Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin may very well not be finished this summer. One should hope he’s not anyway. With two massive projected holes in the line-up, down the middle and on the top defensive pairing, the Canadiens need to vastly improve on paper before they can realistically be considered contenders.
Thankfully, or perhaps more intriguingly, Bergevin has left himself an estimated $8.5 million in cap space. So, he can make a move. Unfortunately, the free-agent well is tapped drier than a keg at a high-school party. So, if Bergevin is going to get it done, it’s going to be via trade.
Who are the top three assets, aside from draft picks, he can dangle in front of opposing GMs?
3. Charles Hudon
The Habs’ prospect pipeline is not what it used to be. So much in fact that an unproven 23-year-old fifth-round pick with just six NHL games to his name probably represents the team’s top prospect. That’s the bad news.
The good news is Charles Hudon has been a legitimate American Hockey League star, who has arguably improved every season there. That’s saying something serious too, as, in his first season, he was named to that league’s all-rookie team as well as co-MVP of the all-star game.
He also may have taken this long to make the big team, because of incredible foresight on Bergevin’s part to shelter him from big-league exposure ahead of the NHL Expansion Draft this past June. Of course, considering the team continues to theoretically waste roster spots on the likes of Ales Hemsky, Andreas Martinsen and Mark Streit, hold that thought. There still may not be room for Hudon (or other young guns) on this team.
You get the sense the Canadiens would be (bigger) fools to trade away their top prospect on defense, Noah Juulsen, as that’s where the team’s biggest need presently is (even if it’s the left that’s a wasteland and Juulsen shoots right). Meanwhile, if the massive Carey Price extension doesn’t work out, a cheap-by-comparison Charlie Lindgren could be Bergevin’s temporary get-out-of-jail free card. Bergevin would logically try to hold onto him as long as possible.
So, if Bergevin deems it necessary to include a future asset in a trade to sway someone else to make a deal, Hudon might be it.
2. Alex Galchenyuk
Save yourself some time and heart/headache. There’s no good reason why the team has continually refused to play Alex Galchenyuk at center up to now. You’ll just hurt yourself trying to justify how the team might try and trade away a 23-year-old 30-goal scorer on a cost-effective deal who was drafted to play that one position, which somehow remains one of the team’s biggest holes in the line-up.
The crib-notes version is this: Now that they’re supposedly ready to compete (or have no other choice but to try to) after his fifth season in the league, he doesn’t have enough experience playing the position at the big-league level and lacks the necessary defensive awareness to succeed. Yeah, I know. Emphasis on the “fifth season” part.
Once Jonathan Drouin had been acquired, the popular thought process was Galchenyuk became expendable, because of, you know, the last-name thing. Then, instead of trading Galchenyuk’s rights, like many expected, Bergevin went out and somewhat impressively re-signed him to a three-year, $14.7 million deal.
While that alleviated concerns that Bergevin would do something downright stupid, the Habs aren’t out of the woods yet as far as Galchenyuk is concerned. The Canadiens can still very much trade him for the Hemsky equivalent at center. He would be the team’s biggest chip, after all (Galchenyuk… not Hemsky).
1. Paul Byron
Comparatively speaking, Paul Byron may not be the team’s most attractive asset, but he is arguably its most trade-able. The team’s main strength is on the wing right now. He can play both. Plus, not only is his value at its undeniable highest after a 22-goal season, but his $1.167 million cap hit is very team-friendly. That team doesn’t have to stay the Canadiens.
While Byron is a great player to have, as he can be played up and down the lineup (and has, primarily under ex-head coach Michel Therrien) and possesses the speed to be a constant threat on the penalty kill, he’s not your prototypical scoring forward due to size concerns (5’9”, 160 pounds). Nor is his success last year theoretically sustainable due to an inflated 22.9% shooting percentage.
Normally for the Canadiens to get better they would have to give up a big contract in exchange. Granted, that’s still true to a certain degree, as they would probably entertain any opportunity to get rid of Tomas Plekanec’s $6 million contract, even if it’s expiring, but no one else probably needs him as much as the Canadiens.
Nevertheless, in this specific instance, due to circumstances very much in Bergevin’s control (Andrei Markov, Alexander Radulov), that’s no longer the case. He can give up a player like Byron probably plus something else, get an expensive center or top-pairing defenseman back and fit him under the cap, no problem.
It would no doubt suck to lose Byron, but it would suck less than losing Galchenyuk or Hudon, especially if someone big is coming back the other way. Considering Byron was initially a waiver-wire pick-up, flipping him for another, hopefully decent asset would make also Bergevin look like a genius. And everyone likes those types of moves. Why doesn’t he make more of those again?