It has been quiet on the trade deadline front, but that is likely to change soon as the 3 pm (eastern time) deadline on April 12 approaches. Before the New York Islanders added Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac on Wednesday evening, the only transaction of significance had been the acquisition of Eric Staal by the Montreal Canadiens.
With the news that Brendan Gallagher has been placed on the Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) list and is out for the remainder of the regular season, this now leaves the Canadiens room under the salary cap to maneuver. With this unexpected cap space, several prospects and 12 draft picks in 2021, general manager Marc Bergevin is well-positioned to add help to a roster that could position itself for a long playoff run.
The Habs are seen as having a deep roster, but there are still needs through the roster that could still be addressed.
Despite adding Joel Edmundson, who has a plus/minus differential of plus 30 as of April 7, in the off-season, there is still a need to add a puck-moving defenceman to help with the transition game, as well as on the power play (PP).
If there is any move to be made by Montreal, the more likely one, and the one that would have the largest overall impact, is to trade for a defender. Nashville Predator Matthias Ekholm is the top name that has been rumored to be on the block for over a month. However, since the Preds have gone on an 8-2-0 run to climb back into a playoff spot in the Discover Central Division making it unlikely they will be sellers at the deadline.
According to Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic, Vice Dunn of the St. Louis Blues is a strong candidate to be traded. Rutherford states
Dunn has been asking for a bigger role, and when handed one this season, he did not fare well.(Jeremy Rutherford, The Athletic, Who Stays and who goes for the Blues at the Trade Deadline? Mike Hoffman? Tyler Bozak? Jaden Schwartz?, 7 April 2021)
Dunn, a 2019 Stanley Cup Champion with the Blues, may just not fit with St. Louis anymore and simply be in need of a change of scenery. He’s a defender who excels in transition, in making short, accurate passes in traffic that can trap the forechecker behind the play and generate an odd-man situation as his team heads back onto the offensive. He can also quarterback a PP with his mobility and playmaking vision, something the Canadiens have been in need of since Andrei Markov left in 2017.
Defensively, Dunn does have some problems. He can get beat wide on his strong side. His defensive style is to use body position to angle the attacker off to the outside and does have problems when defending against larger, more physical forwards. That being said, his more mobile style of play would compliment Shea Weber’s style in a second-pairing role. The cost to acquire Dunn would be a high pick, perhaps even a prospect added, but adding some help to the blueline and transition game may be worth the risk.
Another defensive target that could fill a long-term need is that of Noah Hanifin. If the Calgary Flames choose to make a hockey trade in season, Hanifin would be an excellent fit for the Habs blueline. Calgary is currently on the outside of the playoff picture, something that is likely seen as a failure considering the high expectations prior to the season starting and the hiring of Darryl Sutter to re-light the fire in Calgary. The cost of adding a 6-foot-3, 215-pound mobile defender would be high. A first-round pick, a quality prospect and a good young roster player such as Artturi Lehkonen would be a starting point. The biggest plus in moving within the Scotia North Division is there would be no need for a seven-day quarantine before Hanifin was to join the Canadiens.
With Gallagher out for the remainder of the regular season, there may be room to add a forward to the Habs lineup. In the short term, head coach Dominique Ducharme will play with his lines and use the taxi squad to juggle his lines. A call-up of Cole Caufield might occur if he plays well in his first few AHL games. More likely, if he recovers from injury, Jesse Ylonen could be an option on the right wing. Neither should be seen as immediate solutions to the Habs scoring issues.
There will be many options on the trade market; Mike Hoffman, maybe Bobby Ryan if you’re thinking of an inexpensive option. Several Canadiens fans will clamor for Taylor Hall, yet his two goals in 37 games with an $8 million cap hit should make sure Bergevin avoids that option. With questions about Tomas Tatar being retained or not, a forward with term could be a good option.
Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha is a player that could be an excellent addition to the Canadiens left-wing depth. At $5.7 million until 2024, the 6-foot-5, 234-pound winger could add more speed and size to the Habs top six. Being from Montreal, it would also make a vocal portion of the fanbase happy to have another local kid on the roster. The cost to add the 26-year-old former first-round pick would be high. The Canadiens would need to part with a first, top-end prospect, and a good young roster player. That being said, it may be worth it in the long run for a team that will be hoping to enter a Cup contention window soon.
If there is a search for a rental forward, one name that could have an impact, especially in the playoffs, is Nick Foligno. It’s likely that if traded, he would return to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the off-season, so the cost as a rental would be much lower than Mantha, a second-round pick and a prospect to go along with some cap retention on Foligno’s $5.5 million expiring contract. His proven leadership and gritty style of play are exactly the type of player Bergevin likes to add to his roster.
The deadline is coming quickly and despite being a much-improved team over last season, the Canadiens are in need of help with defensive mobility and in transition. If there is one move to be made, it should be adding a mobile puck mover to the blue line, which is a need the Habs will have in the medium term as their prospect pool matures. It would also have the largest impact on the current roster. Part of the fun for fans will be watching what will happen next.