The Montreal Canadiens enter Friday night’s NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver holding onto the 15th-overall pick, but all eyes will be on general manager Marc Bergevin.
Does he pull off one of his infamous draft-day trades to acquire that left-shooting defenseman that the organization desperately needs? Will it be a stopgap solution or a long-term fix? How much of their own assets are the Canadiens willing to give up?
Time will tell, but here’s a look at a few under-the-radar players, and which teams they could be acquired from, that Bergevin and the Canadiens’ could be targeting for trade over the next couple days.
Brayden McNabb, Vegas Golden Knights
If the salary cap does indeed go below $83 million as speculated, the Vegas Golden Knights would need to shed salary in order to re-sign restricted free agent William Karlsson before offer sheets startpouring in. Would Shea Theodore be available for the Canadiens to pry, along with David Clarkson’s contract?
It’s doubtful that newly-promoted Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon makes that deal, as he likely sees Theodore as a key player on the back end. Furthermore, adding both Clarkson and Theodore would eat up a good portion of cap space, something that might be too rich for Bergevin’s tastes.
Brayden McNabb, another lefty, has a reasonable $2.5-million dollar cap hit and has been a reliable, shut-down defenseman over the past couple of seasons in Sin City. He’s the type of player who makes sense for the Canadiens, given that they signed Karl Alzner with hopes of forming a pairing with captain Shea Weber. McNabb plays a similar, heavily defensive role, but he’s younger, cheaper, and shown to be a better player overall.
So why would Vegas be willing to move McNabb? Enter Clarkson’s contract, an interesting asset for Bergevin and the Canadiens to consider picking up while still giving themselves financial wiggle room. Similar to Bergevin’s acquisition of Joel Armia from the Winnipeg Jets last summer, the Canadiens could use their ample cap space to provide the Golden Knights with the relief they desperately need to solve one of their own problems at a bargain price.
Alec Martinez, Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings are embracing a much-need rebuild this summer, so its highly unlikely that the majority of their 30-year-olds not named Anze Kopitar or Drew Doughty, remain with the club going forward.
With an eye towards stockpiling picks and prospects, Kings GM Rob Blake might be reluctant to trade a Stanley Cup winner in Alec Martinez to the Canadiens, but it might fetch his team significant assets for their future. At a cap hit of $4 million for the next two seasons, Martinez would provide the Canadiens with cost certainty going forward, but Bergevin will need to give up two prospects and a pick in return. The Canadiens are likely mulling over whether or not to make a deal similar to the Maple Leafs’ acquisition of Jake Muzzin.
Still, Martinez remains a realistic trade target for Bergevin and his staff to consider heading into the draft. He’s a proven winner with good offensive instincts and would become a top-pairing defenseman in Montreal playing alongside Weber. Then again, would the Kings prefer keeping Martinez to play with Doughty all season? Blake and Bergevin are likely thinking the same thing for their clubs: best to strike while the iron’s hot.
Niklas Hjalmarsson, Arizona Coyotes
A 32-year-old defenseman coming in at a cap hit of $5 million per season may sound steep, but Hjalmarsson would provide a lot of intangibles to the Canadiens and Bergevin knows this player well from their days together with the Chicago Blackhawks organization.
Hjalmarsson, who has a no-trade clause, might be a puzzling move to Coyotes fans considering the steps this team took to gain respectability in the Western Conference this season. Why would Hjalmarsson move to the Eastern Conference for a similar situation in Montreal? A new ownership group might have new ideas for the ‘Yotes. That’s where Bergevin’s going to have to do some convincing if he does attempt to lure Hjalmarsson to Montreal.
What’s of most importance to Bergevin is to find a defenseman with a reasonable cap hit for a short-term fix, considering highly-touted prospect Alexander Romanov is a couple of seasons away from making the NHL. Or, maybe we see Bergevin swing for the fences with another blockbuster deal at the draft.
If not, he’ll be dreading the possibility of having to spend big bucks on a long-term contract for a free agent come July. Those types of deals just make for future financial headaches, a lesson Bergevin has learned by now.