In this week’s Montreal Canadiens News & Rumors rundown, we’ll break down yet another wild week in Montreal. After spending half a season unable to win two in a row, head coach Martin St. Louis has led the Habs to eight wins in his first 15 games, something it took former coach Dominique Ducharme 45 games to achieve. Despite the recent success, there was no slowing down general manager Kent Hughes’ plan or the rumor mill, with several trade rumors swirling around some Canadiens veterans.
Chiarot Traded to Florida
The inevitable has happened, upcoming unrestricted free-agent (UFA) defenceman Ben Chiarot has been traded to the Florida Panthers.
Hughes got the value in return he was looking for, holding out for a first-round pick in an important deal for the future. This has to be seen as a win for the Canadiens as well as the Panthers. Getting a second first-round selection in 2023, when the draft is considered to be deeper, gives them a choice to keep multiple picks or to use as trade bait for a chance to move up for one of the elite prospects expected to be available early in that draft. There is a condition that is highly unlikely to occur attached to the pick according to CapFriendly.
Hughes seems to trust the NCAA market, as the prospect the Habs got in return with the picks was Tyler Smilanic. While he won’t be a future superstar, he does have the potential to become a productive third-line NHL forward. He has good size, excellent skating ability, and high hockey IQ.
Trade Dvorak Canadiens’ Next Task?
According to Renaud Lavoie of TVA, the next objective for the Canadiens is to trade center Christian Dvorak who is set to return off long-term injury reserve (LTIR) in the coming days. During the french language program “La mise en échec” Lavoie states (translated from French):
“It’s good news that he is returning because ideally, the objective is to trade (Dvorak) by the deadline. I know there will be teams interested, like the (Minnesota) Wild among others. We’ll see how interested teams really are to trade for him. He is more of a Western Conference player than an Eastern Conference one”-Renaud Lavoie
Moving Dvorak now would certainly weaken the Canadiens center depth in the short term, especially with Ryan Poehling put on LTIR. However, if Hughes has an offseason plan to bolster the roster with more centers, this could make sense, depending on the return.
Montreal Interested in NCAA Center
Elliotte Friedman on the Jeff Marek Show on March 14 linked the Canadiens to Wild center prospect Jack McBain of Boston College. McBain is said to be flirting with testing the market and in the same report, is said to have an interest in Montreal. After taking a big step forward in his development this season scoring a career-high nine goals and 14 assists in 24 games, he was also named to Team Canada for the 2022 Winter Olympics where he scored one goal and one assist in five games.
The reported cost is a second-round pick. It’s unlikely Hughes would offer the Canadiens’ 2022 selection as it is likely to be the first selection in that round this summer, making the value too high. However, with an abundance of picks, and assets such as Dvorak (mentioned above), there is the framework of a deal that could be made.
Kulak Expected to be the Next Canadien Traded
According to Dennis Bernstein of The Fourth Period, Brett Kulak will be gone by deadline day. During the discussion on TSN 690 on March 16, when asked about the chances that Kulak would be retained by the Canadiens, he placed the odds at zero.
While Kulak is an inexpensive option for the Canadiens, currently on an expiring deal paying him $1.85 million and unlikely to need a raise to be retained, keeping him could provide a veteran buffer while the team rebuilds to allow prospects to further develop in the lower leagues. However, it could also be seen as a roster position that could be used to entice soon-to-be NCAA UFA Jordan Harris to sign with the Habs.
Lehkonen Too Expensive for Canadiens to Keep?
According to Eric Engels of Sportsnet, Artturi Lehkonen will be a hot commodity on the trade market. Hughes doesn’t have to trade him, and he can set a high trade value and make a deal now while his trade value is highest.
Lehkonen is a quality bottom-six forward who provides very good defensive play, a strong forecheck while generating several scoring opportunities for his linemates. According to Mike Johnson on TSN, with his offensive output, this season being on pace for a career-high 38 points for the 26-year-old winger, he would have a strong arbitration case for a raise on his current $2.3 million to upwards of $4 or even $4.5 million.
Can the Habs afford that with their salary structure moving forward? Would they be better served with the return they can get in return?
With the trade deadline fast approaching, the Canadiens’ roster will be facing an upheaval. Keep an eye on our THW Podcast Network for all your hockey needs, as well as THW’s affiliated podcast Habs Unfiltered for the latest Canadiens news, notes, and rumors.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.