Canadiens Need to Trade Excess Forward

With the return of Joel Edmundson to the Montreal Canadiens lineup, they had to make a move. That was to place Evgeny Dadonov on the injured reserve for “a virus,” allowing general manager (GM) Kent Hughes to keep the team compliant with the NHL’s 23-man roster limit. However, it only delays the inevitable. Hughes will have to find a way to shed a forward in the near future, as they have 15 forwards on the roster and only seven defencemen. 

According to Pierre LeBrun, phones are already heating up. 

“The Habs have not only reached out, I’m told, to the Washington Capitals, they’ve reached out to several clubs around the NHL trying to create a trade market for their glut of forwards, whether that’s Evgenii Dadonov or Jonathan Drouin or Mike Hoffman and beyond. The Habs have too many guys up front, which is why there were some noteworthy healthy scratches every night with that team. So, we’ll see where that goes, but certainly Montreal is looking to make a move.”

– Pierre LeBrun 

The Habs are going to be active and are aware that they’ll need to make a move, one that doesn’t involve waivers if possible, as Hughes doesn’t seem like a GM who wants to lose any assets without gaining one in return.  

Canadiens Need to Get Creative

Beyond the Capitals, other teams could acquire a veteran forward, but Hughes will need to temper his expectations on the value of his surplus forwards, as none seem to have played well enough to rise to the level of a first-round pick as the return value. Players that will be unrestricted free agents (UFA) at the end of the season, such as Drouin ($5.5 million) and Dadonov ($5 million), are obvious choices to be on the trade block, as well as Hoffman, who has a $4.5 million per year deal for two more seasons, including this season. 

Jonathan Drouin, Montreal Canadiens
Jonathan Drouin, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

To make a deal work, add value and net a larger return, Hughes has an ace up his sleeve that can help him — long-term injured reserve (LTIR) cap space. He can use this to retain up to 50 percent of the cap hit of any player being traded. The rule is that a team can retain up to 50 percent of the salary cap on as many as three players at the same time. Currently, the Habs are not retaining anyone. Also, as they are already into LTIR cap relief, it doesn’t impact their salary cap in any way, as they cannot accrue extra cap space as the season wears on because they are in LTIR relief.  

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With any trade the Canadiens make, Hughes will likely have to not only retain their salary but also take on a contract. All of that could mean that a trade’s return value could be more helpful than simply getting “future considerations.” So, who could plausibly be in search of a forward and be willing to give them a fresh start and overlook that they’ve been underperforming so far this season? 

Capitals Limping Into Trade Market 

The Capitals are playing .500 hockey, with a record of 5-5-2 for 12 points, and in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind a playoff spot but with the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers in between. This may have a lot to do with playing with a depleted roster. Nicklas Backstrom, Connor Brown and Carl Hagelin are all on LTIR, while John Carlson, TJ Oshie, Tom Wilson are all on the injured reserve. That is a significant part of the team’s core missing from action. With an aging roster, the Capitals’ window for contention for a championship will be coming to an end soon enough. So they can’t afford to miss the playoffs and lose a full year while Alexander Ovechkin is still producing offensively. 

In this case, it would be a good fit for Hughes to try and move Drouin or Dadonov to the Capitals. For two reasons, either one is capable of playing in a top-nine role and would be a good complementary depth piece, and two, their expiring contracts make it easy to walk away from them in the offseason once everyone under contract returns from injury. With Washington already $15.5 million into LTIR relief, they aren’t worried about accumulating cap space, so they don’t need to wait for a deal if one arises. With 50 percent retention by the Canadiens, they may be able to get a mid-round draft pick or even a goaltending prospect such as Mitchell Gibson from Harvard University, who could become an unrestricted free agent this summer. 

Flyers Desperate to Compete

The Philadelphia Flyers are another team in the Metropolitan Division in need of some depth. This could be of benefit to Hughes as both the Flyers and Capitals are in a heated battle for a playoff position against one another. It could cause a bit of an arms race in which the Canadiens can create a bidding skirmish (no one will go to war for the Habs’ excess forwards) for the upcoming UFAs. 

Philadelphia is a team that has a goal of competing for the playoffs this season; the hiring of John Tortorella is proof they will try. Unfortunately, they’ve also been hit by the injury bug. Couturier was badly hurt with a herniated disc in his back, which can be a very painful injury to deal with. It could mean, in a worst-case scenario, that he misses the entire season if he requires surgery. The best-case scenario is no surgery, which means only a few months on the sidelines.  

This could open a door for Hughes to offload one of his excess forwards for a minimal return if he retains his salary. It may be enough to get a mid to late-round pick, but the Canadiens would also need to take on a player under an NHL contract, as the Flyers are at the maximum of 50. Someone like Louis Belpedio, who was in the Habs’ system before, could be beneficial as he plays right defense and can fill a top-four role with the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Laval Rocket. This will allow players higher on the depth chart to get called up without hurting the Rocket’s chances at a playoff run. 

Other teams could become unexpected suitors for the Canadiens’ excess forwards too. No matter the case, Hughes doesn’t have the luxury of time, as he will need to take Dadonov off injured reserve shortly. Regardless of the return he gets if he offloads one of these players, the benefits are more far-reaching than adding some draft picks. Even if these players can get moved with salary retention and a Canadiens draft pick attached to them, it would still be of value to Hughes and the Habs. Their departures would open up development opportunities for the younger players in the organization. It’d mean more time on ice, larger roles, and even time on special teams for Juraj Slafkovsky, maybe even a roster spot that could be used to call up a player from Laval as well.  

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