Ten days before the annual NHL Trade deadline. And while every team has had their meetings to set up game plans, not everything is set in stone. Some teams have started moving assets, others are still trying to figure out what’s available out there and there are those sitting on the fence still. But in the meantime, the teams whose GM has been proactive by moving early are gaining some precious points over their rivals… and that in itself is adding pressure on the teams battling for position with them.
And that’s the case of the Toronto Maple Leafs. When they acquired Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings on January 28th, both the Bruins and the Canadiens were right with them, within a point or two. Realizing that his team has no issues scoring goals, GM Kyle Dubas went out and addressed the Leafs’ biggest need: their defense. And it’s paying off.
With all three teams having played 57 games, the Leafs now lead the pack with 75 points, which is three more than the Bruins and, most importantly, six ahead of the Canadiens and a Wild Card spot. Yet, it’s not like the Bruins and the Habs have played badly. In their respective last 10 games, the Bruins are 6-1-3 while Claude Julien‘s team went 7-2-1. But solidifying their defense with a legitimate top-4 defenseman has helped the Leafs improve by enough to create some much needed breathing room. Since acquiring Muzzin, Mike Babcock‘s team is 6-1-1, getting 13 out of 16 possible points.
Put up or shut up
If the Bruins and the Canadiens want to keep pace with Toronto, they will have to do something otherwise, the separation will only continue to grow. As it stands today, Boston and Montreal appear safe for a playoffs’ spot but of the teams on the outside looking in, the Carolina Hurricanes are on fire and the Buffalo Sabres are hanging in there. All it takes is for one or two injuries to sabotage a season or, in this case, a playoffs’ spot. No team knows that better than the Habs, having lost Carey Price and Shea Weber for long periods of time… and having felt the dramatic impact.
The Bruins need some scoring and they are rumoured to be very active. Wayne Simmonds, Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, Artemi Panarin have all been linked to the Bruins at one point or another, and if Eric Staal or Charlie Coyle are made available by the Minnesota Wild, GM Don Sweeney will be right in there poking around.
In his February 13th Rumor Mill column, Lyle Richardson posted that according to Joe McDonald of the Athletic, Sweeney won’t be seeking help after the injury to David Pastrnak. I’m sorry but I don’t buy it. While the Bruins have the second best team defense in the entire NHL, allowing 2.56 goals per game, they score 2.93 goals per game, currently good 17th in the NHL. And that’s with Pastrnak’s 31 goals and 66 points production in the line-up so without it, their offensive production has the possibility of becoming rather anemic.
Bergevin’s move to make
Much has been said about Marc Bergevin and what he wants to do (or should do) at the trade deadline. While I strongly agree and support not overpaying for rental players or older players soon to be unproductive, I’m also of the opinion that this team, while over-performing in the eyes of many, needs a boost. Those players have been working their butts off to make liars out of us, making some “experts” look foolish in the process. They deserve something from their GM, a reward, a sign that their efforts didn’t go unnoticed or underappreciated.
A scoring winger (or centre to move Max Domi back to the wing) would be helpful, but the Canadiens’ biggest need right now is a top-4 left handed defenseman. We recently touched on a few potential trade targets for the Habs, but there are obviously many more. While Alexander Romanov might be on the verge of making the jump from the KHL to the NHL, he still remains very young. The Edmonton Oilers have had the bad habit of rushing their prospects and we see how efficient that is. They have caused some to crumble under pressure and/or delayed the development of others. They sheltered Kotkaniemi this season and it’s paying dividends. They must try doing the same for Romanov when he joins the Canadiens.
On the right side you have Weber, Jeff Petry, Noah Juulsen (hopefully), Josh Brook and Cale Fleury in the depth chart. It’s on the left side that things get rather thin. Victor Mete is improving but a top-4 role, particularly on the top pairing in the playoffs, is not ideal neither for the team or for the young man. Then you follow that with Karl Alzner (!), Mike Reilly, Brett Kulak and Romanov coming up.
Bergevin needs to get his hands on a top-4 with term on his contract, at least two years. This will allow for better development for Mete and Romanov, while helping Weber and Petry who carry the load on their respective pairing. It’s not only for this year, it’s for the next few seasons too. With the news coming out that the Wild has received the green light to tweak their line-up, perhaps a phone call to his buddy Paul Fenton is warranted. If you know the difference between ‘need‘ and ‘want‘, filling that left defense position definitely falls into the ‘need‘ category. A scoring winger is more of a ‘want‘.
Speaking of ‘want‘, when the name of Jonathan Huberdeau was thrown around in rumours, disbelief is how I would describe many people’s reaction to the news. But when it’s coming from reputable insiders, one must listen. Just like we predicted here back in May 2017 that Bergevin would do anything to get Drouin back when he was rumoured to be shopped around, you can rest assured that the Canadiens’ GM has been on the phone with Dale Tallon in Florida to get all necessary information on this case. Yes it would cost a lot to get him, but let’s not under-estimate the impact of local talent on the Montreal Canadiens.
Until then, if you’re anything like me, you will be checking your phone regularly in hope to see the Canadiens get more help… but let’s ensure not get our hopes up too high as the higher they are, the harder it will be if things don’t pan out. Go Habs Go!