Over the last few weeks, the Montreal Canadiens have amped up their play and now look like a legitimate playoff contender. A few weeks back, I wrote about how general manager Marc Bergevin will likely make depth trades before the deadline as he continues to hold onto to his budding young core.
Since that time, Bergevin has added depth on defense with Christian Folin and bolstered the fourth line with the additions of Dale Weise and Nate Thompson. In the last 10 games, the Canadiens are 5-3-2 with impressive wins against the Winnipeg Jets and Columbus Blue Jackets, and earned a hard-fought point in an overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Despite the fact that Bergevin publicly stated that he was not going to acquire any rentals, the Canadiens have an 72 percent chance of making the playoffs at this point in the season. Other than a major setback or injuries, the Canadiens will make the postseason and once there, any team can do some damage. So, here are the top three candidates that the Canadiens should acquire to help bolster their lineup.
Related: Montreal adds depth to their roster
3. Mats Zuccarello
Mats Zuccarello’s name has popped up in trade talks over the last few seasons and has been linked to Montreal once or twice. Zuccarello is 31 and has played his entire nine-year career with the New York Rangers. Which means he was also a part of the Rangers squad that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and lost. The Blueshirts are well out of a wild-card spot and will likely deal their Norwegian forward.
The reason why the Oslo native would be a good fit with the Canadiens is that he is a small, pesky, 5-foot-8 forward who uses his speed and grit in front of the net to outwork the bigger defenders. His play is very similar to that of Brendan Gallagher, and you cannot have enough of those heart and soul players come playoff time.
More importantly, is the Canadiens’ desperate need for help on the man advantage. Zuccarello’s 13 power-play points can help boost a special teams unit that has become one of the league’s worst. Furthermore, he has played in 60 playoff games gives him something that most of the current Canadiens players do not have, postseason experience. That in itself means veteran leadership, and would be a significant presence in the dressing room, especially for one of the youngest rosters in the league.
2. Justin Faulk
The Canadiens are in the thick of the playoff race with a defense core of Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Victor Mete, Jordie Benn, Brett Kulak and Mike Reilly. While the first three names have been outstanding, the latter three are expendable. That is not to take away from what they have accomplished, but if Montreal wants to go deep in the playoffs, they will need to inject more talent on the blue line.
To put it into perspective, the Maple Leafs gave a lot away to add defenceman Jake Muzzin a few weeks ago, and they might be the Canadiens’ first-round matchup. One of the names on TSN’s Top 50 trade board that would fit in well in Montreal, is right-handed shooting defenceman, Justin Faulk.
The Habs’ biggest need is another strong body that can play in their top-four on defense. Faulk’s stock has diminished of late and he will not cost as much as Muzzin did, or some of the other players ranked higher on the trade list. He has just 20 points in 56 games, but hid right-handed shot is his most attractive asset. The Canadiens have just Petry and Weber as their right-handed shooting defensemen, with the other four all being left-handed.
The Minnesota-native plays a tremendous two-way game. He has a high hockey IQ to go along with a great offensive skillset and is a hard-nosed defender in his own zone. He also has another season left on his contract, and that is something that Bergevin would not take for granted.
1. Cam Fowler
The Anaheim Ducks are a disaster this season. They are last in the Western Conference and are sitting in the basement of the league. With the recent firing of head coach Randy Carlyle, there could be more changes coming in Southern California. The Canadiens’ biggest need is a defenseman they can slide into their top-four with years on his contract and who can give them some scoring, preferably on the power play.
Insert Cam Fowler. Like Zuccarello, the Canadiens have been linked to Fowler for some time. Speculation is rampant because Bergevin followed the Ducks through their Canadian road trip watching Fowler and then meeting with his agent, Pat Brisson, in Montreal a few days later. The 27-year-old defenseman from Windsor, Ontario has excellent speed and mobility but his greatest strength is his puck-moving ability.
Fowler also has had plenty of experience quarterbacking the power play, which he does regularly for the Ducks. If the Canadiens can acquire Fowler, they would fill their biggest need with one of the brightest young talents in the game. However, he, unlike the other two trade options, would cost Montreal significantly more. He is in the first year of an eight-year contract extension signed in the summer of 2017, worth a cap hit of $6.5 million.
Ducks general manager Bob Murray will not allow one of his prized assets to go for nothing. Even though Bergevin said publicly he will not mortgage the future for the present, this is exactly the type of player the Canadiens should target. A player that is young, under contract and could use a change of scenery.
The Pros Outweighs the Cons
In his last ten games, goaltender Carey Price has looked like his All-Star self. He has posted seven wins in that span with a sensational goals-against average of 2.01. The Habs’ most vital and expensive asset is playing his best hockey right now and that is not something that can be overlooked.
The Canadiens have shown this season they are a fast, hard to play against, well-coached team that has surpassed every expectation. Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi are playing their best hockey as professionals, and Weber has been a force.
Montreal is 15th in the NHL in scoring and their five-on-five play is up there with the best teams in the league. They have shown time and time again that they can rise to the occasion, playing against the better teams in the league and winning. Since Bergevin spoke to the media publicly last month, the Habs have jumped up in the standings and have been playing their best hockey of the season. All things are looking up for the Canadiens right now, so why not give us something to be excited about?
Ever since I was young, I lived and breathed hockey. I am a proud graduate of the College of Sports Media and Centennial’s Sports Journalism program. I spent two years covering the Oshawa Generals in the OHL before that I worked with CBC Sports and TSN.