For a variety of reasons, general manager Marc Bergevin should want to make a move at the trade deadline and improve his team. However, as he explained during a recent media-availability session, his hands are tied because the Habs are lacking space and “don’t have any dead money on our roster that we’d like to move.”
There are still players who haven’t been utilized as much as they could be in theory. So, maybe not “dead” money, but “restfully napping” money?
To be clear, these aren’t trade chips per se, but rather trade facilitators in theory, players that might be able to be moved to get their salaries off the books and make space. Taking into account how much the Habs would want to move them, how effective moving them would be towards reaching an end goal of making space under the cap and how much they would appeal to potential partners, here are the top five:
4. Brett Kulak ($1.85 million)
Defenseman Brett Kulak makes this list only because of his relatively high cap hit. Truth be told, in spite of how Kulak had been a logical assumption to be traded following the acquisition of Joel Edmundson, he has established himself as a legitimate top-six defenseman this season (and top-four, if his partner is Jeff Petry).
Ultimately, freeing up cap space by trading Kulak remains a possibility, just not a probability. It’s a shame, not because the Habs should want to lose him, but rather his play this season has likely made him attractive to other teams who wouldn’t necessarily be adverse to his inclusion in a trade for the sake of getting one done.
3. Victor Mete ($735,000)
In the eyes of Canadiens management and the coaching staff, few players are probably as expendable as defenseman Victor Mete. Even taking into account how Bergevin said the Habs “have no intention of trading” Mete after an alleged trade request was made public, it’s hard to believe the Canadiens haven’t soured on him.
Consider the following scenario: If he were a future asset that a potential trade partner inquired about, would Bergevin realistically play hardball for more than a millisecond before signing the paperwork? Probably not considering the 14:23 he’s averaged over just eight games this season.
As far as Canadiens defensemen go, only Xavier Ouellet has averaged less (three games), but he’s been left off here for the simple reason that it’s hard to consider him an NHL player anymore. In contrast, Mete still potentially has a long career ahead of him. He takes the No. 4 spot, because, due to his minimal hit, including him in a trade is unlikely to move the needle all that much.
2. Paul Byron ($3.4 million)
Paul Byron remains a useful middle-six player in this league as a two-time 20-goal scorer (who had been on pace for a third consecutive one in 2018-19, falling short due to having just played 56 games).
The problem is, on the Canadiens, he’s a fourth-line forward with just two goals (seven points) this season. With a cap hit of $3.4 million, he makes as much fiscally responsible sense as an outdoor game in the middle of a sunny afternoon at, say, Lake Tahoe.
Byron has admittedly passed through waivers several times this season. The hope is other teams simply aren’t biting because they can’t take on his cap hit without anything going back the other way. The sheer fact the Habs have waived him is a sign they’ve done a cost-benefit analysis and losing him to another team wouldn’t be the worst option. Losing him in a trade for a missing piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle would be far better.
1. Artturi Lehkonen ($2.4 million)
A frequent healthy scratch, Lehkonen may have a lower cap hit than Byron, but he’s got more upside. Still just 25, Lehkonen would be an easier sell as a throw-in in a trade as a consistent 30-point threat (even though he’s scored just four points so far this season in limited action).
Granted, Lehkonen is often seen as snake-bit when it comes to scoring goals. Nevertheless, his overall point production at even-strength is high, having amassed a fourth-ranked 1.78 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five in 2019-20, right after the members of the then-top line of Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar.
Put simply, you can make a case Lehkonen has simply been miscast in the fourth-line role he’s been playing so far this season. Hell, maybe the Canadiens would be better served keeping him in the fold. The point is, based on his time out of the lineup, the Habs probably don’t see it that way, earning Lehkonen the No. 1 spot on this list.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.