Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes just went on record saying the plan is to stick to the plan for all intents and purposes. So, while things are admittedly fluid, Hughes told TVA Sports he’s not going to make moves to sacrifice the future of the Habs, still in search of a third 2023 NHL Entry Draft first-round pick (Florida Panthers).
Related: 5 Signs Canadiens Are in Fact Still Rebuilding in 2022-23
The implication is, the Habs will stay the course as sellers at the next trade deadline. That’s in spite of how the Canadiens find themselves three points out of the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference entering action Wednesday night. Plus, when reporter Anthony Martineau broached the topic of potential trades in the future, in the context of freeing up cap space, Hughes said he’s had conversations from interested parties.
It’s far from a certainty. In fact, you get the impression based on Hughes’ comments, he’s going to leave the door open for the Habs to continue to compete for a playoff spot, by only entertaining offers for pending unrestricted free agents. (UFA). However, what if the right offer came along for a non-UFA?
Seeing as the Canadiens are still rebuilding, Hughes would at the very least still have to entertain offers for any veterans on the roster. Even ones with term left on their respective deals, like the following three players:
3. Christian Dvorak
Consider how Sean Monahan has upped his value considerably since coming over from the Calgary Flames. It was never out of the question that he’d be able to earn the Habs another first-round pick on top of the one the Flames gave to the Habs just to get rid of his contract, with a solitary year left, just to free up space so they could sign Nazem Kadri. However, now that Kadri has 15 points in 22 games and Monahan has 14, it’s become readily apparent to everyone how in demand the latter might be as a low-risk acquisition this coming deadline.
However, the voices calling for Monahan to be re-signed instead have seemingly grown louder, with Hughes not having ruled it out as a possibility at the time of the acquisition. Of course, if we’re being logical about the situation, Hughes isn’t going to tell the media right after he acquires a player the plan is to trade that player six months down the road. He’s going to instead show that player the respect of leaving the door open to keeping him.
Sticking with logic, Monahan is a 28-year-old forward coming off multiple hip problems. He’s probably going to be looking for some level of security with his next deal. While Monahan has proven he can contribute to the cause in the here and now in what has been a bounce-back season, it’s not as clear a half-decade from now, when the Habs should realistically be looking to contend again. So, any deal to which the Canadiens sign him is going to be risk-heavy.
In contrast, fellow-center Christian Dvorak is under contract at a cost-effective $4.45 million until just 2025, by which point Kirby Dach should have already taken over the No. 2 spot down the middle, which he was brought in to fill. In that context, both Monahan and Dvorak are insurance policies and, if it comes down to keeping one or the other, it should be Dvorak. If, on the other hand, Hughes decides to keep Monahan, Dvorak becomes redundant.
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Dvorak likely won’t fetch as much as Monahan on the open market, because he’s not as high-impact a player. And, if Hughes is intent on securing a third first-round pick, it’s more so Monahan who’ll have to go, but Dvorak would theoretically remain available simply to clear out cap space. It wouldn’t make the most sense, but dealing Dvorak if Monahan stays instead would seemingly be Hughes’ only play, regardless of the return.
2. Josh Anderson
Forward Josh Anderson remains a popular piece of the current Habs’ core, to the point the mere notion of trading him is polarizing at best. However, it’s not just one writer saying so.
In the interest of full disclosure, writer Marc Dumont above has since acknowledged how Anderson has turned it up and how trading him might not be the Habs’ best interests anymore. However, playing Devil’s advocate, wouldn’t Anderson upping his value set the stage for the Habs to get more in exchange, assuming of course they go down that path?
Ultimately, everyone’s heard the counterargument by now, that Anderson is a rare breed of power forward, one who combines size and speed. Trading him, especially seeing as he’s expressed a desire to stay with the Habs, makes no sense. However, considering his 28 years of age, relatively modest production (seven points), injury history and contract, Anderson might very well not be part of the long-term solution, unless it’s via trade and what’s coming back, when his value is as high as it is now.
In the here and now, you know what Anderson gives you: a big middle-six winger, who can play on the top line, scoring 20-30 goals in the process. What does he get you, though?
Someone like Anderson is worth their weight in gold, right now. It’s just not realistic for him to be contributing like he is as his deal expires in 2027. All due respect to Anderson, he fits the profile more of someone who, instead of opening up space for linemates on the ice like he does now, would be taking up a roster spot instead. That isn’t to say Hughes will trade him this season, only that he probably could without issue, getting a king’s ransom in return… and arguably should.
1. Joel Edmundson
As an alternate captain, Joel Edmundson is obviously part of the team’s leadership core, to be clear. However, so was Tyler Toffoli, before he got traded last season. So, Edmundson getting traded is at least a possibility. With the emergence of the team’s three young defensemen on the left side in Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Arber Xhekaj, it’s a stronger one, especially compared to at the start of the season, when trading Edmundson seemed crazy.
A few ill-timed and of course unfortunate injuries later to both Edmundson and Mike Matheson, a fellow left-handed defenseman, and the door opened for the former three to get regular playing time. They delivered. With the Canadiens showing a general reluctance to send any of the three rookie defensemen down since, something’s got to give, with both Edmundson and Matheson having returned.
Now leading the Canadiens in ice time per game, Matheson’s not going to be traded (24:02), especially with the offensive component to his game he’s got. Guhle’s likely not going to be sent down (20:22), as he still technically leads Edmundson in ice time per game (19:51), even if he’s seen the ice slightly less since Matheson came back. Even though Harris trails Edmundson in ice time (19:07), the former’s been one of the most stable defensemen the Canadiens have got, bar none, rookies or veterans.
It should come down to Xhekaj (15:50) and Edmundson, with some caveats. For example, nothing’s stopped head coach Martin St. Louis from clearing the log jam on the left side by playing any of Guhle, Harris, Xhekaj or even Edmundson on the right, in which case rightie Chris Wideman might be the odd man out instead. Even so, Edmundson holds more value as a former Stanley Cup champion, who also helped the Habs reach the Final back in 2021.
In the immediate future, the Canadiens seem content maintaining the status quo, keeping eight defensemen and 13 forwards on the active roster. However, things can change once Jonathan Drouin returns from injury. As a pending UFA who needs to build up his trade value ahead of the trade deadline, Drouin seems destined to find his way back into the Habs lineup eventually, anyway.
From that perspective alone, something will probably have to happen eventually on the trade front, unless one of the team’s young guns gets sent down. As the Canadiens clearly favor the idea of keeping them each up in the NHL, little should be keeping Hughes from testing the waters as far as his veterans go, his non-UFAs included.