Canadiens Got Lucky in DeAngelo Saga

As the trade deadline of 12 April 2021 approached, it was clear that Montreal Canadiens general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin was looking to add to his blueline corps. He eventually ended up dealing for Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson, both left-handed defenders. What surprised many was to hear of rumours of Bergevin wanting to add right-handed defenders, considering the Habs have Jeff Petry and Shea Weber in their top four on the right side.

What shocked fans, even more, was to hear the name Anthony DeAngelo being mentioned. Darren Dreger of TSN noted that the Canadiens were believed to be “very interested” in the 25-year-old New York Rangers defenceman. A rumour many were willing to sweep aside at first, then, it was confirmed by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on his 31 thoughts podcast.

Tony DeAngelo, Jaroslav Halak
New York Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo scores on Boston Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The former Tampa Bay Lightning 19th overall pick from the 2014 NHL Entry draft has had many issues in his hockey career, which makes this a very complicated issue for any team that would give DeAngelo his fourth NHL opportunity. Any GM would at least call about the young defenceman, however, the issue will always be will this player’s value on the ice outweigh his downsides in the dressing room and off the ice?

Skill Set

DeAngelo can be a tremendous asset on the ice as a puck-moving defenceman who can also quarterback a power play. Two things the Canadiens are in desperate need of even though he is right-handed and the ideal candidate in Montreal would be left-handed, those skills can’t be ignored. He is a smooth skater who can carry the puck up ice and makes a very good first pass, ideal attributes to launching the transition game, something the Habs base their offence upon. Defensively, however, he is highly suspect, yet, with a roster filled with stay-at-home style defenders such as Ben Chiarot, that is something that can be mitigated. So, on the ice, he can be a fit. Off the ice, this is where the main issues around him arise. 

Ben Chiarot Montreal Canadiens
Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

DeAngelo has been well known on social media for his political affiliations, leaning hard right. Politics in recent years has become a very polarizing issue. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a young man from an affluent family in America identifies as conservative. There are a great many NHL players who hold conservative political views, the vast majority of which are reasonable young men who also keep the majority of their political views off of social media.

DeAngelo, however, did not, and his delivery and attitude on his social media accounts (which have since either been deleted or left silent) have had a major impact on his public persona and how fans at large view him. Had this immaturity been the only issue, the outrage on Habs social media wouldn’t have been as loud. Yet, there is much more.


Racial Slurs

DeAngelo had several issues while playing in Major Junior for the OHL Sarnia Sting. The worst issues revolve around his use of racial slurs. In February of 2014, he was suspended eight games for abusing one of his own teammates

“Internally as an organization we made the decision, it was obviously a serious matter. Any time it involves one of our players there has to be a certain respect level. We respect all of our players and it was pretty serious. We handled it internally for the first day and then we felt it was important that the league became involved … we completely support the league’s decision.”

Trevor Letowski – then head coach of the Sarnia Sting

While it wasn’t released who it was directed at, it is a serious issue. An issue that occurred in his draft year and was still not enough to drop him out of the first round. Perhaps it was viewed as a maturity issue that could have been corrected with the proper education and training. However, that wasn’t the case, as DeAngelo had several more issues.

Abuse of Officials

Not long after his return from the eight-game suspension for abusing a teammate, DeAngelo was ejected from a game for abusing an official. (from ‘Sarnia ends season with road loss to Erie,’ The Sarnia Observer, 03/15/2014) His head coach at the time, Trevor Letowski, said this after the game,

“Anthony can be a difference maker out there when he’s in the line up and playing well. He makes our team better, when we lost him in the 3rd there it hurts us a lot.”

-Trevor Letowski

Further proof that he can be a quality hockey player if he stuck to playing the game and avoided all other extracurricular activities or issues, yet, that seems to be an issue for the young man. After graduating to the professional ranks, his maturity problems followed him.

During a game versus the Calgary Flames in Jan 2017, DeAngelo was in a battle with then Flames forward Sam Bennett, followed by an altercation with an NHL linesman who was trying to control a situation after a play. DeAngelo tried to break free of the linesman’s hold and had words with that linesman. This resulted in a three-game suspension. That summer, he was traded to the Rangers, who it seems, hoped they could deal with his immaturity issues. 

Fighting Teammates  

According to Rick Carpiniello (from ‘Rangers place DeAngelo on waivers following a postgame altercation,’ The Athletic, Jan 31, 2021), DeAngelo and Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev were reportedly involved in a fight inside the tunnel leading to the Rangers locker room immediately following an overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

DeAngelo was on the ice for four of the five Pittsburgh goals that night, including the overtime goal, while Georgiev was in net for the Rangers. It is reported that words were exchanged, and Georgiev was struck, which also led to him being held out for the next game for precautionary reasons. DeAngelo was placed on waivers soon after. He has cleared waivers and has been on New York’s Taxi Squad since that time.

Goaltender Alexandar Georgiev
COLUMBUS, OH – JANUARY 13: Goaltender Alexandar Georgiev #40 of the New York Rangers defends the net against the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 13, 2019 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Canadiens Get Lucky

Despite all that history, Bergevin seemed interested in bringing the young defenceman to Montreal. The reported plan was for the Rangers to waive him so that his contract could be mutually terminated, however, DeAngelo refused to waive, meaning the Rangers will be buying him out one-third the value due to his age. No one from the Canadiens will ever publicly admit to being interested in him and are able to use the excuse that it is a player in another organization and they aren’t allowed to discuss him, but as mentioned above, reputable journalists have reported on it. As they say, where there is smoke, there is fire.

It seems odd for an organization that is risk-averse to show interest in such a controversial player.  The Canadiens try to avoid controversy in everything they do. They avoid the tendency for NHL Social Media accounts to show some personality to avoid controversy. They ensure that the language profile of key positions includes French to tap into the unilingual francophone communities in their region. Players are coached on their use of social media and their personal interactions outside of the rink to avoid any complications. Essentially, the Canadiens strive to be to the NHL as vanilla is to ice cream.

Erik Gustafsson, Tony DeAngelo, Henrik Lundqvist
New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist watches as defenseman Tony DeAngelo tends net against Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Erik Gustafsson . (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Bergevin likes reclamation projects. It shouldn’t be a surprise he was willing to talk to the Rangers. That being said, in this deal, there needs to be a calculation, do this player’s on-ice skills outweigh his off-ice issues. The answer, in this case, is no. DeAngelo would be a lightning rod for controversy, especially in a hockey-mad market like Montreal.

The theme for his career is “second chance,” teams see the talent and think they can solve the maturity issues or at least mitigate them to take advantage of a gifted offensive defenseman, yet fail. There is no doubt it would have failed again in Montreal, especially in the realm of public relations. It would have been a disaster for the most storied franchise in hockey, for its brand and especially for Bergevin, who is already a controversial figure with the fan base. The decision by DeAngelo to not terminate the contract was a stroke of luck for the Habs. 

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