Montreal Canadiens: Depth Defensemen for Sale

With a trade market already well-established in the NHL, Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin finds himself in prime position to be one of the major sellers prior to Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

Bergevin has already begun unloading expiring contracts and depth defensemen before the re-tooling of his roster starts this summer. On Wednesday, Jakub Jerabek was traded to the Washington Capitals in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The deal was not surprising as Jerabek had not played since Feb 1 – a span of eight games. What is surprising, however, is the growing market for back-end defensemen in the NHL.

Since Feb 8, five depth defencemen, Jerabek included, have been acquired in trades. The Capitals also traded for Michael Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a 2018 third-round pick.

The Boston Bruins followed suit, making the biggest splash so far. On Tuesday, the team acquired Nick Holden from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2018 third-round pick. Prior to that, the Minnesota Wild traded forwards Mario Lucia and Christoph Bertschy in exchange for defensemen Viktor Loov, while the Ottawa Senators acquired Ville Pokka from the Blackhawks for Chris DiDomenico.

The market for the depth defensemen is evident, and the Canadiens have plenty to offer in trades. With the playoffs far out of sight, Bergevin’s task is to acquire as many future pieces as possible. Whether it be draft picks, or younger players, he has the means to make it happen.

Jordie Benn

Jordie Benn, who was acquired before last year’s trade deadline in exchange for Greg Pateryn and a fourth-round draft pick, offers the most value in a trade in the form of depth defensemen on the Canadiens blue line. With a reasonable 1.1 million-dollar cap hit for one more season, coupled with experience playing in the Western Conference, Benn could be useful to a Stanley Cup-contender in need of a stable fifth defensemen in their lineup.

Jordie Benn (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s been an up-and-down for Benn. Playing primarily in the top-four for the majority of the due to injury and a lack of depth in the lineup, Benn has been used out of place.Better suited in the role of a third-pairing defensemen, Benn has struggled out of his natural position, posting a Corsi-for percentage of 50.4%, 1.6 percent lower than last season. Benn was also a healthy scratch on Jan 30 versus the St. Louis Blues.

If used in the proper circumstances, Benn can be asset on the blue line. With the market for defensemen like him already set, Bergevin should certainly consider moving on from the bearded Benn brother. Based on trades that have already been made, Benn’s services could be parlayed into a third-round draft pick.

David Schlemko

Expectations were high for David Schlemko entering his first season with the Canadiens. Traded from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a fifth-round pick in 2019, the 30-year old defensemen was expected to step into the lineup and mend some of the loss of Andrei Markov’s puck-moving abilities. After missing the first 25 games of the year with a broken hand, Schlemko finally made his debut on Nov 29, 2017. Unfortunately, for the Canadiens, his impact on the team has been limited at best ever since.

David Schlemko Montreal Canadiens
David Schlemko, Montreal Canadiens, Feb. 20, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In 31 games, Schlemko has registered just one goal and three points, and has been the victim of numerous costly turnovers in the defensive zone. His 49.27% Corsi-for percentage at 5v5 this season is 3.69 percent off from last season, and he’s been on the ice for 90 high dangerous scoring chances against.

With a cap hit of 2.1 million over the next two seasons, it seems unlikely that Schlemko is traded away. If the Canadiens GM can collect anything more than a fifth-round pick for Schlemko, it would be viewed as a win.

Monday’s deadline is an important one for Bergevin, as the re-vamping of his roster begins shortly, and he should consider getting a head start by parting ways with a pair of depth defensemen that offer little value to the Canadiens in the future.