To Buy, or to Sell, That is the Question:
Well, this question was more relevant a couple of months ago – when the Montreal Canadiens were still very involved in the NHL playoff race. The Canadiens currently find themselves three points out of the final Wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. The team has struggled mightily as of late, but their three straight wins have put them in a reasonable spot for the playoff race. If the Habs remain out of the playoff picture as February 29th approaches, they should absolutely sell certain parts of their team. If they find themselves battling for a final Wildcard spot, the decision will be on the shoulders of risk-averse General Manager, Marc Bergevin.
The Montreal Canadiens are in a tough position when it comes to the playoff picture in the east. The Habs are only three points out of a playoff position, but they have played 55 games. The New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins have only played 52 games, while the Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Boston Bruins have only played 53. All of these teams are ones that could potentially be fighting the Habs for Wildcard spots as the season comes to an end. The other concerning fact, is that all of these teams have more points than the Canadiens. With more points, and fewer games played, it’ll be tough for the Habs to fight their way into a playoff position.
The Pittsburgh Penguins hold on to the final Wildcard spot in the east, and they have 61 points through 52 games. At this rate, they’ll finish the season with around 96 points. If we assume that 96 points is what is required to make the playoffs, the Habs have to find a way to get 38 points – with only 27 games remaining. The road to the NHL playoffs will be tough for Canada’s best hope at seeing playoff hockey. Since the odds are stacked against them, let’s assume that the Habs are sellers at the 2016 Trade Deadline.
Here’s what the Canadiens should do at the deadline.
As has been reported, the Canadiens are listening to offers on three of their UFA’s (unrestricted free-agents), as they look to deal them before the trade deadline. The three are Dale Weise, Tomas Fleischmann, and Tom Gilbert.
Dale Weise: Weise is a right-winger who broke out in Montreal. He proved that he could be a solid role player for a good team’s bottom six. Weise has shown that he also has a scoring touch, and his 22 points this season prove that. The 27-year-old could absolutely help a team in need of some character, and depth scoring. Weise plays hard, and he is the type of player that playoff teams like to have around. The Winnipeger is one of the fan favourites in Montreal, due in part to his clutch playoff goals, and due to his willingness to sacrifice his body for his team. Weise would likely be the player with the most value at the deadline. He has 10 career playoff points through 34 games.
Tomas Fleischmann: Fleischmann is at a different stage in his NHL career. The 31-year-old was signed off a professional try-out (or PTO) by the Canadiens just prior to this season. Fleischmann is known for having a keen offensive sense, and having some speed to go with it. Though he likely wouldn’t have much value at the deadline, the Czech winger has experience that some teams may be looking for. Fleischmann could slot into the bottom-six of a team looking for some inexpensive depth scoring. He has scored 19 points through 53 games this season, and he makes only 750,000 on a deal that expires this year.
Tom Gilbert: Gilbert is a veteran defenceman who still has a lot to bring to the table in terms of defence, and experience. Gilbert is the classic bottom-pairing defenceman. He makes a solid first pass, he blocks shots, and kills penalties. With just under 650 career games played, the 33-year-old offers a lot to teams in need of some extra help on the back-end. His value will likely be low, due to the abundance of bottom-pairing defenceman that will be available come February 29th. Though he has been around for so long, he only has 17 games of NHL playoff experience.
Though these three players can still contribute to the Canadiens, the smart thing for the team to do, would be to deal them at the deadline. The Habs should collect whatever value that they can for the three players, and though it may not be a lot, they should consider it a win.
The key for the Montreal Canadiens moving forward, is that they keep their core intact. This means that Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, P.K. Subban, and Carey Price (and even arguably Nathan Beaulieu) should not be going anywhere. With that, the Canadiens should look to build around this core. It’d be surprising to see a major deal involving anyone still under contract until the off-season, though nobody knows what the tight-lipped GM may be working on. For now, keep the key players where they are, and give them a better, more offensively-gifted supporting cast.
What’s the Goal in All of This?
The Montreal Canadiens should clear out a few minor pieces, including the three aforementioned UFA’s. The reasoning behind this would be to free up roster spots for NHL ready players who are being forced to play in the AHL, or sit in the press box. By the time next season starts, the Habs will have a few good, young prospects who will be ready for NHL action. For example, Charles Hudon, who has flourished in the minors over the last two seasons. Giving these roster spots to fresher, younger talent brings a different look to the team. These young players often bring more energy, and in the Habs case, more talent and skill to the lineup. (For reference, think back to when Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher started with the team). It is imperative for the Habs to free up some roster spots for players like Hudon, Sven Andrighetto, Greg Pateryn, Daniel Carr, and potentially even Michael McCarron. Pateryn could particularly benefit from the open roster spot, as the NHL ready defenceman has been forced to watch the majority of this season from the press box – due to the overcrowding on the Habs blueline. It may be worthwhile to check out the St. John’s IceCaps player stats to see the complete list of potential NHL ready players.
The issue with bringing some of these young prospects into full-time NHL roles, is that most of them would only succeed in top-six roles. Once again taking the example of 21-year-old Hudon – the scorer wouldn’t be fit for a bottom-six role in the big leagues. This is why it is so important that the Canadiens do whatever they can to free up some roster spots for at least one or two of these NHL ready players. If the Habs find a way to free up some roster spots, they’ll put some of their young talent in position to succeed in the NHL, and they’ll save some salary cap space. The team has searched for some additional scoring for a while now, and it’s time for them to look within the organization, as GM Bergevin is very hesitant to make any sort of impact deal. To start next season, the Canadiens should be a much younger, faster, more skilled team. They’ll have to find a way to get some deserving young players NHL ice-time.