‘Tis the season to make trades — everyone’s favourite time of the year.
That’s right, folks, we’re 45 days away from the 2017 NHL trade deadline. January is the month where teams question whether they have a legitimate opportunity come playoff time. They look to add depth or key pieces ahead to bolster their lineups. This year will feel familiar for Montreal Canadiens general manager, Marc Bergevin. Last season aside, Bergevin and the Habs have been in this position before. The team is first in the Atlantic Division and fourth overall in the NHL. But are the current Habs good enough to win it all? Well, no… not yet.
The team isn’t far off, with three of the league’s top offensive players in Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov, one of the league’s best defencemen in Shea Weber, and the world’s best goalies in Carey Price. That said, the Canadiens are still missing a few pieces that could turn them into a true contender. Their weaknesses become evident when these few upper-tier players are shut down or absent from the lineup.
The solution? The Canadiens need more high-end depth. They need players that can put up points when the big guys are matched up against the opposing team’s top defensive pairings. Look at it this way, there is a significant drop off from Alex Galchenyuk to Tomas Plekanec, or from Max Pacioretty to Artturi Lehkonen for example (taking nothing away from these players). If the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge are to make a serious run in this year’s playoffs, they’re going to have to find quality depth players.
If the Montreal Canadiens have an abundance of one thing, it’s bottom-six talent. The team has many character players that will be important throughout the playoffs. Forwards like Andrew Shaw, Torrey Mitchell, Brian Flynn and co. tend to step up and prove their worth when the games have more on the line. The team has depth. However, there is a big difference between depth in the bottom-six and depth when it comes to scoring goals. Sure, the third and fourth line players will score the occasional goal, but the bulk of the team offence will usually come from the top-two lines.
If the Habs are to have offensive success in the final stretch of the NHL season and in the playoffs, they should look to acquire at least one top-six forward that can complement their current roster and help add to the team’s scoring punch. The acquisition of a top-tier offensive player would give opposing teams another man to target, and in turn, take pressure off of the Habs’ current scorers. Additionally, an extra scoring forward could help improve the power-play.
The team’s need for an additional defenceman isn’t as clear-cut as their need for a forward. Weber anchors the blue line and is supported by regulars Jeff Petry, Nathan Beaulieu, Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin. The question here is: does the team trust their current group to carry them through the playoffs?
If the team doesn’t find a defenceman at the deadline, a younger blueliner like Beaulieu would play serious minutes in the postseason, Emelin would likely be matched up against top lines, and the ageing Markov would be counted on heavily. If team management is comfortable with these scenarios then acquiring a defenceman isn’t a priority.
The likely scenario here is that GM Marc Bergevin will keep his eyes out for a bargain deal on a depth defenceman at the deadline. Bergevin has previously stated that “a team can never have too many defencemen,” so expect him to try bringing in an experienced, cheap blueliner in the next few weeks.
The Bottom Line
The Canadiens have given themselves a small window for playoff success with their recent transactions. Due to this, Habs fans should expect at least one high-profile move come deadline day, as their team is all-in to win it. The countdown to the March 1 deadline starts now, so the next month and a half should be very exciting for Habs fans. Though prices will be high, Bergevin and his team will look to add the key piece(s) that will help take their team to the next level. With additional scoring depth, this Canadiens team could be one to watch come playoff time.