Where Do Gustafsson and Merrill Fit In?

Trade Deadline is like Christmas for hockey fans and this year was not different. Multitudes of deals, with most of the players involved being pending UFAs going to Stanley Cup contenders, and a few pretenders. But fans were once again glued to their TV sets, computers or cell phone to follow what NHL Insiders had to say. No fan base hoped more for their General Manager to make moves than Habs’ fans. With their favourite team slumping, many were getting very grumpy, and borderline abrasive, particularly on social media. And it seems like only about half of them have changed optics after the 3:00 pm trade deadline hit.

After adding experience at the center position a few days ago in Eric Staal, Montreal Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin used Trade Deadline days to solidify his defensive corp. After Victor Mete was claimed off waivers by the Ottawa Senators, Bergevin picked up two veteran defensemen to address a much needed need for puck-movers and good skating players on the back end. Sure enough, the two guys picked up by Montreal had made our list of potential targets by the Canadiens.

First, he got his hands on left-handed Jon Merrill from the Detroit Red Wings. Going the other way is B-level prospect Hayden Verbeek and a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Merrill as plenty of puck-moving ability. At 6’3″ and 195 pounds, he also boasts a very big frame and some physicality. He has shutdown ability, as well and, as a bonus, he can play on either side.

Then at the eleventh hour, Bergevin was at it again when he acquired a more offensive-minded puck-mover in Erik Gustafsson from the Philadelphia Flyers. In exchange, the Canadiens are sending a 7th round pick in 2022 to Philly. The Flyers also keep 50% of Gustafsson’s $3 million salary.

By the numbers

It is my humble opinion that the lucky winner of the Shea Weber partner award will be Gustafsson. Smooth skater, good puck mover, good first pass, he can play against the opposition’s top lines. So can Merrill though, but he doesn’t have Gustafsson’s offensive side. So I’m expecting the former Blackhawk to be Weber’s regular partner, and Merrill (and Chiarot) should be called upon to play with the Canadiens’ captain late to protect leads.

Let’s have a look at the new and improved Habs’ defense, and were the newcomers rank based on what they did with their old team.

Shea Weber6'4"22938512170.45+44.023.672.630.5522:46
Jeff Petry6'3"208381118290.76+94.662.923.750.4822:42
Ben Chiarot6'3"234251450.20-
Joel Edmundson6'4"2273829110.29+285.353.864.010.2320:02
Brent Kulak6'1"192340440.12+42.103.541.990.5515:56
Alexander Romanov6'0"208371450.14+69.043.823.070.2717:23
Jon Merrill6'3"195360550.14+22.034.911.690.4219:41
Erik Gustafsson6'0"1972419100.42-22.872.872.580.8617:24

These last two acquisitions by the Canadiens may not seem like much, but they do cater to a need, or a few needs I should say. While Bergevin has not gone to add to his offense today, but Joel Armia is close to returning. The Habs will also get Brendan Gallagher back on time for playoffs and in the meantime, you can expect Cole Caufield to get a call up for a trial run soon. When? The Rocket play on April 15th and 18th, and they don’t play again until April 30th. You can expect the Hobey Baker winner to be called up with the big team soon after the 18th, at least temporarily.

In the meantime, it’s up to the players and the coaches now. The success of the team is entirely in their hands. We know that the internal competition will be ferocious for playing time and it is my hope that the coaching staff, with this newfound depth, can find ways to rest the team’s veterans in order to try to keep them fresh. They will need it when come playoffs. Go Habs Go!

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