To say a shake-up for the Buffalo Sabres is long overdue could be in the running for the biggest understatement of the decade so far. As the offence outside of Jack Eichel continues to stagnate, the defencemen continue to pile up the healthy scratches.
While the defence has looked stronger at times this season, the Sabres are in desperate need of reinforcements up front. At the same time, the Montreal Canadiens have similarly struggled this season and are likewise looking for a seismic change to their lineup.
The Canadiens have a number of exciting forward prospects coming but not much in the way of offensive defencemen. They would make the perfect trade partners for the defence-laden Sabres. Swapping Brandon Montour for Jonathan Drouin could benefit both teams.
Montour a Fit For Canadiens
The Canadiens currently boast a defensive deployment that focuses more on defence than offence. While Shea Weber and Jeff Petry are proven point producers, the likes of Ben Chiarot, Victor Mete, Brett Kulak and Cale Fleury tend to focus more on their own end.
Defensively responsible rearguards certainly have value. Having mobile defencemen who can move the puck up the ice, however, are harder to find and carry value all their own. Even on a very bad Anaheim Ducks team, Montour showed an elite ability to exit his own zone with possession and gain the offensive zone.
Montour is certainly not without his warts. While his individual expected goals per hour rate of 0.26 would rank third among Canadiens’ defencemen, his “high-event” style can cause chances to come back the other way. This alone should not be a reason to nix a potential deal though.
If Montour can be paired with a steady defensive player, his occasional deficiencies in his own zone can be lessened. Given the current logjam on the Sabres blueline, someone has to go. A 25-year-old right-shot defenceman with mobility to create should absolutely be of interest to the Canadiens. His contract negotiations this summer should not yield a massive payday, making him easy to fit under the cap. Watching his crisp passes hit the tape of Cole Caufield, Ryan Poehling and company for years to come will be a beautiful sight to Canadiens fans.
Drouin an Offensive Weapon the Sabres Need
Convincing the Canadiens to part ways with Drouin will not be a small task. Having been traded for stud defenceman Mikhail Sergachev, the young French-Canadian carries value to the Canadiens’ management team.
Drouin’s three seasons with the Canadiens have not gone quite the way most would have envisioned when he was acquired. Although he was able to tie a career-high 53 points in 2018-19, the hopes placed upon him were much higher and he sputtered offensively down the stretch. He has been questionable defensively and some have pondered if his $5.5 million cap hit is worth it through the end of 2022-23.
Drouin’s isolated impacts have been fascinating. His first three seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning saw him effectively creating offence while responsibly taking care of business in his own end. After being traded to the Canadiens, his overall game changed dramatically and he was less of a puck-possession monster.
As frustrating as it may be, it doesn’t appear Drouin is as effective as he could be under the Claude Julien system. A fresh start with a new team could provide the spark he needs to find the game he left in Tampa.
While things seemed to be coming to a head earlier this season with Drouin and the Canadiens, he is actually on the best points per 60 minute rate of his career. Even if there are defensive deficiencies in his game, his 0.81 individual expected goals per hour, while rating seventh amongst Canadiens’ forwards, would rank third amongst Sabres’ forwards behind only Jeff Skinner and Eichel.
Drouin would fit in nicely on the Sabres’ second line with Jeff Skinner. Having their two wingers figured out, the main goal of the summer for Jason Botterill would be acquiring a bonafide second-line centre. Not being under the pressure of the Montreal media and fanbase could be a positive for Drouin to help him regain his game and continue his projection as an offensive forward.
His contract, while definitely not a bargain, is not prohibitive to continuing to ice a competitive lineup. With the number of free agents the Sabres currently have and the available cap space they will have at their disposal this summer, Drouin would provide a nice fit at a reasonable price.
Canadiens and Sabres Make Good Trade Partners
Even though the trade may not be as simple as presented, the foundation for a deal that would help both teams is there. Montour would provide some much-needed mobility and offensive flair from the back-end. Drouin would give the Sabres the depth and offensive punch they so desperately need.
Both organizations have strengths where the other has weaknesses. In addition, both general managers are under pressure to augment their respective rosters and fix the holes – or risk having someone else brought in to do it. The Canadiens and Sabres make good trade partners. The question is, will they?