Montreal Canadiens forward Sean Monahan’s in the news again, having been healthy enough to play in the preseason. For the Habs’ purposes, i.e., rebuilding, the hope is he stays that way, not just healthy… but in the news as even a relatively productive member of the forward group.
If so, the Canadiens stand to gain quite a haul at the next trade deadline, assuming they decide to move Monahan. And the Habs should, as he’s a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) likely seeking as big a payday as possible with his next deal, just for starters.
Having already acquired a conditional first-round pick in the Monahan trade, the Canadiens should theoretically be able to double up on the haul at the very least. Yes, Monahan has an injury history. Yes, there are no guarantees he returns to the form he displayed at his peak. However, no one’s realistically expecting him to.
The fact is, Monahan is still just 28. Injury history or not, would-be trade partners wouldn’t be looking for a long-term commitment at the trade deadline. If he can stay healthy up to that point and produces even half of what he’s proven capable of in the past, NHL general managers will be tripping over themselves to get him in their respective lineups to prepare for hopefully long playoff runs.
It’s not a perfect parallel, but as proof consider the trade that brought Monahan to the Canadiens in the first place. The Habs gave up nothing but future considerations to acquire him (because the Calgary Flames needed cap space to sign Nazem Kadri). The Flames were desperate and desperate teams do crazy things, including give up a first-round pick in the process. Here are four other past Canadiens trades that further drive home the point they can relatively easily get another first-round pick at least:
Alexander Romanov (2022 NHL Entry Draft)
The Alexander Romanov trade from this past NHL Entry Draft is another admittedly imperfect example. Romanov was a pending restricted free agent (and is a defenseman) compared to Monahan, who’s a pending-UFA center. However, with the Habs having acquired the 13th-overall pick for Romanov (and a fourth-round pick), it proves teams do significantly overpay under the right circumstances.
The Habs obviously used the first-round pick to acquire center Kirby Dach from the Chicago Blackhawks, which is what makes Monahan relatively expendable past this season. They have someone waiting in the wings to play the same position. So, in spite of general manager Kent Hughes having said it’s a possibility the Canadiens re-sign Monahan, take it with a grain of salt.
With specific regard to Romanov though, it’s hard to make a case the admitted fan favorite is worth even a mid-round first-round pick. That’s even as he was coming off a Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy win as the team’s top unsung hero for last season. The indisputable fact is Romanov is an undeniable top-six defenseman, probably even a top-four as he continues to develop. However, up to this point he’s shown limited offensive ability, totaling 19 points in 133 career NHL games.
He may just be 22, but Romanov realistically projects as a shutdown defenseman, albeit one with a penchant for dealing out big hits. All on its own, that’s only worth a first-round pick in a particularly weak draft class, when teams take one high, but few likely go in hoping to have to go down that road at the top of the Draft.
Maybe 2022 eventually goes down in history as a weak draft, but ultimately no one knows for sure right now. If the Canadiens are intent on parlaying Monahan into additional futures, whether they take the form of picks in a relatively stacked 2023 or another year, the Romanov trade is a good sign they get it done relatively easily.
Tyler Toffoli (2022 Trade Deadline)
Tyler Toffoli is maybe closer to Monahan in terms of what would hypothetically be used as trade bait. Both play forward, even if at different positions, and Toffoli isn’t exactly known for his skating, unless we’re talking as a deficiency. With Monahan having been through the ringer with hip surgeries in each of the last two years, his skating is a similar drawback.
At the time of the trade (again to the Flames), before the last deadline, Toffoli had term left on his deal. In fact, it only expires in 2024. So, in a certain light, it made sense for the Flames to give up the farm to acquire him ahead of what was expected to be a long playoff run, as Pacific Division champs.
With that in mind, the Toffoli deal was arguably one of Hughes’ more underwhelming deals of his tenure so far. In exchange for an on-paper, still-productive top-line forward, the Canadiens got a body back in Tyler Pitlick, B-prospect Emil Heineman and two draft picks, including the one that turned into first-rounder Filip Mesar this past summer.
It was also Hughes’ first significant trade though. They’ve for all intents and purposes only gotten better since, in terms of return. And, with Heineman and Mesar each gaining traction in the minds of Habs fans, maybe Hughes knew what he was doing even then. Fans didn’t have to wait long to know for certain he was at least on the right path, anyway.
Ben Chiarot (2022 Trade Deadline)
Defenseman Ben Chiarot got traded to the Florida Panthers closer to the deadline, about a month after the Toffoli deal. With the Canadiens getting back prospect Ty Smilanic and two draft picks, including a first-round pick in 2023, it was arguably worth the wait.
There are a few things to consider here. Firstly, with a patchwork defense and justifiable questions regarding goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s consistency, there are no guarantees the Panthers are anywhere near the powerhouse they were last season, making the first-round pick in a relatively stacked draft even more valuable.
Secondly, Chiarot has his fair share of detractors. Analytics-wise, Chiarot’s far from a darling. To be fair, he was miscast while with the Canadiens. He’s not a first-pairing defenseman, but can theoretically find success lower down the lineup. That just means that, like the Islanders with Romanov, the Panthers gave up a first-round pick (plus) for a bottom-four defenseman (or top-four for the glass-half-full types).
The big difference is Chiarot, like Monahan now, was on an expiring contract. If the Panthers were willing to give up as much as they did for someone who only ended up playing the fourth-most minutes on defense down the stretch, other would-be contenders are going to be willing to pull a similar trigger on Monahan as little more than a middle-six forward. Teams have in the past. They will again.
Dale Weise, Tomas Fleischmann (2016 Trade Deadline)
One of those teams was the Blackhawks back in 2016, when they went all in to try and repeat as Stanley Cup champions (only to lose in Round 1). Part of that strategy involved overpaying for bottom-six forwards like Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann. As fate would have it, the Canadiens owned the rights of both, giving then-Habs GM Marc Bergevin a lot with which to work to ultimately rip off the Blackhawks something fierce.
The Canadiens gave up both players for Phillip Danault, who was a 2011 first-round pick, and, a 2018 second-round pick that coincidentally turned into Romanov. Especially considering how Romanov eventually turned into Dach, that’s a whole lot of value for a player who was out of the NHL the next season at 32 (Fleischmann) and one who was never able to replicate the same offensive success he enjoyed with the Canadiens, miscast himself, as a top-six forward (Weise).
In Weise’s case, that success amounted to a still-modest 14 goals and 26 points in 56 games with the Canadiens that 2015-16 season. Fleischmann had managed just 10 goals and 10 assists in 57 games. Neither point total is all that far off from the 23 in 65 games Monahan scored last season with the Flames (when he wasn’t even healthy). So, it’s definitely possible for Hughes and the Canadiens to pull off something similar.
All it takes is the right partner and the right player. They’ve already got one of the two in Monahan. Add a little time for him to build up his value and there should be no question demand will be relatively high, especially due to the fact Monahan is in the last year of his deal. That makes it easy for Hughes to retain some salary. So, easier still for him to move Monahan, as it really won’t take much for there to be potential suitors lining up around the block.
Look at it this way: Any team that would want Monahan wouldn’t need him to be the top-six center he was just a few seasons ago. They’d be contenders and already have pretty solid scoring on the top two lines. They’d only need him to contribute in a smaller role. And what team wouldn’t want a seven-time 20-goal scorer with 21 points in 30 playoff games at a reduced price (speaking salary, anyway). The first-round pick-plus tag stays. There’s no reason it shouldn’t.
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After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.