When the Canadiens were forced to be off for a week due to COVID protocol, we knew that the schedule for the rest of the season would be hectic. The Habs are playing on average every second day. At the NHL level, this is a huge deal and when fatigue kicks in, mental errors occur, risking costing the team some wins. But further, physical fatigue and less time to recuperate doesn’t allow the body the rest it needs to compete as such high level. Injuries come more easily and recovering from minor ones takes longer, while the risk of getting seriously hurt is more likely. Just a few days in, the Habs are starting to feel the effects already… and there are six more weeks of it in this unusual regular season.
Often, the hands of a NHL pugilist are the most banged up at the end of their career but Brendan Gallagher will argue that. Twice victim of a broken hand from a Shea Weber shot, we have learned that he broke his thumb from a shot from rookie defenseman Alexander Romanov. While the doctors are waiting for the swelling to go down before deciding if the Canadiens’ forward will need surgery or not, it seems like he will be missing at least six weeks, which would bring him to the end of the season. Best case scenario, he’s back for the playoffs.
Believe it or not, this bad news for the Canadiens does have a silver lining. With the team tight against the cap, team GM Marc Bergevin now has Gallagher’s salary to play with to address some of his teams’ needs prior to the April 12th NHL Trade Deadline. In his last couple of meetings with the press, Bergevin ensured to let everyone know to not expect moves due to the cap situation. That issue has now changed.
Habs’ biggest need
While some suggest that Bergevin should seek a replacement at forward for Gallagher, it is not the team’s biggest need. In fact, one of the Canadiens’ strength is its depth at the forward position. The additions of Corey Perry, Michael Frolik and, more recently, Eric Staal, has provided Montreal with quality depth up front. And with Joel Armia set to return, there is no need to add more forwards.
The team’s biggest need used to be at centre. Bergevin addressed it with the arrival of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki and Jake Evans, while Staal provides even more depth at that position. What’s been lacking for so many years is a legitimate left-handed puck moving defenseman for the Top-4 who can play against the top opposition. Weber simply cannot carry a defensive pair on his shoulders like he used to, especially not in a such demanding season. Now is the time for Bergevin to finally provide his captain with some much needed help.
Some potential candidates
Recently, I listed a few candidates not named Mattias Ekholm. After the game last night, exchanging on Twitter with fans, I was asked who I would see the Canadiens spend that newly found cash to address that need. Since my research was dated, I’ve decided to update it based on today’s standings. There are teams right now which are all but mathematically eliminated from playoffs’ contention. Then you have a group of about eight teams fighting for the last playoffs’ spot in their division.
Of course, there are teams pretty much guaranteed a playoffs’ spot which are deep on defense but not so much up front. Those teams could potentially trade a defenseman for a forward but I didn’t want to get into that. I only focussed on the first two groups. I found no less than 16 potential candidate for the Canadiens to at the very least, study and scout a bit deeper, to determine if they would be better partners for Weber than Ben Chiarot, Victor Mete, Brent Kulak or Romanov. Admittedly, not all would fit the bill. Some are more money. Some would cost more in assets. I did however include a couple of pending UFAs as feedback from my last research was that they should be included.
|Marc Staal||DET||34||6'4"||209||41||3||4||7||0.17||-6||18:03||$5.7M - UFA|
|Alex Goligoski||ARI||35||5'11"||185||40||1||9||10||0.25||+7||22:32||$5.475M - UFA|
|Niklas Hjalmarsson||ARI||33||6'3"||197||29||0||4||4||0.14||-4||17:48||$5M - UFA|
|Ryan Murray||NJD||27||6'1"||206||29||0||10||10||0.34||+5||17:50||$4.6M - UFA|
|Calvin De Haan||CHI||29||6'1"||195||39||1||7||8||0.21||-13||19:10||$4.55M - 2022-23|
|Shayne Gostisbehere||PHI||27||5'11"||180||28||6||6||12||0.43||-1||19:59||$4.5M - 2022-23|
|Mattias Ekholm||NAS||30||6'4"||215||33||5||10||15||0.45||+8||22:48||$3.75M - 2021-22|
|Nikita Zadorov||CHI||25||6'6"||235||40||1||6||7||0.18||+3||18:51||$3.2M - RFA|
|Erik Gustavsson||PHI||29||6'0"||197||24||1||9||10||0.42||-2||17:24||$3M - UFA|
|Patrik Nemeth||DET||29||6'3"||228||39||2||6||8||0.21||-1||18:24||$3M - UFA|
|Jamie Oleksiak||DAL||28||6'7"||255||37||3||5||8||0.22||+1||19:56||$2.14M - UFA|
|Vince Dunn||STL||24||6'0"||203||37||5||8||13||0.35||-8||19:24||$1.875M - RFA|
|Jordan Oesterle||ARI||28||6'0"||182||38||1||10||11||0.29||-5||18:28||$1.4M - UFA|
|Dmitry Kulikov||NJD||30||6'1"||204||36||0||2||2||0.06||-3||19:38||$1.15M - UFA|
|Ben Hutton||ANA||27||6'2"||206||32||1||4||5||0.16||-13||18:28||$950k - UFA|
|Jon Merrill||DET||29||6'3"||195||35||0||5||5||0.14||+5||19:42||$925k - UFA|
Truthfully, I don’t know which ones of those defensemen would be available. But from the teams practically eliminated and the ones battling for the last playoffs’ spot, those are names that might be. Might… I have made it known that my very favourite candidate would be Ekholm but with the Predators back into the playoffs’ picture, David Poile might think twice before trading his veteran. And if he does, chances are the price has gone up. Does that mean that Bergevin stands no chance? Not one bit. He does have the assets to make it work, assuming Poile listens. Has we discussed before, Jordan Harris might be a good piece to dangle as one of the assets going the other way.
Will Bergevin try to address that specific need? Or will he do anything at all to help his team out? I guess we’ll find out soon enough as Monday is coming up rather rapidly. It will make for an interesting next couple of days for sure. If it was up to you, which one(s) of these guys, or others, would you like Bergevin to pursue? Go Habs Go!