The Montreal Canadiens are a unique team this year. The Habs separated themselves early in the season, but since the beginning of December the team has slowed down. Montreal still sits first place in the Atlantic Division, but clearly still needs to improve to be successful in the playoffs. The Habs still need some additional scoring, and with the upcoming expansion draft, teams will be preparing for it now. The bonus is that more players should be available during the trade deadline this year, which the Habs should take advantage of if they want to have a successful playoff run.
There is lot to like when it comes to this deal. Nesterov is only 23 years old, but has NHL regular and postseason experience. This season Nesterov has appeared in 35 games, scoring three goals and adding nine assists, averaging between 17-20 minutes a night. The Habs did not have to give up a roster player, trading away AHL defenceman Jonathan Racine and a 6th round draft pick.
Yes, the deal was a good one from the Habs standpoint, but it is fair to say that Montreal’s biggest need is up front, scoring goals. Here is why this Nesterov deal is just the beginning for what seems like a busy deadline for Montreal.
With extra depth on the blue line, and the previous two first round picks being defenceman, it seems that a blue liner may be on their way out for a forward. It is hard to imagine that Bergevin will be willing to trade highly touted prospects Noah Juulsen or Mikhail Sergachev. That means someone on the roster would have to be part of the deal to acquire a top six forward. Two names that come to mind are Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin.
Alexei Emelin would be harder to trade than Beaulieu. Emelin has a modified no trade clause, which means he will have to give a list of ten teams he wants to be traded to. Emelin carries a cap hit of $4.1 million into next year. Although he has really stepped up this year, playing big minutes alongside Shea Weber. The 30-year old Russian still may have some value on the market. He is physical defender that can play big minutes and is reliable in his own end. The stars would have to align for Emelin to be on his way out.
Nathan Beaulieu, on the other hand, would most likely be the player other teams are looking to trade for. Beaulieu has taken a big step in his development as a young puck moving defenceman. Beaulieu has fit in nicely playing alongside Jeff Petry and solidifying the Habs top four. At the end of this year, Beaulieu will become a restricted free agent, which means if he was to be dealt, the team will still have the last chance to resign the 24-year old. Beaulieu is young enough for rebuilding teams to have interest in acquiring to instantly get a top four defenceman.
There is intriguing options that Bergevin can target, but he certainly needs to make a move. Look for the Habs to be one of the biggest players coming into the trade deadline. Despite sitting first in the Atlantic, the Habs need to have a proven scorer to do well in the playoffs. Montreal’s window of opportunity may be fading away soon. With upcoming financial decisions and the expansion draft creating a presence, the Habs will have to make moves to adjust. These issues should make this year’s trade deadline the most important in recent years for Montreal.