Canadiens Need to Sell to Make Way for Youth

The Montreal Canadiens 2021-22 season is only 20 games old, and unless they pull off a miracle, their 5-13-2 record means they will miss the playoffs. Because of this, general manager Marc Bergevin, who is in the last year of his contract, must now prioritize selling off his assets to accumulate as many picks and prospects for the future and whoever will be in the GM role by this summer.

Bergevin must identify who is expendable, including any expiring contracts, but he needs a solid plan to best help the team. The Canadiens’ identity, their playing style, their core group moving forward and the leadership core must be well established. He must ensure that the impact to the core is minimal so that the team can recover quickly and make a dramatic turnaround next season.

Marc Bergevin Canadiens
Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens, 2018 NHL Draft, Dallas, TX, June 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Given the Canadiens salary cap and roster, some players are obvious choices to be moved before the March 2022 trade deadline. Trading them will benefit the team long-term with futures but also in opening up roster spots for their prospects to step in. 

Related: Canadiens Need To Scrap Current Strategy and Start Fresh

Unrestricted Free Agents

Any unrestricted free agent (UFA) should be considered a trade chip as the season continues. Keeping them to avoid leaving a hole in the lineup is pointless since, as we’ve seen so far, the Habs’ deficiencies cannot be solved by their presence. Here are a few players likely to find a new team by the deadline.

Ben Chiarot

Ben Chiarot is in the final year of a three-year, $3.5 million contract. He is also among the team leaders in ice time and defensive scoring. The 30-year-old left-shot is a physical yet mobile defenseman at 6-foot-3 and 234 pounds. He’s a low-maintenance blueliner who works well on the second pairing and provides quality play at 5v5 and on the penalty kill.

Ben Chiarot Montreal Canadiens
Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Teams looking to make a deep playoff run love to add this type of player. He provides leadership as an NHL veteran and a known playoff performer. His value should bring the Canadiens a first-round pick in return, according to Elliotte Friedman. Any team in the playoff hunt wants to add defensive depth, especially if they are looking to take the next step, like the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs or his former team, the Winnipeg Jets. They could all be interested in acquiring a player like Chiarot at the deadline. Bergevin could even retain 50% of his salary to make the cap structure fit and increase his trade value.

Brett Kulak

As a depth defenceman, it won’t hurt the Canadiens much if Brett Kulak is traded, but it also means his value isn’t as high as Chiarot’s. As a third pairing puck-moving defender, he might attract a mid-round pick. His $1.8 million salary this season could be a deterrent, but again, Montreal could retain 50% of his cap hit to make him more palatable on the trade market. If no one is interested, he would be a good candidate to re-sign for next season to ensure the team still has defensive depth.

Chris Wideman

Signed to the league minimum one-year, $750 000 contract as a UFA from the KHL, Chris Wideman was brought in to play a bottom-pairing and power-play role. In his first 15 games, he has two goals and eight points, doing well in the role he was asked to fill.

Montreal Canadiens defenceman Chris Wideman, pictured with the Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

His value on the open market won’t be much more than Kulak’s, but any time a signed UFA can be leveraged into a draft pick, it shows good asset management.

Mathieu Perreault

If Mathieu Perreault can get healthy and play again before the deadline, he could be another UFA with experience who is coveted by a contending team. The 33-year-old forward can play both the wing and at center, which is valuable if they need a player to move from the press box to the fourth line. The Canadiens can expect a mid to late-round draft pick in return.

Restricted Free Agents

Restricted Free Agents (RFA) are rarely traded at the deadline, but if an organization has enough depth behind them, they can fetch a quality return. However, the Canadiens only have one who could be moved: Artturi Lehkonen.

Lehkonen is a high-quality third-line defensive winger who plays a hard-working, honest game. He is effective on the forecheck, puck retrieval and provides excellent defensive play. His value could be as high as a first-round pick for a contending team. He has proven himself in the playoffs, with excellent defensive responsibility and the ability to score big goals.

Any question as to whether the Canadiens could get a first-round pick in return, consider the Tampa Bay Lightning, who added Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. A top-nine defensive specialist who can provide offence is a key acquisition for any contender, and this season will be no exception.

There are other players with term remaining on their contracts who could be on the trade block, like Jonathan Drouin or Paul Byron, but those types of trades would involve the Canadiens taking on a contract, and with the team already at the cap ceiling, those deals are more likely to occur in the offseason.

The Canadiens must be sellers this season in order to build around their young core for the future. Moving out key players and their depth could also help their draft position in what will be a deep draft. Losing veterans will cost them points in the standings, but the trade-off is a higher draft position and more playing time for the young players to develop.

Many are hoping or expecting Bergevin to wait until the deadline in the hopes it creates a bidding war for some players, but he should already have a return in mind for each one. If a team offers that value, he should take it immediately and not gamble for more value in case of injuries, but also because more teams will join the seller’s market as the season wears on.

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