By JD Lagrange – While many fans will try to downplay this reality, having local products playing for the Montreal Canadiens is important. While many people (adults, mostly) are bilingual, there are many who aren’t and it’s important, particularly for children, to be able to relate to Canadiens’ players on the team. Growing up, fans of my generation were able to relate to Jean Béliveau, Guy Lafleur, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Mario Tremblay, Yvon Lambert and company. The next generation related, as kids, with Patrick Roy, Stéphane Richer, Vincent Damphousse, Steve Bégin, Eric Desjardins, amongst others. Seeing “un ti-gars de chez nous” succeed with the Canadiens was relatable and provided hope.
It may – or may not – be a factor, but since the Canadiens have had fewer and fewer Quebecois in their line-up, the number of players selected from the QMJHL has dwindled over the years. And fewer players being drafted makes it harder for the Canadiens to get local products into their line-up. See the vicious circle forming here?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the biggest part of the onus sits on Hockey Quebec and its new(er) Executive Director Jocelyn Thibault, and on the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). They need to work together to grow the game at the grass root and do a better job at developing kids from a young age. But the Canadiens can help, and the way for them to do that is to acquire some more local talent for those kids to relate to.
Of course, the Canadiens must continue with their plan for the rebuild but without straying from course, there are a couple of options available to them. One of them is buying low by replacing some established NHL talent with similar local talent. And some of them can be obtained at a fairly affordable price. Here are a few examples…
ANA – Max Comtois
After a promising start to his career, Comtois’ production has dropped. Standing at 6-foot 2-inches and 210 lbs, the rugged winger seems to have fallen out of grace in Anaheim and the Longueuil native’s stock has dropped drastically. He played very well at the last World Championship for Team Canada and at 24 years of age, he can easily take a spot on the bottom-six forwards on the Canadiens.
Of course, if Comtois was indeed involved in Hockey Canada’s scandal of 2018, the Canadiens should stay away from that controversy. They’ve had enough of it in recent years and are just slowly trying to get over it. But if he’s cleared, he would be a great candidate.
WSH – Anthony Mantha
The 6-foot 5-inches, 234 lbs Longueuil native has been inconsistent so far in his career due to injuries. Mantha is big and fast, has an excellent shot and displays supreme hand/eye coordination. Not the most physical, particularly for his size, he excels at puck protection and his work along the boards. With the smaller Canadiens’ prospects coming up, adding another big body who can keep up with their speed would be a benefit.
The Capitals are on the fence between being a buyer or partial seller and the actual price to acquire Mantha should be quite low. The issue? A $5.7 million cap hit for another year after this one. But this may be a good way to pass along a bad contract going the other way too, like Mike Hoffman and/or Joel Armia…
DET – Filip Zadina
Okay, this is perhaps more like corn syrup than maple syrup as he’s not a Quebecois, so it’s a bit of a stretch here. But the sixth overall pick at the 2018 NHL Draft played his junior in the QMJHL. The 23 year-old has yet to break though but I’m wondering what an offensive talent like him could potentially do under a coach like Martin St-Louis… His stock is definitely as low as it’s ever been.
Detroit is only two points back of Florida for the last Wild Card spot, but have four games in hand over the Panthers. Steve Yzerman said that they are not sellers at trade deadline, and they might add to their line-up. Do the Canadiens have something that might interest them?
Paying the price
Then, there’s the option of paying the price to get some good talent. Of course, as we’ve seen with the Jonathan Drouin trade, there is always a risk. But he who never gambles rarely wins big either. There are a few options out there and perhaps with the Canadiens being sellers, they could pry away some good local prospects from playoffs or Stanley Cup contenders?
WPG – Pierre-Luc Dubois
You know that I would go there, didn’t you? I’ve already explained in length why it would be better to trade for Dubois in the off-season than to wait for him to become a UFA so I won’t rehash those facts. I’m not in favour of trading Josh Anderson and my choice would be to keep him. But if the price to acquire Dubois, a 6-foot 2-inches, 205 lbs Ste-Agathe-des-Monts native is Anderson, I’d do it. We’re talking about a center who is a point per game here, and he happens to be a local product who wants to play in Montreal!
Let’s face it. Teams without guarantee of being able to re-sign Dubois, knowing he wants to come to Montreal, won’t pay the big price to get him this summer. So the Canadiens have to be willing to pay what those teams would give for a year of Dubois. I’m thinking that a guy like Anderson, along with the Panthers’ first round pick and a good prospect would do the trick. Having Suzuki, Dubois and Dach as your top-3 centers would be the cheap equivalent of McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton, and would compete nicely with Matthews, Tavares and O’Reilly in Toronto.
CGY – Jakob Pelletier
This young man will be a good player and he’s just starting to crack the Flames’ line-up. Calgary is in a win now mode and they are desperate need of a boost. The Tkachuk trade isn’t looking good as both Huberdeau and Weegar are under-performing. They got older in the off-season and at the time of writing this, they are outside the playoffs looking in.
If the Canadiens have what the Flames need, they must insist on Pelletier coming back, even better than getting another first round pick, in my opinion.
EDM – Xavier Bourgault
The Edmonton Oilers are hanging for dear life to a Wild Card spot and not making the playoffs is not an option for a team that’s already been wasting the best years of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They need help to keep the puck out of their own net. So a rugged, shut down defenseman makes a lot of sense… a guy like Joel Edmundson., They also need secondary scoring from their bottom-six forwards group, something the Canadiens have plenty of.
Much like the Flames, the Oilers are in a win now mode. Bourgault is a center who was selected 22nd overall in 2021. He has 26 points in 50 games in Bakersfield in the AHL in this, his first year pro. On a side note, the Oilers also have 22 year-old Raphaël Lavoie in the AHL so if they sent Edmundson and, say, Dvorak or Hoffman, they should be able to get both those guys although Lavoie is a project, not a sure thing to make the NHL.
Of course, the Habs can’t have all of these guys but it is not unrealistic for them to acquire at least two, perhaps even three of them by the time the NHL Draft arrives. Kent Hughes has said multiple times preferring to get prospects closer to being NHL-ready than picks, as he did with Justin Barron and Emil Heineman. The only difference here is that for most of those above-mentioned, they are local product, raised on… maple syrup.