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Scout’s Analysis: How the Montreal Canadiens should approach trade deadline

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As we continue our series examining the organizational depth, salary cap scenario, and future draft capital of Canadian NHL clubs, we now move on to the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canadiens are suffering through some growing pains but the future looks bright in Montreal.

Here’s a look at the Montreal Canadiens:

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ROSTER AND SALARY CAP

Visual courtesy CapFriendly.com

Notes: Nick Suzuki becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2029-30 season; Josh Anderson becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2027-28 season. Anderson’s modified no-trade clause is an eight-team list through 2024-25, then becomes a five-team list; Evgenii Dadonov’s contract has a 10-team no-trade clause.

Visual courtesy CapFriendly.com

Notes: Mike Matheson’s contract has an eight-team no-trade clause; Joel Edmundson’s contract has a 10-team no-trade clause.

Visual courtesy CapFriendly.com
Visual courtesy CapFriendly.com

Notes: Brendan Gallagher has a six-team no-trade list; Jonathan Drouin has a three-team no-trade clause.

Visual courtesy CapFriendly.com

Notes: Carey Price has a full no-move clause; Sean Monahan has a 10-team no-trade clause.

DEAD CAP

Visual courtesy CapFriendly.com

DRAFT GRID

Visual courtesy CapFriendly.com

Note: The Canadiens are flush with draft capital moving forward. The 2023 NHL Draft will provide the Canadiens with further opportunities to add to their deep prospect pool. The Florida Panthers’ first-round pick in 2023 is not lottery protected — meaning if the Panthers finish outside the playoffs the Canadiens will be guaranteed two selections in the very top half of the draft. At this stage of the season, it appears the Canadiens will have three picks in the top 40 of the 2023 draft

NHL FORWARDS

Nick Suzuki: The newly minted captain of the Montreal Canadiens is the perfect personality to lead this group moving forward. He leads by example and chooses his words wisely when required.

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Suzuki has scored 16 goals and 24 assists. He averages just over 21 minutes of time on ice, per game, and skates in all situations. An outlier, statistically, is his plus/minus rating of minus-15 – which is more indicative of the ebbs and flows the team has gone through this year and not his lack of detail as a player.

Suzuki is a highly-skilled, albeit cerebral, center. I’d like to see an improvement in the face-off circle, where he’s currently at a 48.55 per cent success rate. He’s signed to a contract that should age nicely, with a $7.875 million through the 2029-30 season.

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Cole Caufield: Before his season was shut down due to shoulder surgery, Caufield was playing to his identity. He’s a goal scorer and an elite shooter. Caufield scored 26 goals and 10 assists before being shut down. He was averaging over 18 minutes of time on ice at even strength and the power-play. He doesn’t kill penalties.

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There will be times, throughout the season, when his overall detail will range. He’s not the kind of player who can be depended on in key defensive scenarios but he has the potential to someday become 50 goal scorer as the team matures.

Kirby Dach: Dach is only 21 years old and he has already played over 200 NHL games. Overall, his game is trending in the right direction. The theme of this team is “growing pains” and Dach will continue to go through his share of ups and downs. Having said that, he has already eclipsed his career high in points and could eclipse 50 points for the first time in his career.

Dach has scored 11 goals and 22 assists. He averages just over 18 minutes time on ice, with the bulk of his time coming at even strength and the power play. Nearly half of his points (five goals and nine assists) have come on the power play. His plus/minus rating of minus-6 is a significant improvement from his time in Chicago. Dach can play both center and the wing, giving the Canadiens some roster flexibility. He will be part of the Canadiens core as the team evolves.

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Christian Dvorak: Dvorak is an interesting conversation. On the surface I can see how Montreal fans expect more out of his game. But there is more than meets the eye when dissecting Dvorak’s play. He averages around 17 minutes of time on ice and is used in all situations. He wins 52 per cent of his face-offs. His pace is sound. On the puck, and away from the play, his effort is reliable. His routes, defending in his zone and on the penalty kill, could be better timed and executed — there are instances he ends up on the wrong angle trying to contain opponents.

Dvorak has scored seven goals and 13 assists. He only has four penalty minutes. His salary of $4.5 million is affordable for one more year before he becomes an unrestricted free agent, but he’s only on pace for around 30 points which is too expensive for what Montreal gets in return. I’m sitting on the fence as to whether or not he’s part of the big picture beyond next season. If he is, it won’t be at his current salary.

Josh Anderson: Anderson is a power forward who is on pace for a 20-goal season. He plays with pace and he’s heavy in the trenches. Although he extends plays, Anderson is certainly not a playmaker or distributor. He’s signed through 2027-28 and has an eight-team no-trade list in his contract.

Is he too expensive for his role at $5.5 million? It’s definitely debatable. If his cap hit started with a four I think people would be more comfortable. Anderson averages just over 16 minutes time on ice and is used in all situations. He’s second amongst the forward group with 100 hits. His role has value. Not having him in the lineup would put more physical stress on other players.

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Evgenii Dadonov: Dadonov is on an expiring contract with a cap hit of $5 million. He averages just over 14 minutes per game but his overall impact has been minimal with just four goals and nine assists. If a team calls on Dadonov the Canadiens will have to retain some salary moving him out. It would be like Montreal is purchasing a draft pick by retaining salary. Dadonov has the right to veto a trade to a team he doesn’t want to go to. He can submit his own 10-team no-trade list.

Mike Hoffman: Hoffman’s offensive numbers have been on the decline for several seasons in a row. He scored 17 goals and 19 assists for the St. Louis Blues before arriving in Montreal in 2021-22. The most impressive statistic, from his time with the Blues, was his plus/minus rating when he was a plus-2. He hasn’t scored enough in Montreal. He’s nine goals and nine assists this season have him on pace for around 15 goals. His defensive awareness and off-the-puck effort is frustrating to watch at times. He’s signed through next season. His cap hit is $4.5 million but his actual cash is $5 million for 2023-24. If a contending team is looking for a shooter to add to their lineup, and the numbers add up in the Canadiens favour, I would definitely move Hoffman in a deal.

Michael Pezzetta: Pezzetta is a depth forward who plays with energy and brings a physical element. He’s quick to space and can be a distraction. Opponents definitely have to be aware of him when he’s on the ice and tracking the play. He’s finishing his checks at all costs. He leads the Montreal forwards with 112 hits, despite only playing 32 games. Considering Pezzetta only averages 8:42 minutes per game it’s an even more impressive statistic. He’s also chipped in offensively with three goals and three assists. I appreciate how Pezzetta plays the game. He knows his role.

Rem Pitlick: Pitlick is a bottom-six forward at even strength but he can slide into the second power-play unit. If required, he can occasionally be used in a top-six role (due to an injury for example). Pitlick is a player who can be moved up and down from the AHL, when the team is healthy. He’s valuable to the organization but doesn’t project as a long-term fit as this group matures. The fact his salary pays him $1.1 million in the NHL and AHL prices him out of the market for most teams. Pitlick has scored three goals and two assists in 21 games this year. He averages 12 minutes per game. His ice time comes at even strength and the second power-play unit.

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Rafael Harvey-Pinard: Harvey-Pinard has impressed me with his effort and attempt to play with reliable detail in all three zones. He’s only played seven games but he’s contributed five goals and one assist. He’s not big at five-foot-nine and 170 pounds, but he’s quick to space, competes to win pucks and goes to the net area looking for tips and rebounds. Harvey-Pinard deserves a longer look this season. He’s earned the opportunity.

SICK BAY — INJURED RESERVE

Jake Evans: A two-way forward who plays a bottom-six role. Averages 14 minutes of time on ice per game at even strength and the penalty kill. Wins just shy of 52 per cent of his face-offs. Has struggled to remain healthy for an entire season. Signed through 2024-25 with a cap hit of $1.7 million. Doesn’t play with enough presence in my opinion.

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Jonathan Drouin: He’s an unrestricted free agent after this season. I’m not privy to what is happening with Drouin behind the scenes, off the ice. Obviously, his career, to date hasn’t been a smooth ride. Sometimes it’s more about the person than the game. I’m not sure where things go for Drouin from here.

Joel Armia: I thought he had turned the corner a few years ago, and could be tracking to (finally) play to a consistent identity. The story of his career, dating back to when he was a prospect, is that he can’t seem to string together seasons that look the same. He’s six-foot-four and 218 pounds but only has 28 hits on the season! His three goals and four assists don’t make up for his lack of consistent pushback and presence.

Brendan Gallagher: I appreciate what Gallagher has contributed to the organization. He’s a heart and soul player who leads by example. Gallagher has also been part of the Canadiens leadership group for years. This contract is not aging well though. His cap hit is $6 million through 2026-27 but he is due to make $17 million in actual cash the next two seasons. That’s a ton of dough for a player who has only scored 25 goals and 31 assists in his last 116 games played and is struggling to stay healthy at this stage of his career. Gallagher’s contract includes a six-team no-trade list.

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Juraj Slafkovsky: It’s going to take time. I witnessed Slafkovsky taking pucks to the middle of the ice and not being aware of opponents below the goal line early this season at the Buffalo Sabres rookie tournament. Fast forward to the regular season and Slafkovsky was caught with his head down, at the NHL level, several times. The power forward scored four goals and six assists and averaged just over 12 minutes of ice time before going down with a lower-body injury.

Sean Monahan: If Monahan returns to the Canadiens lineup healthy, and contributes close to what he had before being injured in December — when he had six goals and 11 assists in 25 games — he could be coveted by a contending team looking to add veteran depth at the center ice position. Monahan averages 55 per cent in the face-off dot and coaches want their teams to start with the puck in all three zones. Monahan is the kind of player who can be used in a variety of roles. He has averaged 17 minutes per game and has been deployed in all situations during his time in Montreal.

Paul Byron: Nothing new to report on Byron. He hasn’t played this year and his contract is due to expire at the end of the season. He remains on LTIR.

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NHL DEFENCEMAN

Mike Matheson: His return home hasn’t been a smooth ride. Matheson has been dealing with injuries most of the season and only skated in 17 games as of the All-Star break. When he is in the lineup he eats up minutes – averaging over 23 minutes per game. Matheson is used in all situations and has contributed one goal and seven assists. He’s an elite skater who can lead or join the rush. At times less would be more from Matheson. He competes and wants to make a difference but also turns pucks over in the wrong areas of the ice occasionally. Matheson is signed through 2026-27 with a cap hit of $4.875 million. He has an eight-team no-trade clause in his contract.

David Savard: Savard is a veteran defender who is logging over 22 hard minutes every night. He matches up against top opponents at even strength and on the penalty kill. He’s sixth in the league with 114 blocked shots. There’s nothing flashy about his game. He’s an average skater but he manages the game well and gets in the lanes with his size at six-foot-two and 229 pounds. Savard is signed through 2024-25 and his contract is affordable at $3.5 million per season. Teams will ask about his availability. Savard doesn’t have trade protection in his contract.

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Joel Edmundson: Edmundson is only 29 years old. He’s a veteran presence on the back end for the Habs. He is used at even strength and the penalty kill. Like Savard, there are no easy minutes for Edmundson. He’s second on the Canadiens and 10th league-wide with 110 shot blocks. Edmundson is an average skater who relies on sound positioning and his length at six-foot-four and 215 pounds in the defensive zone.

Some critics will critique his plus/minus and say Edmundson’s a poor defender but it would be short-sighted to do so. He would be a nice addition to a contending team as a player who could match up against middle-six opponents and take some of the heavy lifting off of the top four. His name has been circulating in trade rumours. Edmundson has one more year left on his current contract with a $3.5 million average annual value. His deal includes a 10-team no-trade clause.

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Arber Xhekaj: Has anyone been more fun to watch this year in Montreal than Xhekaj? The undrafted defender has willed his way to the NHL. He’s averaging 15 minutes per game and his ice time comes, primarily, at even strength and the second power-play unit. Xhekaj has chipped in five goals and eight assists. It goes without saying he has asserted himself physically. Xhekaj leads Montreal with 154 hits. He’s let it be known he will stand up for his teammates. Xhekaj also has 10 fights this season. He’s on his entry-level deal. There are nights he gets caught not moving his feet quick enough below the hash marks in his zone, but overall, his defending has been pretty solid for a rookie NHL defender. The fact he makes a good first pass and can manage the play on the second power-play unit is also a bonus.

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Johnathan Kovacevic: Montreal is getting all they can out of Kovacevic. He was claimed on waivers from Winnipeg on Oct. 8. He’s relatively young at 25, a right-shot, and he’s rangy at six-foot-four, 208 pounds. There’s not a ton of flash to his game. He keeps things simple with the puck. On straight lines his skating is average-plus for the NHL. Where he does get into some trouble is with his small area agility/tight turns/ jump to space. Kovacevic is averaging just over 14 minutes per game. He is used at even strength and on one of the penalty-killing units. He’s signed through 2024-25 and his cap hit is a modest $767,000.

Jordan Harris: Harris is maturing before our eyes. Coming out of college, he is a 22-year-old NHL rookie. He’s not huge in stature at five-foot-11 and 180 pounds but he’s not shy about getting in lanes to block shots and he also has some bump to his game physically. Harris is a character kid who has the potential to be a future leader. There will be some stumbling blocks along the way. Montreal’s patience will be rewarded with Harris as he continues to mature. Harris averages 18 minutes of time on ice per game and is deployed at even strength and the penalty kill. He’s a mobile, two-way NHL defenceman. His contract will be interesting to monitor. Harris is a pending Group 2 RFA this summer. His current deal pays him a base of $842,000 but escalates with bonuses to $1.137 million.

Justin Barron: It’s a small sample size of just 14 games in a Canadiens uniform and it’s going to take some time to mature into an NHL defender but Barron has had a nice season at the AHL level with Laval with seven goals and nine assists in 25 games. With the Canadiens he has occasionally shown what he is capable of with the puck. Barron projects to be a two-way/somewhat transitional “D” who can manage the puck on one of the power play units. His detail and defence should continue to evolve. Barron is part of an exciting core of young defenceman in the Montreal pipeline. He’s on his entry-level contract. It expires at the end of next season, leading to Barron becoming an RFA in the summer of 2024.

Chris Wideman: Wideman is a useful veteran who is a bit of a “swiss army knife” for Montreal. He was recently taking shifts at forward as the Canadiens navigate some injury issues with their forward group. I look at Wideman as a cheap “safety blanket” for Montreal. He can skate at the NHL level, competes, and can contribute on one of the power play units as a distributor. With his salary of $763,000, Montreal can afford to move him in and out of the lineup when required.

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SICK BAY — INJURED RESERVE

Kaiden Guhle: Before going down with injury Guhle was displaying to Montreal fans, his coaches and Canadiens management what to expect in the future. He was averaging almost 22 minutes per game. Guhle is one of my favourite young NHL defencemen. I’m not sugarcoating my bias. He can do it all. Guhle is a fantastic skater, competes, plays physical, provides secondary offence, and can be used in all situations. Montreal has some outstanding young prospects. I put Guhle at the top of that list right now.

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NHL GOALIES

Sam Montembeault: I’m not embarrassed to say I have a bias when it comes to Montembeault as well. When I was in Florida, we selected him in the third round of the 2015 NHL Draft. Goalies generally take time to develop and Montembeault is no exception. He is looking more and more confident in recent weeks. Montreal claimed him off waivers on Oct. 2, 2021. He is now, at worst, a solid No. 2 NHL goalie and potentially a No. 1B.

The six-foot-three, 214-pound goaltender plays a butterfly/athletic style. He moves very well laterally. One of my concerns has always been his ability to “start on time” and I’m continuing to monitor his preparation. Teams don’t want to chase the game early. He needs to make sure he is ready to make the first save every night. Montembault is signed through next season and his cap hit is $1 million.

Jake Allen: There are nights that Allen has been fantastic for Montreal this season. There have also been nights that he struggled. I know it sounds simple, but I can’t describe it any other way. His stats only tell some of the story with a 3.85 goals-against average and .891 save percentage. The team in front of Allen is young and they give up more grade “A” chances than a lot of teams in the league.

Allen is a veteran goalie who can assist with bringing along Montembeault. He’s better suited for low-end No. 1B duty (35 games) than No. 1 duty (52 games). Allen is signed through 2024-25 and his contract carries a cap hit of $3.85 million. If someone called on him I would certainly listen, but Montreal would then need to add a veteran goalie in the off-season. Sometimes it’s better to stay the course with what you have.

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SICK BAY — INJURED RESERVE

Carey Price: I don’t have any inside information on Price. He was one of the NHL’s top goalies for several seasons. He’s attempted to rehab his knee injury and things just haven’t gone his way. Price is securely on LTIR.

PROSPECT UPDATE

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Owen Beck: The last couple of months have been a whirlwind for Beck. He was the last cut out of Team Canada’s World Junior Team training camp but was recalled after Colton Dach went down with an injury. Beck was traded from Mississauga to Peterborough at the OHL trade deadline. He also skated in his first NHL game against Ottawa as an emergency recall for Montreal on Jan. 28.

Montreal has an excellent prospect in Beck. He’s not an elite scorer with 19 goals and 29 assists in 41 OHL games but he plays with three-zone detail and is outstanding in the face-off circle. He continues to project as a solid No. 3 centreman — with spot duty as a No. 2 — at the NHL level.

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Jayden Struble: Struble is entering the stretch drive of his senior season at Northeastern University. Montreal will be on the clock to get him signed. Not much has changed with Struble. He continues to log the majority of his minutes at even strength and the penalty kill for the Huskies. He averages around 19 minutes per game. Struble has a chance to be a two-way defenceman while potentially leaning toward a shutdown role in the NHL. He competes and brings a physical edge. I’m not expecting much in the way of offence when he arrives at the pro level. Recently he went through a significant dry spell of one assist in 12 games but snapped out of his slump by contributing six assists in his last five games.

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TRADE DEADLINE APPROACH

I have been suggesting “hypothetical” trade scenarios, in my Canadian team breakdowns over the past several weeks.

Montreal is a seller. There is no doubt they are in the midst of a rebuild. The cycle of prospects they have on the horizon is very deep. They will, eventually, not have enough room for all of their home-grown talent on their NHL roster. But internal competition is a great equalizer that provides opportunities for their best prospects to battle for jobs. I also believe it’s in their best interest to continue to add draft capital and select more assets for the organization. Good assets eventually land on your own roster, or they are used in trades with teams to acquire veteran players.

With that in mind, here are a few hypothetical trade scenarios:

MONTREAL TRADES: Joel Edmundson
EDMONTON TRADES: Jesse Puljujarvi (expiring contract), lottery-protected 2023 first-round pick or unprotected 2024 first-round pick (Montreal’s choice no later than one week before 2023 draft).

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MONTREAL TRADES: Mike Hoffman (retain 50 per cent of salary)
CALGARY TRADES: Second-round pick (2024) and sixth-round pick (2025)

MONTREAL TRADES: David Savard (retain 25 per cent of salary)
TAMPA BAY TRADES: Vladislav Namestnikov (expiring contract) and second-round pick (2024).

Note: On the surface, it looks expensive for Montreal when retaining salary. The reality is the Canadiens have cap space now and a young crop of players joining their roster on entry-level deals in the near future. The Canadiens would essentially be purchasing the second-round and sixth-round picks with the salaries being retained, allowing them to further add to their prospect pool with the extra draft selections.

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