Written by Niels Lachmann (before yesterday’s trade)
Last year’s 1st-round exit of the Habs against the Senators lingers on in the minds of the passionate fans who fear a repeat. According to their expectations, the task is thus not only to strengthen the team to get into the playoffs, but to have potential for a long run.
Inquire about the Habs’ needs among their faithful and you will immediately hear that they lack size, if not even the toughness requested in the playoffs. The latter concern is debatable in light of signings made by Bergevin since he took office in 2012 – Prust, Bouillon, Parros, Murray – and the recent acquisition of gritty Dale Weise for smallish skilled D-man Raphael Diaz.
But what is not to be debated, is that beyond Max Pacioretty, size is not the characteristic you would first think of when it comes to their point producers up front, to say the least.
That might be part of an explanation for a recurring issue that bedevils the team for several years now: at the end of the day, offensive depth is lacking. Daniel Brière, René Bourque and Lars Eller all have names and/or talent to amend this situation, but they have not done so. That puts a lot of pressure to deliver on offensive D-men Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban and the power play.
In this situation, a trade of Markov, a PP cornerstone, looks thus not likely, notwithstanding rumours about a disagreement about a new contract, reports of which have been downplayed by the player himself.
Hence, the prime target should be a scoring winger who does not lose his scoring ability once he gets to Montréal (like Bourque and Brière) – and preferably is six feet or taller. The Canadiens appear to have been very interested in Colorado’s Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, who now however should go nowhere.
Ales Hemsky’s and Michael Cammalleri’s names also have been surfacing in the float of rumours, but the former is inconsistent and lacks physicality. While the latter does not have size and the Canadiens organization had a fallout with him – though that happened before the current staff took office. Throw in the availability of a Matt Moulson and others and you have a scenario that has “rental for youth” written all over it.
But does GM Marc Bergevin want to go down that road, and are there young players who the Canadiens would accept to part with and who appeal to a rebuilding/retooling team?
Looking down their current roster, what can the Habs offer? Of course, the crowd might have Brière and Bourque on top of a ship-out wish list, but beyond the obvious reasons of currently low market value, both have term left on their contracts. So except for the team throwing in a future assets in a package deal, neither is bound to leave. More tradeable are Lars Eller and Brian Gionta. Yet the question is what moving them can provide the Habs with. Both players could be used as trade bait to attract a third-pair all-round D-man – with size, otherwise why trade Diaz – who could step up in case of injuries or faltering youth on the blueline.
The talented and versatile but inconsistent Eller has potential to be a top-six forward but has failed to establish himself as such in Montréal, and he is a pending RFA. If the Dane is moved to a “seller” team and packaged right (draft pick or prospect), there is a slight chance that this allows the Canadiens to land a winger as a rental.
Off-the-top-of-head scenarios that while they do not look completely PK Subban-for-Parenteau-and-youth would not lead directly to the scoring winger with size: Carolina is looking for an upgrade on 3rd center, or an exchange with Winnipeg’s Olli Jokinen, or getting some assets from a high-end contender wishing to add quality among their bottom-six forwards.
Team captain Gionta, in turn, has a no-trade clause, while his contract is up at the end of the season. He is no longer highly productive, but he provides leadership and clutch experience. The most indicated direction would be New Jersey, his former team, where his brother Stephen plays. He also might fit in as a complementary forward for a strong contender – who obviously would not want to give up a top-six player in return.
In theory, Markov would be the one player that could land a return allowing to acquire a scorer. However, if Markov is moved, it will be “upstairs” to a top contender, where the tendency would be to hold on to offensive firepower, not trade away part of it. Other questions that are not really encouraging are whether the Habs really want to reconfigure their power-play during the last stretch of the regular season, whether and how much Nathan Beaulieu can step up, and how much confidence there is in Subban.
So, it is pretty clear what the Canadiens can be expected to want and should need foremost (scoring with/and size up front), the way to get it looks more complicated.
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