After a promising start to 2019-20, the Montreal Canadiens find themselves outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
An eight-game winless skid sent the Habs tumbling from fourth overall in the Conference on Nov.18 to 11th overall by Dec. 2, four points out of the final wild-card spot.
A growing chorus of fans and pundits are calling upon general manager Marc Bergevin to swing a major season-saving deal. With recent reports indicating the New Jersey Devils are listening to offers for Taylor Hall, several pundits are linking the Habs to the 28-year-old pending free agent winger.
Hall, however, won’t address the real issue contributing to the Canadiens’ recent decline, and that’s their inability to keep the puck out of their net.
Goaltending is part of the problem. Starter Carey Price usually covers up their defensive issues when he’s on his game, except he hasn’t been for the past two weeks.
With Price struggling to bail them out, the Canadiens’ defensive issues are more glaring. They’re giving up odd-man rushes, making too many defensive miscues leading to costly turnovers.
The Habs’ biggest need is for one or two additional skilled top-four defensemen. With nearly $6 million in current salary-cap space, 12 selections in the 2020 NHL draft (including two second-round picks and four fourth-rounders), and a deep prospect pool, Bergevin has the assets to upgrade his blueline.
Landing that skilled rearguard, however, is another matter. The pickings are slim at this time of year, but there are a few possible options.
The Buffalo Sabres also struggled through November and slid down the standings. They’ve got surplus defensemen and need forward depth. Rasmus Ristolainen requested a trade at the end of last season but appear happy playing under new coach Ralph Krueger. Marco Scandella is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and likely doesn’t fit into their plans. Off-season acquisition Colin Miller could also be available.
Throughout the summer, there was some talk of the Calgary Flames shopping a defenseman for a winger. Pending UFAs TJ Brodie and Travis Hamonic have come up as trade candidates. Hamonic could be the easiest to move, given Brodie’s modified no-trade clause and recent medical scare.
The low-scoring Anaheim Ducks desperately need more scoring punch. For the right price, maybe they’ll consider parting with Cam Fowler. His four-team no-trade clause, however, could be a sticking point.
Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere seems to be in head coach Alain Vigneault‘s doghouse this season. A skilled puck-mover with four seasons of 37-or-more points on his resume, perhaps the 26-year-old “Ghost Bear” is ready for a change of scenery.
Bergevin has a trade history with the Chicago Blackhawks. Perhaps he’ll take a look at Erik Gustafsson. He’s coming off a career-high 60-point performance in 2018-19 but has just nine points in 26 games this season. An unrestricted free agent in July, he’s not expected to be re-signed.
Salary info (as of Dec. 3, 2019) via Cap Friendly.