The Hockey Writers Montreal Canadiens channel is looking ahead to the NHL Trade Deadline with a series of Mock Trades. This is a fun exercise, weighing the options of all the writers covering the Habs and what impact these trades might have on the team in the immediate and long-term future of the rebuild.
For the Canadiens, part of the rebuild is adding as many high picks as possible, but they also need to shave off the salary cap and find a way to add some size and skill. While there is talk that the trade deadline will be a quiet one in Montreal, that was also what many expected in 2022 for general manager Kent Hughes’ first deadline, and it was anything but quiet.
That is why our Canadiens writers decided to have a mock deadline to see what trades can be plausible. If this list were to be completed between now and the NHL Entry Draft being held in Nashville in June of 2023, Hughes would deserve even more praise than he has already earned in his rebuilding efforts.
One weapon at Hughes’ disposal is his salary cap flexibility. He can weaponize the cap space earned from the long-term injured reserve (LTIR) and the ability to retain salary on up to three players to his advantage.
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It’s no secret that Hughes wants to have a third first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft to work with. But he will have a difficult time getting one with so many Canadiens out with injuries. Until some return, or Hughes decides to move a player he’d rather keep, like Josh Anderson, his hope of adding that highly coveted pick is at serious risk.
While high picks are a desired goal, adding older prospects would also be helpful, not only for adding different skill sets and levels of development but also to help in staggering the contract windows to help with salary cap planning. With a team in a rebuild that’s focused on player development, Hughes can also take some calculated risks with players that need changes of scenery. That’s especially true if a player is on an expiring contract since it allows him the option of not placing a qualifying offer or offering a contract extension, which lets them walk away and free up cap space.
The Canadiens are free-falling in the standings, which would please those fans looking for the Habs to get as high of a 2023 first-round pick as possible and increase the chances of winning the Connor Bedard Draft Lottery. With this list of departures, it would take several NHL-caliber players away from head coach Martin St. Louis’ options for his lineup. Here is a recap of who has been sacrificed in this mock trade deadline.
In Mike Hoffman, the Canadiens lose their top power play (PP) weapon since Cole Caufield has been sidelined for the season due to injury. While that may sound odd for Habs fans, the numbers don’t lie. With Hoffman as the main shooting option, Montreal’s PP has had a dramatic increase in effectiveness, rising from 31st in the NHL at 15.4 percent to 24.1 percent effectiveness, good for eighth in the NHL since Jan. 21. With approximately 25 games remaining, special teams were the best tool for St. Louis to keep games competitive. And with Hoffman gone, that becomes a little harder to keep up.
In this mock trade with the Dallas Stars, the Canadiens receive Denis Gurianov, Anton Khudobin, and a 2023 second-round pick. Hughes takes on an undesirable but expiring contract in Khudobin to make the salaries work out. The real return here is the pick and a reclamation project in a 25-year-old winger in Gurianov. As a former first-round pick, he has raw talent but has yet to reach anything close to the potential that caught Dallas’ attention.
Power forwards are rare in the NHL, which is why Josh Anderson is in high demand. He may not have the advanced stats that some in the hockey community value, but his ability to play with speed and physically punish opponents is ideal for playoff hockey. Being on pace for 25 goals in a season like the one the Canadiens are having do make him a valuable asset, especially for a playoff team.
The return is the best return in this mock trade deadline, they receive a 2023 first-round pick, Dustin Wolf and Milan Lucic. With Lucic, Hughes takes on $1 million more than Anderson’s contract, but it is an expiring deal. The Canadiens also add that coveted first-round pick and a potential NHL starting goaltender in Wolf.
This move is hard to see happening due to the unknown return date for Sean Monahan, but if he does return to play before the playoffs, his style of play would be an excellent addition to a contending team’s bottom six. Any return Hughes can get in a deal is gravy, as the Canadiens received a conditional first-round pick from the Calgary Flames simply for taking on his contract. The return in this mock trade from the Boston Bruins reflects the uncertainty of Monahan’s health. In this deal, Hughes adds a 2025 second-round pick and the rights to a 6-foot-2 center in Riley Duran, which would mean he hits a grand slam simply by taking on some salary for one season.
Another player whose return from injury is unknown, but with Vladislav Gavrikov possibly being off the market, the demand for Joel Edmundson will be on the rise. The Western Conference is wide open for anyone in a playoff race to bolster their lineup and take a legitimate run at a Stanley Cup Final. In this mock trade, the Edmonton Oilers add some experience and grit to their blue line. In return, they pay a heavy fee, sending a reclamation project in Jesse Puljujarvi, who has been weighed down by the expectations placed on him as a former fourth-overall pick, and Hughes adds another 2023 first-round pick to his stable.
The loss of Christian Dvorak will hurt in the short term as he is being used to insulate Kirby Dach and to take some responsibilities away from Nick Suzuki. That, however, is exactly the reason he holds value for the Minnesota Wild. In this mock trade, the Wild part with Jordan Greenway and Vladislav Firstov.
This adds a third-line power forward in Greenway, who could thrive in a new environment, and a speedy and talented prospect in Firstov that fits the direction the team is taking. Also, it opens up some roster flexibility for the 2023-24 season, as there will be some younger center prospects knocking on the NHL door.
Rights to Jayden Struble
Jayden Struble just helped lead his Northeastern Huskies to a coveted Beanpot Championship. Despite several injury-shortened seasons, Struble has shown flashes of what he can provide. He may become an athletic, mobile, and physically capable bottom-pairing defender at the NHL level. Yet, being left-handed in the Habs’ system leaves him several rungs down the ladder in the depth chart, making him expendable.
In this mock trade, Hughes reunites Canadiens executive vice president Jeff Gorton with the 6-foot-3 winger he selected ninth overall in the 2018 draft as the GM of the New York Rangers, Vitaly Kravtsov. It is yet another reclamation project, but without any risk, St. Louis can place him in a top-six role and then let his play dictate if he stays or not.
Canadiens Post Trade Deadline
The most helpful part of this mock deadline is that Hughes now has four first-round and two second-round picks to use in 2023. That is six top 60 selections in a very deep draft that he can even try to package to trade up if he sees fit. Added to that are three reclamation projects, all with size and ability to play an up-tempo style, which is exactly what St. Louis is trying to set up in Montreal.
|Greenway||Jonathan Drouin||Joel Armia|
|Evgeni Dadonov||Jake Evans||Lucic|
With the assumption that Arber Xhekaj will not return this season due to a shoulder injury, the Canadiens would finish the season with a blue line filled with rookies, but ones that have been showing they are ready to continue developing in the NHL.
|Kaiden Guhle||David Savard|
|Mike Matheson||Justin Barron|
|Jordan Harris||Jonathan Kovacevic|
That injection of size, speed, and youth should provide one or two players that can make an impact long-term. However, the most helpful part of this mock deadline is that Hughes now has four first-round and two second-round picks to use in 2023. That is six top 60 selections in a very deep draft that he can even try to package to trade up if he sees fit. The biggest assets the Canadiens have are their prospect pool and a revamped player development department that is taking a modern approach that should lead to some quality NHL players in the future.