With Jeff Gorton taking over as Vice-President of Hockey Operations (VPHO) for the Montreal Canadiens, several changes will be made between now and next season. Some of those changes will be removing personnel either by trade or free agency and, seeing that the Canadiens are well out of the playoff race, they will be sellers at the trade deadline – maybe even before. Here is a look at five Habs players who won’t be back next season; some are obvious, some not so much.
Ben Chiarot is the most obvious Canadien that won’t be back for next year. He is a free agent (FA) at the end of the season, and with a very thin trade pool for FA defensemen plus his ability to play big minutes in the playoffs, he will be a high priority for a contending team. He was a crucial figure in the Habs’ playoff run last season, and other teams will look at that to help bolster their roster for a deep run in the playoffs. Chiarot so far has been one of the better defencemen for the Canadiens this season and a bright spot during a dismal year.
Chiarot could easily fetch a first-round pick if he were to be traded at the right time. His ability to play big minutes and the fact that the Canadiens are using him in all situations this season only increase his value. Although he is playing top-line minutes with the Habs, any contending team that may acquire him will undoubtedly have him on the second or third pair. This should increase that team’s defensive strength, especially during the playoffs.
Although Paul Byron has been injured for the majority of the season so far, he could still be a valuable asset to any team going into the playoffs. Byron is a speedy winger who can play very well defensively and is one of the top penalty killers in the league. He scored twenty goals twice while playing bottom-six minutes with no power play (PP). He could be a great addition to any contending team’s bottom six.
Byron he has missed significant time in the past three seasons and hasn’t been the same player he was. His speed is still there, but his scoring touch is not. Teams interested in him would want him more for defensive play, penalty killing, and speed in a bottom-six role. If he is moved this season, it would have to be at the trade deadline; he is currently out with a hip injury and will not return until after Christmas. His contract is pretty steep as well. After this season, he will have one year left at $3.4 million, which is high for a bottom-six player prone to injury injured. He will most likely be traded in either a package deal or for lower-round draft picks in the offseason.
Brett Kulak has spent the last four seasons with the Habs, but has never established himself as an everyday player. He has been moved around all three pairings and found success as a puck-mover, but is hampered by costly mistakes in his own end. He provides the Canadiens with a solid transition player, but remains a player that can’t seem to crack the top four pairings. Another reason to move him is that the acquisitions of Chris Wideman, Sami Niku and, most recently, Kyle Clague have made Kulak expendable. Still, he could be a decent addition to a contending team even, as a depth player.
Kulak will bring any team a solid puck-mover with decent skating skills. He does have tendencies to make mistakes in the defensive zone but paired with the proper player he can provide solid defence and puck skills. Gorton may not get much for Kulak, but he is a FA at the end of the season and a potential trade deadline move. If the Canadiens can get a second for him, they will get a great return; he can also be put in a package deal to increase his value.
Mike Hoffman or Tyler Toffoli
Mike Hoffman or Tyler Toffoli will probably be moved before next season. The Canadiens have a ton of wingers and more in the pipeline looking for an NHL job; moving one of these players will create some room and give the Habs a good return. Their contracts are close in terms of salary with two years each remaining after this season. Toffoli is more likely to stay, but he could fetch a better return than Hoffman due to his age and playing a better two-way game. Hoffman would provide any team with a pure goal scorer who could improve any team’s PP, while Toffoli would offer a solid two-way game and play on the PP and penalty kill (PK).
With two years remaining on both of their contracts, it’s unlikely that either player will be moved during the season. Hoffman just returned from his second injury this season, and Toffoli is currently recovering from hand surgery and will be out for around two months. The offseason would be the best time to move either player. Their value will be higher, allowing them to start fresh with a different team instead of moving over late in the season.
Artturi Lehkonen will be a restricted free agent (RFA) at the end of the season, and it will be his last season eligible as one. He has a cap hit over $2 million and will expect more for his next contract. If Gorton is looking to add speed and skill to the lineup, then Lehkonen could be expendable. It’s not that Lehkonen has no talent, but he is another defensive forward for the Canadiens, who seem to be full of bottom-six forwards.
Lehkonen is a solid defensive forward who is very good on the penalty kill, as well as a reliable two-way player who is good at moving the puck. The biggest issue is his shooting: he tends to miss the net more often than he hits it, and he can be a liability in the offensive zone with his missed shots. A team in the playoff hunt could use a player like him, especially for the tight-checking style of the playoffs; he can complement a team’s shutdown line. The return for him wouldn’t be much, but he could fetch a second or third-round pick.
Other players probably won’t be with the Canadiens next season, such as Cedric Paquette, Mathieu Perrault, Niku, and Wideman, but these guys are too obvious to list. They are all FAs at the end of the season and expendable; if Gorton wants to start new, he could move them all at the trade deadline.
Many of these moves will be affected by which direction Gorton – and whomever he hires as a general manager – decide to take, rebuild or retool. If it’s a complete rebuild, all of these players are likely gone. If it’s a retool, then probably just the FAs and maybe a few bad contracts. Whatever happens, these five will likely be playing for other teams next season.
Trege Wilson has been a freelance content writer for the past four years and with the THW for the past year. He is the co-host of the popular Montreal Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered on IHeartRadio.com. Trege is very passionate about all things Canadiens and loves to provide his readers with great quality news, rumours and opinions on the Montreal Canadiens. Trege has also been featured on CTV news and ESPN Radio; for interviews and guest appearances, you can contact him at any of his social media accounts listed under his photo in such articles as this one.