It’s almost like the Montreal Canadiens gave up a lottery ticket for tomorrow’s draw for a bag of nuts at the convenience store counter when they traded away forward Jiri Sekac for Devante Smith-Pelly. Emphasis on the nuts.
Sekac for Smith-Pelly
Sure, Sekac wasn’t producing—the free-agent signing had just 16 points and one in his last nine games. However, there’s little denying his capabilities. Whether they were ever going to translate into long-term offensive success was anyone’s guess. But he is just 22 years old (like Smith-Pelly), and this whole deal reeks of the Habs and general manager Marc Bergevin giving up too early on a player with a whole lot of potential.
Smith-Pelly, a 2010 second-round pick, can no doubt help the Canadiens. He led the Anaheim Ducks with 147 hits after all (defenseman Alexei Emelin leads the Habs with 157). But, just like Sekac has two inches on him (6’2” versus 6’0”), his ceiling is (much) higher too.
Sure, Smith-Pelly is 220 pounds (Sekac is 195 lbs) and he instantly becomes Montreal’s heaviest forward, but there is a real sense the Habs, a team lacking offense, gave up yet another top-six-forward type (after Rene Bourque) in exchange for a depth player at best… What? I said “type.”
On the Plus Side
Smith-Pelly actually has more points than Sekac this year (17), but this is a guy who has spent time on the Anaheim Ducks’ top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in the past. While that sounds impressive, he doesn’t have much to show for his brief time riding shotgun with two of the top stars in the game.
In sharp contrast, Dale Weise has received all kinds of fanfare for his stint on Montreal’s much less talented top line alongside Max Pacioretty and either David Desharnais or Tomas Plekanec.
This is no offense to Weise, who is a great bottom-six forward and decent first-line one in a pinch, but the Habs need a player who’s even less capable of putting the puck in the net consistently like they do a hole in the head… and by head I mean lineup.
Right or Wrong?
While Bergevin gets a right-handed shot to fill a slot on the right side, Sekac could play on the right as well (despite shooting left). Now Montreal’s right side essentially comprises Brendan Gallagher, Dale Weise, Smith-Pelly, and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau once he’s healthy. It’s a less-than-ideal foursome when the Habs have the 23rd-ranked offense in the league. Smith-Pelly is unlikely to make it better.
It’s technically not a bad move by the Canadiens, especially in the short-term, seeing as Sekac was in a slump. Even looking to next season, the Habs will save $550,000 against the Cap with Smith-Pelly’s $800,000 cap hit (Sekac’s will be $1.35 million).
However, this move only really works out if the Habs are able to add to that offense in the lead-up to next Monday’s trade deadline. If this is the first of several deals that will beef up Montreal’s forward lines, so be it. But the key will be not giving up much in exchange. One can argue that, in Sekac, the Habs already have.
Smith-Pelly is expected to join the Canadiens in Columbus on Wednesday, in time for Thursday’s game against the Blue Jackets. The Habs face the Blues in St. Louis Tuesday night at 8 p.m. Eastern.
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.