Return of Injured Players Bad News for Slafkovsky

By JD Lagrange – The Canadiens have gone through a rough stretch with injuries lately, particularly up front. But it seems like some of those players are getting closer to a return and that will inevitably bring back the issue of numbers up front. Fans should enjoy watching Juraj Slafkovsky on the top-six lines as the odds are that he will be returning to the bottom-six when these guys return.

Jonathan Drouin

The irony is that we’re seeing articles pop-up claiming that the Canadiens should not be sending Slafkovsky to the World Juniors with, as a main reason, the fact that he is playing more. Do fans truly believe that with Mike Hoffman and Jonathan Drouin having ditched their non-contact jerseys and practicing with their teammates will be the ones playing third and fourth line when they return?

Brendan Gallagher is not skating yet but he was injured on November 29th against the San Jose Sharks. It was said that he would be out a couple of weeks. Well, the two weeks mark is this coming Tuesday so unless he suffers a setback, he should be back at some point next week.

With those three veterans back in the line-up, and with Evgenii Dadonov showing signs of life offensively, it is very unlikely that those guys will be penciled into the fourth line. The two players most likely to be are Slafkovsky and Joel Armia.

It is no secret that Kent Hughes wants to trade Drouin and Dadonov, two pending UFAs at the end of the season. Rumours are rampant that they would also like to unload Hoffman as well. None of those guys were having a great season, although Hoffman has been the better of the three, particularly the last couple of weeks before his injury. But in order to get value, those guys need to play better and the only way they’ll do that is by playing significant minutes on the top-nine forwards.

World Juniors

A couple of weeks ago, I’ve explained in length why it would be beneficial for Slafkovsky to go spend a couple of weeks in the high tempo, high level World Junior Championships. With the injured players back while that tournament is being played, I have not changed my mind.

Mesar and Slafkovsky as Batman and Robin

The fact is that Slafkovsky has things to work on and having coached for many years, I can tell you that a temporary step back will, more often than not, lead to three steps forward. By the time the tournament starts, Hoffman, Drouin and Gallagher will be back in the line-up. It is my humble opinion that Slafkovsky would greatly benefit from more quality ice time, but also in a leadership role, something he hasn’t done since Midget hockey. Temporarily slowing the game down one notch (as the WJC is very high caliber), allowing him to better apply what he’s worked on with the Canadiens… reuniting Batman and Robin for the tournament.

Will I be upset if the Canadiens decide to not loan the big winger to Team Slovakia for the Holliday break? Of course not, as it is their decision to make, not mine. They know their own plan, I don’t. In fact, I don’t get why people are bellyaching by having what is too strong of an opinion on the matter. It is one of those situations where, at this time, there is no right or wrong answer. Of course we can share our opinion on the matter but mine isn’t better than yours… and vice-versa.

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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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