The Montreal Canadiens have gone through a lot in the past six months, from going to the Stanley Cup Final (SCF) to having the worst winning percentage in the league. Carey Price, Joel Edmundson, and Paul Byron have been injured all season, and currently having 18 players currently in Covid protocol isn’t helping them in the win column. Injuries or not, Habs management still has to make moves to free cap space for the offseason, and I’ve compiled a list of five players who should be traded at the deadline.
Ben Chiarot was a key figure in the Canadiens’ penalty kill dominance in the 2020-21 playoffs, which helped the Canadiens reach the Final. He is 6-foot-3, 234 pounds, and is a solid defender with a little bit of offensive upside. He fits nicely with the Canadiens’ current defensive build of big, rugged, defensive-minded defensemen, and has had a top-four pairing role since he arrived in Montreal. He had career highs in goals (nine) and points (21) in his first season with the Canadiens. This season he is the team’s best defenseman on both sides of the ice, leading the defensive core in goals with five, and the entire team in ice time, averaging 23:30 a game.
Chiarot’s value should be very high at the deadline. In last year’s playoffs, he proved that he would be a great addition to any contending team, and could fetch the Canadiens a first-round pick or more. Although he has been the Canadiens’ best defenceman, he is at the end of his contract and a free agent (FA) at the end of the season. With the Habs’ record, there is no reason for them to keep him for a playoff run – because there won’t be one – and they can get a top return for him. There are as many as six teams interested in him, and the Habs shouldn’t have any issue getting a great return, especially if a bidding war ensues.
Montreal drafted Artturi Lehkonen in the second round, 55th overall in 2013. In his rookie season 2016-17, he scored a career-high 18 goals. Expectations were high – he would be a 20 goal scorer – but that never happened; his next highest total was 13 goals in 2019-20. He did, however, establish himself as an outstanding defensive forward. He has become one of the better defending forwards and penalty killers on the team. He may not score 20 goals, but he can help any team keep the puck out of the net while still creating scoring chances at the other end of the ice.
Lehkonen is a restricted free agent (RFA) at the end of this season, and with the Canadiens hard to the cap, he more than likely won’t be back next season. Going into this year’s playoffs, many teams will be looking for a defensive forward who can play well with the transition game. He can do all that while providing the team with some offence. When the playoffs start, like Chiarot, Lehkonen will provide any contending team with a needed third-line defensive forward, and the team will also have a say in signing him the next season and keeping him long term.
The first two players mentioned in this article are simple choices for Canadiens management to move at the deadline. Jake Allen, however, would be a much harder one to make. With Price still recovering from injury and personal issues, Allen has been carrying the load for the Canadiens. Although his numbers are mediocre, he could draw interest from contending teams that need an upgrade in goaltending. Allen is under an affordable two-year contract of only $2.8 million, which ends next season.
Teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche could use an upgrade in goaltending. Both teams need it to make that extra step to succeed in the playoffs. Price’s name is the one that keeps getting brought up in trade deals to both teams, but Allen could be the easier goaltender to move and get maximum value for. Price’s contract is just too high, and he would have too much say on where he goes due to his no-trade clause (NTC). Like Chiarot, Allen could fetch a high draft pick or top prospect from the right team.
Joel Armia may not be the easiest player to move at the deadline, but it’s possible. He is in the first year of a $3.4 million, four-year contract and things couldn’t be worse for him. He has one goal and five points in 29 games, and hasn’t looked very good at all this season. The good thing for him is that the entire Canadiens team hasn’t looked good, and his struggles could be explained because of the team’s bad season.
In his first couple of seasons with the Canadiens, Armia was on pace to be a 20-goal scorer, if injuries didn’t shorten his seasons. He is another Habs forward who is very good defensively and on the penalty kill (PK), which can be very useful for any team trying for a deep playoff run. He probably won’t draw a good return, but if the team can shed his salary, anything coming the other way would be a bonus.
Tyler Toffoli led the Canadiens in scoring last season, so you might be asking why he should be traded? Well, he could get a huge return, and the Habs would benefit from moving his contract. Montreal is $3 million over the cap and needs to move out money; his $4.25 million is a very friendly contract for an annual 25 goal scorer. He could still be an important player for the Canadiens, but he would be an easier contract to move than Brendan Gallagher or Jeff Petry, who have higher salaries and longer terms.
Toffoli is a solid scoring winger who can play on both sides of the ice and has some good defensive abilities. Last season, he scored two short-handed (SH) goals and led the league in SH goals for the Los Angeles Kings in 2014-15 with five. The Canadiens may end up keeping him, as his contract is only for another two seasons and, as I said earlier, at a reasonable rate, but if they want to do a rebuild, then his would be the easiest to move at the deadline for the best return.
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The Canadiens have a few other players that are FAs next season: Cedric Paquette, Mathieu Perrault, Chris Wideman and Brett Kulak. I wouldn’t be surprised if any or all of them were moved at the trade deadline, and these four will probably move for a low price, however, it’s important to remember that it’s better to get something rather than nothing when it comes to asset management. Be prepared for the Canadiens to be very busy at the deadline, especially if they want to rebuild next season.
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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.