Despite a disappointing exit from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens plan in the off-season should not include any dramatic moves.
The Canadiens failed to get past the First Round for one simple reason: they could not score. They only had 11 goals in their six-game series against the New York Rangers. Even though Carey Price only allowed 12 goals, the Canadiens just did not have the scoring touch.
It’s obvious the Canadiens need to fill out their top-six forwards, and on top of their wishlist is a number-one center. But in today’s NHL, it’s difficult to acquire a number-one center outside of the draft. If a team wants to move their top center, the Habs would need to trade serious assets. And that’s why the Montreal Canadiens plan in the off-season should not include dramatic moves.
Montreal Canadiens Plan in Off-Season Should Not Include Dramatic Trades
The Scott Gomez Trade
In the summer of 2009, then-general manager Bob Gainey wanted to give the Montreal Canadiens a new identity. He didn’t re-sign former captain Saku Koivu so he set out to look for a new top-line center.
Gainey acquired Scott Gomez from the Rangers in a seven-player trade which included Ryan McDonagh going to New York. The Habs selected McDonagh 12th overall in the 2007 NHL Draft, and he was the prized-possession the Rangers wanted for Gomez.
Gomez did live up to his billing, posting 59 points in 78 games in the 2009-10 season. He scored 14 points in the 2010 playoffs as the Canadiens made a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Final. He put up 49 points in the next two seasons. He went a full calendar year without scoring a goal. The Canadiens bought him out following the 2013 lockout, while McDonagh excelled with the Rangers and became their captain in 2014.
The Canadiens have drafted defensemen in the first round the past two seasons. Noah Juulsen (26th overall, 2015) and Mikhail Sergachev (9th overall, 2016) both have a very bright future in the NHL. And they are the type of players that teams would want in a trade for a number-one center. Marc Bergevin should not move them unless the Canadiens acquire a player like Jamie Benn, John Tavares or Evgeni Malkin.
Juulsen is a right-handed shot, and the Canadiens are thin with them. Shea Weber and Jeff Petry occupy the right-defenseman slot on the top two pairings. But after that, they don’t have a right-handed defenseman until the minors. Zach Redmond, Brett Lernout and Ryan Johnston, three right-handed defensemen, all played for the Canadiens this season. But they don’t have high potential to become NHL regulars.
Juulsen impressed many with his physical play at the 2017 World Juniors. With Petry signed until 2021 and Weber until 2026, it will be tough for Juulsen to crack the top-four, but gives him time to develop.
At 6’2″, 185 pounds, Juulsen may not be in the immediate plans for the Habs, but he’s a player they want for the future. Anybody without a no-trade clause could be traded, but the Canadiens should only trade Juulsen if they get a really good player in return.
The Blue Chipper
Sergachev, on the other hand, is virtually untouchable. Standing at 6’2″, 205 LBS, Sergachev’s elite skating ability and fantastic makes him poised to replace Andrei Markov on the team’s top pairing as soon as needed. Sergachev’s potential ceiling could put him into elite level, maybe even into Erik Karlsson territory. The Canadiens cannot afford to trade that unless they get a franchise player in return.
Victor Mete is another defense prospect that could be traded. But the Canadiens have to be careful before moving him. His skating is top-notch and has a smart hockey IQ. The fourth-round pick from 2016 had 44 points in 50 games with the London Knights in the OHL this season. Bergevin should think twice about moving the prospect, whom he recently signed to a three-year entry-level deal.
Do Not Trade Carey Price
We opened the phone lines Sunday morning on #TSN690 and nearly every caller wanted to trade Carey Price.
The last time the Canadiens traded a franchise goalie was in 1995. That Patrick Roy trade put the Habs in a deep black hole until 2005, when they drafted Price. Simply said, do not trade the best player on the team. It’s not a time for a rebuild. They could trade him for any number-one center in the league, but that would change the whole identity of the team.
This is not NHL 17 where the Canadiens would acquire Sidney Crosby in return. Just keep Price in Montreal.
Dipping into the Free Agent Pool
Free Agency is one of the best ways to improve a team without giving up anything. The Canadiens need to throw out as much cash as they can this summer to sign a top-six forward. They have 15 players signed through next season with a cap hit of $50.5 million. If the salary cap doesn’t go up, that leaves Montreal with $22.5 million to at least sign players like Markov, Nathan Beaulieu, Alex Galchenyuk and Alexander Radulov. The four players could combine for a cap hit anywhere between $15-18 million, leaving the Canadiens with $4.5-7.5 million in cap space. Depending on whom they lose in the expansion draft, it could be a lot more.
That is more than enough to try to lure in Vadim Shipachyov from the KHL. There are numerous rumours surrounding Montreal’s interest in the center. He is the ideal center that they need – big, strong and could both score and make passes. He had 26 goals and 76 points in 50 games for SKA Saint Petersburg this season. With a strong Russian influence on the Habs, including Radulov, they could very well influence the 30-year-old to play for Montreal.
There could be a few options available via the NHL’s free agency. The big stand out could be Joe Thornton. The 37-year-old slowed down this year, with 50 points in 79 games, but it’s his knee injury that could hurt him long term. If the Canadiens wish to pursue him if he’s available, they need to be reluctant to how much money they would give him.
Martin Hanzal is another great option. He scored 39 points in 71 games mainly for a not-so-good Arizona Coyotes team. At 30 years old, he could still produce, and would fit on the top line with Radulov and Max Pacioretty.
Sam Gagner‘s small size may not be the best option to improve the Canadiens, but he could be available. If the Canadiens strike out on the other players, he could head to Montreal.
Putting Alex Galchenyuk Back at Center
Bergevin drafted Galchenyuk to be the team’s number-one center, and five years later, he’s their fourth-line winger. Injuries have severely hurt his development, including his injury this season. He produced flashes of it with a 30-goal season last year, and started off well this season. He had nine goals and 23 points in 25 games before his knee injury in December, and when he returned, he wasn’t himself.
Phillip Danault took over his first-line role, and Galchenyuk scored 21 points in the final 36 games. Finishing the season with 44 points in 61 games isn’t bad, but he could have done a lot more.
Head coach Claude Julien clearly saw something in Galchenyuk to demote him to the fourth line. Whether it was his knee, his attitude, or his play overall, the 23-year-old now has a summer to work on it. The Canadiens best option moving forward is allowing Galchenyuk to play as a number-one center. If not, they should move him for a player that could. They cannot keep him as a fourth-liner, especially considering his contract is up and he will be asking for a lot of money.