT

With a 3-0-1 record in his last 4 starts, Monty is enjoying the best start of his NHL career. During that stretch, he has maintained an impressive .937 saves percentage with a 2.21 goals against average.

This and that

Sean Monahan has a point in each of his last two games. Last night, he displayed great chemistry with Josh Anderson but had an anchor on his left in Evgenii Dadonov. Since the top line of Caufied, Suzuki and Dach is doing well, and with the line of Hoffman, Dvorak and Gallagher finding the back of the net, Monahan needs some capable wingers. Anderson is one but with the way they’ve been playing, neither Dadonov nor Drouin are it. With his suspension coming to an end, can we please try Juraj Slafkovsky on that line for a couple of games?

With Mike Matheson hinging closer to a return, it will be harder and harder to decide who will be cut from this defense. For a while, we thought that Arber Xhekaj was the most likely to be cut but he played over 18 minutes last night – mostly against the Evgeni Malkin line – and played a season-high 19:19 two games ago against the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canadiens host the red-hot and surprising New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, before heading to Columbus to play the Blue Jackets on Thursday. They will be back in the confines of the Bell Centre to play the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.

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