Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin made one of the best trades at this year’s trade deadline when he sent 2nd and 4th round picks to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for defenseman Jeff Petry. The Ann Arbor, Michigan native filled a hole in the Habs top four, came at a reasonable cost, helped the team win the Atlantic Division, and dispatch of the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs in six games.
While other desirable deadline defenders such as Cody Franson of the Nashville Predators and James Wisniewski of the Anaheim Ducks sat as healthy scratches after the Preds spent a 1st round pick on Franson, and the Ducks sent promising youngster William Karlsson and a 2nd rounder to Columbus for Wisniewski, Bergevin looked like a genius for targeting Petry.
Bergevin will prove to be even smarter if he allows the 6’3’ and 200 pound defender walk away as a free agent in July.
It’s not that the steady two way defenseman was not a fit on the Canadiens roster. It’s that the Canadiens have precious few dollars to spend under the salary cap, and need to allocate that money to their biggest need: finding a goal scorer.
Petry Filled A Void, But Would Max Out Habs Cap
Petry demonstrated during his short stint with Montreal that he is a solid puck moving defenseman who can easily play on any team’s second defense pairing and could even be a productive top pairing guy with the right partner. He is exactly the type of player who strikes it rich as a UFA, and could make as much as six million per season on his next contract.
The Habs 189 goals allowed was the lowest of any team in the league this season. A lot of that was thanks to the incredible season by Carey Price, as the Canadiens blue line is far from perfect. However, with youngsters Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi ready for their first full NHL seasons, Bergevin would be wise to invest his money in a goal scorer, and not a defender.
Gary Bettman announced recently that the salary cap will only increase slightly next season, and is projected to be at $71.5 million. According to generalfanager.com the Canadiens have already committed nearly $59 million for next season and have to re-sign restricted free agents Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu. Even if the Canadiens two former first round picks take reasonable short term deals, adding Petry to next year’s payroll would pretty much max out the Canadiens cap.
This would leave Montreal with the same group of forwards next year that suited up in this year’s postseason. That group combined for 2.08 goals per game, which ranks 12th out of 16th playoff teams. The Canadiens scored 221 goals in the regular season, which was 20th in the league and the least by any team that qualified for the playoffs.
Canadiens Biggest Issue Is Lack Of Scoring
After a struggling Andrew Hammond was chased from the Ottawa Senators crease in the opening round, the Canadiens scored just five goals in the final four games of the series, including an empty netter in Game 6. The offensive woes continued into round two as the Habs found themselves down 3-0 against the Tampa Bay Lightning before they had scored their fifth goal of the series. What really held the team back offensively was their putrid power play throughout the playoffs. The Canadiens had a man advantage 36 times but converted just twice for a miniscule 5.6% rate, second worst in the postseason.
The 2014-15 Montreal Canadiens died as they lived. Giving possession to their opponents on purpose and having a really terrible power play.
— Conor McKenna (@mckennaconor) May 13, 2015
Sure, Petry’s patience with the puck and ability to make a great pass helps the team offensively, but what the Canadiens need is a real difference maker who can put the puck in the net 30 times next season. Petry would be a huge boost to their second defense pairing next season, but a similar player could be rented again next season to bolster the roster down the stretch in the same way Petry did.
The Habs have an extra second round pick in 2016 from the Josh Gorges trade that they can use as a piece to reel in a top rental available in March 2016. Taking a quick glance at the defensemen with one year left on their current deals, you could see Kevin Bieksa or Dan Hamhuis of the Vancouver Canucks on the market or the Dallas Stars Alex Goligoski. Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers, Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche and even Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames would be more difficult to acquire, but are pending UFA’s at the end of next season and could find themselves being sold to the highest bidder before they are lost by their current teams for nothing.
Free Agency Offers Little Scoring Help
Though it is difficult to make room under the cap to add an established goal scorer, it is even more difficult to find one that is readily available. The crop of free agents that will be available this summer don’t offer many solutions to the Canadiens scoring problem. Matt Beleskey’s 22 goals are the most by any pending UFA’s, and the fact he doubled his previous career high, and only had 10 assists this season suggests he could be the next David Clarkson.
Martin St. Louis and Erik Cole are the only other pending UFA’s who topped the 20 goal plateau, but they are in the twilight of their careers and expecting another 20 goal season would be like betting on the Calgary Flames to make the playoffs again next season. It could happen, but there is significant precedent to suggest they won’t reach their goal again next year.
Signing Justin Williams, Joel Ward, Carl Soderberg or Drew Stafford would add some punch to the Habs offense, but wouldn’t be the significant acquisition that Montreal could make with the money saved by letting Petry sign elsewhere.
Since the type of elite scorer that the Habs desperately need if they want to push themselves into the upper echelon of Stanley Cup favorites next season is not available as a free agent, Bergevin will have to acquire one via trade.
Deep Prospect Pool Gives Habs Plenty of Trade Bait
There are many intriguing options available on the trade market this summer, and the Canadiens have an impressive crop of prospects and on-the-cusp NHLers that they could package with draft picks to land a proven goal scorer.
Zach Fucale is making his second trip to the Memorial Cup in three years, and could be on the move sooner rather than later thanks to Price being firmly entrenched in the Canadiens crease. Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn will be battling with one another for ice time next season, so moving one now could not only clear up that picture, but also help fill a hole on the top two forward lines.
Skilled youngsters Arttuti Lehkonen, Martin Reway, Tim Bozon and Jeremy Gregoire would have some value in a package, as would Charles Hudon, Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas who could all help an NHL team as soon as next season. Thanks to a successful NHL debut, Jacob de la Rose would be difficult to part with and Michael McCarron’s combination of size and scoring touch make him as close to an untouchable as the Canadiens have in their prospect ranks, but if the right player became available, they would be huge pieces in a deal that would drastically improve the 2015-16 Montreal Canadiens.
What I’m getting at here is that the Canadiens have the pieces to attract attention from any team who is placing a goal scorer on the trade market this summer.
Many Interesting Solutions On Trade Market
Jordan Eberle would be an ideal add as he is young, proven he can score at the NHL level, is locked up at a reasonable $6.0 million for four more years and he could play on the right side of the first line with Max Pacioretty. This would require the Habs to part with one of their top prospects, either McCarron or Fucale as well as a young defenseman such as Jarred Tinordi or Greg Pateryn and probably substantial draft picks as well. Plus, the Edmonton Oilers would not be in a rush to move Eberle, and will likely keep such a valuable asset.
— 📰 J.D. Lagrange 🎙 (@Habsterix) May 19, 2015
One player who is more likely to be moved is Ryan O’Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche. His contract negotiations with Colorado management in the past have been heated to say the least, and with one more year to go before hitting UFA at just 25 years of age (which is no coincidence) Colorado may move the two-way winger/center before they lose him for nothing next summer. He dipped to 17 goals last season, as he struggled at times much like the rest of the Avalanche lineup, but he scored 28 in 2013-14, and could match that total playing as the Canadiens first line center.
Another player who is undeniably on the market is Leafs winger Phil Kessel. Much has been written about Kessel’s poor defensive play and the fact he may not be the greatest teammate. Whether that is true or not, no one questions the speedy right wingers ability to score goals. Even in a down year, Kessel scored 25 goals and his 61 points would have been second on the Canadiens.
Joe Thornton may become available as his relationship with San Jose Sharks management has greatly deteriorated. Though he would not put the puck in the net an extraordinary number of times himself, he is one of the league’s best passers and would bring his linemates in Montreal to new goal scoring heights. Pacioretty has been among the leading goal scorers with David Desharnais as his center, and would challenge for the Rocket Richard Trophy if Jumbo Joe was feeding him passes all year.
Another route to look at, considering the saved up cap space, is taking advantage of teams that are capped out. The New York Islanders had their best regular season in over 30 years, and it was thanks to plucking Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins and Nick Leddy from the Chicago Blackhawks, two teams that were over the salary cap and these trades pushed them into the playoffs.
With new contracts to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane about to kick in, the Blackhawks once again find themselves in a situation where they have to cut payroll before next season. Offering up a decent package could land Patrick Sharp in a Habs sweater next season, as his $5.9 million dollar cap hit is too rich for the Hawks to retain.
This year will probably the last time we see a 'contending' #BlackHawks team for a while .. salary cap next yr will force many changes.
— Bobby 🇨🇦 (@montrealdesign) May 17, 2015
Restricted Free Agent Brandon Saad scored 23 goals as a 22 year old this season, and will be difficult for Chicago to re-sign. A trade offer of prospects and picks, or even the seldom used offer sheet could poach a perfect second line left winger who can find the back of the net with regularity.
There are many options out there that could provide the Canadiens with more scoring next season. Saad and Sharp have ample playoff experience from their time in Chicago, and could help the Canadiens turn a couple of 2-1 playoff losses this season into 3-2 wins next year.
Jeff Petry was a great addition, but similar defenders will be available again at next year’s trade deadline, and the six million dollars it will take to keep him around are better used elsewhere. The Canadiens biggest asset is Carey Price, and his ability to limit the opponent’s scoring. What they must do now is find a way to support Price more in the other end, so that the likely Hart and Vezina Trophy winner won’t have to be so perfect next season.
Heck, you might even get a 5th round pick for Petry’s rights at the draft, and Trevor Timmins has used 5th rounders to pick Brendan Gallagher, Charles Hudon and Darren Dietz in the past five years.