By Bob Trask – The Montreal Canadiens currently have an excess of players within the organization with more to come after the NHL Draft this summer. This includes healthy players in Montreal, healthy players in Laval, players on one of the injury lists and unsigned players from previous drafts. At some point in the not too distant future Kent Hughes will have to decide which unsigned players (both amateur and professional) deserve to be offered contracts, which ones don’t and who may be a candidate to be part of a trade.
Given where the team is on the development curve, Hughes may not try to break the bank in order to plug holes in the short term, and may prefer to give youth the opportunity to develop. Based on that premise, here’s how it could play out.
It seems inevitable that Jonathan Drouin and Evgenii Dadonov will not be offered contracts for next season and they would likely attract very little attention in the deadline trade market. Look for those contracts to quietly expire. Potential replacements: Jesse Ylönen and Sean Farrell.
Chris Wideman is not on an expiring contract but with the emergence of Justin Barron, the development of Jonathan Kovacevic and the veteran presence of David Savard, there seems to be little room for him on the roster. When you add in Joel Edmundson, Kaiden Guhle, Mike Matheson, Arber Xhekaj and the recently extended Jordan Harris, the team is already at eight defensemen and only one of them looks like a candidate for the trade market. Wideman could be involved a low level trade just to open up a roster spot or be assigned to Laval as a mentor. Potential replacements: none required.
Forwards who have term remaining on their contracts but whose status remain uncertain include Brendan Gallagher, Joel Armia, Mike Hoffman, Jake Evans, Christian Dvorak and Sean Monahan.
Among the three centers (Evans, Dvorak and Monahan) only two are likely to return. Which two may depend a lot on The situation is murky at best. With Nick Suzuki and Kirby Dach currently penciled in as the top two centers, retaining two of the three remaining centers would still leave the Habs with four NHL centers. Potential replacement: none required
Joel Armia could be traded for little return or he could stay with the team for one more year with a goal of moving him at next season’s trade deadline. Potential replacement: Emil Heineman
Mike Hoffman seems more likely to moved at the deadline than any of the other forwards. With nine points in his last eight games, his play has improved throughout the year but to maximize his return, teams may want Hughes to retain salary, something he is averse to doing for more than a portion of year. As with Armia, if Hughes sees merit in keeping Hoffman until next year’s trade deadline, he will do so. Potential replacement: Rafaël Harvey-Pinard.
The Brendan Gallagher situation is the elephant in the room. While the right wing position remains a big question mark for the team, Gallagher will have an uphill struggle to retain his spot on one of the top three lines. With Anderson, Armia (and/or Heineman) and perhaps Ylönen, there is a lot of competition. His style of play doesn’t fit as well with the what St-Louis is trying to incorporate, he doesn’t kill penalties, and I see little power play for him in the future. The main (but unspoken) thing keeping Gallagher in Montreal is his contract. Nobody wants it. Prediction: Gallagher will be with the team for at least one more year but in a reduced role.
Joel Edmundson and Josh Anderson are on the radar of more than one team and what Montreal could receive in return could render all my previous scenarios invalid. A highly touted winger or center from another team’s prospect pool could tilt the dept charts dramatically in one direction or another. If either or both is traded, look for at least a second round pick and a reasonable prospect to be acquired in each trade. You can then circle back and see how those acquisitions, once known, could fit into the lineup. Prediction: One of these two players will be traded and Montreal will be looking for a scoring winger in return.
What really jumps off the page when you look at the roster of the Laval Rocket is the number of left-handed defensemen in the lineup. And a lot of them are relatively young. The organization could use a better balance of LD and RD. It would also be well-served to determine the potential of eventually making the NHL for their existing professional prospects in Laval.
Otto Leskinen (26), Nicolas Beaudin (23), Mattias Norlinder (22), Gianni Fairbrother (22) and William Trudeau (20) all play the left side and none seem to be a threat to replace any of the young defenseman on the Canadiens. Corey Schueneman and Madison Bowey now fall into the category of career AHLers. With Jayden Struble knocking on the door, there is a glut of LD that must be addressed. Leskinen feels like a candidate to head back to Europe after this season. Beaudin becomes an RFA after this season; Norlinder and Fairbrother become RFAs after next season. It isn’t difficult to envision Kent Hughes moving on from two or three of these prospects before next season – if for no other reason than to open up contract space. Prediction: Montreal will include one or more of their LD prospects in a trade either at the deadline or during the summer.
Jan Mysak is really struggling offensively at the pro level and is slipping down in the depth charts. Own Beck has most certainly passed him; Oliver Kapanen and Riley Kidney may have as well. Beck is either in Montreal or the OHL next year while Kapanen will be in Europe. Kidney, however, graduates from junior and will be playing pro in 2023-24. There is no urgency to move Mysak as the Canadiens control his contract situation for a long time and he won’t be waiver eligible until the 2025-26 season. That, however, could make him attractive to a team with a thin prospect pool. Prediction: Mysak won’t be traded but if Montreal needed to include him a deal they really liked, Hughes wouldn’t hesitate to do so.
For Montreal, dealing with the excess of players in the organization is not only required from a salary cap point of view, it is also a requirement to keep the number of NHL contracts at 50 or less. If the team is close to that contract limit, it restricts them when it comes to making multi-player deals as well as in the free agent market. Look for Kent Hughes to make some personnel moves with objective of freeing up contract space.
The permutations and combinations are virtually unlimited with any trade or player move impacting what the best subsequent move might be. Expecting to exactly predict even one of these moves is a fool’s errand never mind trying to predict several of them, but exploring the possibilities is interesting. Tighten up your chinstrap, the next few months may see more activity off the ice than on it.