A Summer Wish List

By Bob Trask – Whether it is Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky or Logan Cooley, the Canadiens will be drafting a very good player with the first overall pick. Rather than fixate on that one issue however, I have created my summer wish list for the Canadiens.

Coaching and management

I am interested in seeing how Kent Hughes and Marty St. Louis explore all their avenues in a search for a defensive coach. If it turns out to be an out-of-the-box choice, it would be preferable to recycling mediocrity as many teams seem to be doing with their coaching vacancies this off season. I am looking forward to their final decision and part of me hopes it is someone not on our radar.

Larry Robinson has apparently expressed an interest in becoming a consultant to the coaching staff – but not the defensive coach. If owner Geoff Molson is willing to write the cheque, hire him.

Kent Hughes has already demonstrated his desire to reach out to former players. If there is a way to fit Tomas Plekanec, Saku Koivu and Josh Gorges into the organization, do it.

The role of GM for the Laval Rocket still seems to be in limbo. Will that be covered by existing management or will there be a new hire? My preference is to add another bright young mind to fill the position. It not only adds depth to the organization it can help provide a pipeline of executive prospects for the team and creates the potential to add diversity into the organizational structure.

The Draft

Like everyone else, I want the Canadiens to get the best player possible with the first round pick but the draft is about a lot more than that. If the Canadiens can find a way to add a mid-first round pick without giving up picks #26 and #33, it would be a huge bonus. Kent Hughes might just be the general manager who can do it.

A repeat of the 2021 draft, without the controversy that accompanied the first round pick, would be an exceptional result. The Habs walked away with six prospects who immediately worked their way into the top twenty prospects in the organization. With some late additions to the prospect rankings, and fourteen picks currently in hand, this draft could be even better for the Canadiens.

Finding another Joshua Roy kind of prospect in the mid to later rounds is on my wish list for the draft.

Trades

Jeff Petry

For everyone’s benefit, I would like to see Jeff Petry traded to a team that he approves of and for the Canadiens to get a fair return in that trade. Hughes may have dodged a bullet here. All reports suggest that a deal was nearly consummated at the deadline when Petry’s value was at an all time low. Given the rebound in his play and some of the contracts being handed out to defensemen over the past few months, neither of these things should be an issue in trade negotiations. My wish list is for Hughes to hit another one out of the park in any trade involving Jeff Petry

I think there could also be a market for Mike Hoffman, although it is likely limited. At his age he does not seem like a good fit for a team that is looking 2 – 3 years down the road as the Habs are. For other teams he could be a good fit. Moving Hoffman would create cap space and open up a competition for prospects.

There are also players who are rumoured to be on the trade market but who I would like to see stay… at least for now. Dumping all veterans in favour of youth never seems to quite work out the way some believe it will. Experience and leadership are valuable qualities and for that reason, I want to see Josh Anderson back with the bleu, blanc et rouge.

Names like Joel Armia, Paul Byron and Jonathan Drouin are all mentioned in trade proposals, sometimes with salary retained. With the value of all three probably at an all time low, I would keep them for now. Hughes seems to abhor salary retention unless it is for the balance of the existing season. My preference would be to reevaluate that situation closer to the trade deadline.

On the acquisition front, I could see the Canadiens looking at someone like Tyson Barrie to fill the gap for a short term if Petry is traded… but only if they can’t find a replacement in the free agent market. It will be interesting to see who eventually fills that role. Maybe it’s someone already on the roster.

Free Agents

NHL free agents come in two shapes and sizes: RFAs and UFAs.

The RFA offer sheet may have become less stigmatized over the last couple of years and if it has, Carolina Hurricanes’ forward Martin Necas would be an interesting candidate. A three year offer of around $10M ($3.3M per year) would cost the Canadiens a 2nd round pick in the 2023 draft if Carolina didn’t match. While it would be an interesting exercise, it doesn’t feel like a path that Kent Hughes wants to follow.

The UFA market is where Hughes might look to find that short term replacement for Petry if he is traded. Names like Anton Stralman, Justin Schultz and Justin Braun come to mind. Hughes has mentioned that he would explore the second tier free agent market and these players also seem like a possibility.

Another group of unrestricted free agents are undrafted amateurs. Last year, Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins discovered Arber Xhekaj. Every year one or two NHL teams seem to uncover one of these diamonds in the rough. Why can’t it be the Canadiens again? My summer wish list includes finding another legitimate amateur free agent whether it be from the junior ranks or from college hockey.

Carey Price

At the top of my wish list is a full recovery from his injuries for Carey Price. While it may be too much to hope for, it would be to everyone’s benefit to see the best player from the Canadiens over the past ten years bounce back.

Exciting Summer

There will be a lot happening with the Canadiens over the next six weeks and it will be interesting to see how many items on my wish list are checked off. What did I miss? What does your summer wish list include?

More reading…

Number One Consensus No More

By JD Lagrange – More and more draft gurus are coming out and putting Juraj Slafkovsky ahead of Shane Wright as the number one overall pick. The latest, Bob McKenzie, is perhaps the most well regarded of them all and it took everyone by surprise when he made the switch. After all, McKenzie’s track record speaks for itself, as his number one prediction has been correct since at least 2009!

In his justification, McKenzie explained that five of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN ranked the 6-foot-4 Slovak left winger at No. 1, while four scouts slotted the Kingston Frontenac centre in the top spot. Further, McKenzie adds that if you were to survey another group of 10 scouts, you could very well end up with the same 5-4 split, but in favour of Wright. It’s really that tight in the eyes of so many scouts. So it’s tight. Very tight in fact.

“It’s a peculiar draft year,” said one NHL team head scout. “Neither one of them are locks to be first-line players in the NHL. I’m not saying one or the other couldn’t become first liners, they’re both good prospects, but unlike a lot of years, this draft doesn’t have any great prospects. There are no slam dunks. There are things I like about both guys, but I have some reservations, too.”

The five scouts who put Slafkovsky at No. 1 on their lists do believe he has the best chance to be upgraded from a sure-fire top-six forward to a top-line NHL winger.

“What separates Slafkovsky from Wright for me is that he’s bigger, he played harder, he was more consistent with his competitiveness, and he stepped up to produce on big stages [Olympics and world championship],” another NHL head scout said. “In my view, he has the best chance to be a first-line NHL forward.”

Is it that close?

Now hear me out. In everything we’ve published quoting anonymous NHL scouts, most of them have acknowledged that the tie-breaker, when skills are similar, when it’s that close between two prospects, is the position that they play. In this case, it is not a stretch to say that Wright is benefiting from being a center, as opposed to Slafkovsky being a winger. At least one or two scouts, in the articles we’ve published, have given Wright their vote for that reason alone. And it’s fair.

Juraj Slafkovsky

But what that means is that in order for NHL scouts to pick Slafkovsky, it has to be by a wide margin. He has to clearly beat his counterpart as tie-breakers go to Wright. So perhaps the votes, in McKenzie’s example above, were 5-4 in favour of Slafkovsky but the five were strongly in his favour.

There is no way to know, of the four who voted for Wright, if any of them were tie-breakers, giving the center the edge because of the position he plays. But if that’s the case, when the center gets the vote because of the position he plays, it’s pretty much a tie when it comes to talent. This is not something we should ignore. In fact, it’s something that the Canadiens are taking into consideration, rest assured.

I strongly encourage you to read our three other publications, citing NHL scouts:

In closing, keep this in mind: the so-called number one consensus theory is no longer valid as more and more draft gurus are split. Secondly, that former consensus was from reporters and outside (some better than others) draft gurus, not from NHL scouts and teams. Third, this is a weaker draft than normal, and both candidates could end up being second line players… more or less even. Lastly, the draft is not a perfect science and there is a lot of room for mistakes. Stop pretending like you “know for sure” as it makes you look bad. Fact is… you don’t.

I personally don’t envy Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton. In this their very first NHL Draft with the Canadiens, they not only have the first overall pick, but the draft is held at the Bell Centre, in Montreal. And to complicate things, it’s a weaker top-end draft with no clear number one and lots of room to make franchise defining mistakes. Welcome to the job, gentlemen!

More reading…