As the deadline gets closer, all eyes are on the NHL General Managers to see who will make the biggest changes to improve their clubs going into the final stretch of the season. Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin has made the biggest splash so far, and it wasn’t for his trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning for Nikita Nesterov in exchange for Jonathan Racine and a sixth round pick. It was firing head coach Michel Therrien and replacing him with recently fired Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien.
Now with a head coach with a Stanley Cup ring and a pedigree for winning, what are the other moves Bergevin needs to make before March 1st? Will they ensure the Habs are still playing hockey in June? Who will it cost Bergevin in return?
The obvious answer to the Habs needs for a top six forward
is Matt Duchene. The 26-year-old, Haliburton, Ontario native has 16 goals and 20 assists for 36 points in 52 games and a league leading face-off win percentage of 62.8% so far this season with the last place Colorado Avalanche. With 413 points in 547 games and a gold medal with Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Duchene is one of the most coveted players available this year at the trade deadline.
With so many teams in the Duchene sweepstakes, the price will be high. Especially for a team like the Habs, who are trying to win now and don’t wanna give up any future cornerstone prospects, like 2016 first round pick Mikhail Sergachev. With four second round draft picks in the next 2 years, the Habs could use a couple of those picks to sweeten the deal, but the Avalanche will want a first round pick and a quality prospect for their 3rd pick in 2009 Entry Draft. Something Bergevin can not afford right now.
Thomas Vanek has already had a stint in Montreal during the Therrien Era. The 2003 5th overall pick with the Buffalo Sabers was traded before the 2014 Trade deadline by the New York Islanders to the Habs as a rental player. Vanek went to score 6 goals and 9 assists for 15 points in 18 games to close out the year. Vanek then went on to score 5 goals and 5 assists in 17 playoff games while reaching the Eastern Conference Finals with the club.
After the season ended, the Habs didn’t have the salary cap space to sign Vanek. The forward then signed a 3 year contract with the Minnesota Wild, but after failing to make the playoffs last year, the Wild bought out Vanek’s contract to make salary cap space after 2 years.
After signing a one year contract at a cap friendly 2.6 million before the season with the Detroit Red Wings, Vanek has seen things turn around with 15 goals and 22 assists for 37 points in 46 games. With the Red Wings playoff streak looking like it might end, it makes the Red Wings sellers at the trade deadline for the first time in 25 years.
Once again, the Habs being able to afford Vanek and have him once again as a rental player. Other teams will be interested in adding Vanek and if it gets into a bidding war, the Habs shouldn’t over pay, but Vanek can once again be a great offensive addition to the Habs.
The most likely option for the Habs that they would be able to afford is Anthony Duclair. The Quebec native hasn’t had a great sophomore campaign with the Arizona Coyotes this year, scoring 3 goals and 6 assist for 9 points in 41 games this year.
The 21 year old had a tremendous rookie showing last year with 20 goals and 24 assists for 44 points, showing signs of future potential. Duclair could see himself re energised in a bigger hockey market on a competing team. With the Coyotes entering a rebuild stage, it could see the Canadiens pick Duclair up for a cheap price.
While still on an entry level contract, it gives the Canadiens a cheap top six forward that can add points and play with a lot of speed. If Marc Bergevin is looking for an upgrade to his forwards to compete for the Stanley Cup, Anthony Duclair will be his best possible option, while allowing him to maintain his teams future.