The NHL Draft is complete and the Montreal Canadiens made five more selections today, to go along with Nikita Scherbak, who was taken with the 26th pick in the first round last night. Aside from a trade to move up in the third round of the draft, the Habs have been quiet on the trade front, and rumors were fairly silent as well. That is, until Bob McKenzie of TSN sent out the following tweet:
The Canadiens have recently re-signed Andrei Markov to a three year deal, but will wave good-bye to veteran defenders Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray this summer, will allow Mike Weaver to test the free agent market, and are yet to resolve the P.K. Subban contract situation.
With all of this uncertainty on the back end, it is a puzzling time for the Canadiens to be dangling Josh Gorges on the trade block. Do they want any defensemen to return and help keep one of the league’s best penalty killing units afloat?
This time of year is a crazy time for unsubstantiated rumors, and normally I ignore most of the crazy trade proposals and rumors that find their way onto twitter. However, this one came from Bob McKenzie, the Grand Poobah of inside information in the National Hockey League. This is not some guy on twitter who can not spell hockey or insider correctly, yet claims to be a hockey insider. This rumor actually deserves acknowledgement and attention.
Two things really jump out at me when I consider why the Habs would be willing to move Gorges, who is a great defensive player for the Habs. First, the Canadiens must have decided to open the door for younger defensemen, and have plenty of reasons to do so.
Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi have played sparingly for the Habs over the past two seasons, but have spent most of their time with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League. Both are former first round picks, and both play the left side, just like Gorges, so maybe the Habs feel they need to open a spot for the young defenders.
Secondly, with the rules of the new CBA, teams are allowed to talk to pending unrestricted free agents before they officially hit the open market on Tuesday. Is it possible that the Canadiens have held talks with a defenseman about to be a free agent, and think they can sign him, but need to open up some cap space first?
It is not that farfetched. When you start trying to find reasons why the Canadiens management, who are obsessed with character, have decided to move a guy who is most likely to be the team’s next captain, you are led to believe they have something else cooking as well.
But what defenseman on the open market is worth giving up Gorges for? It would obviously have to be a player better than Gorges, and likely a better fit on the Habs. Montreal could really use a right handed defender to play on the second pairing behind Subban (who will be re-signed). There are a pair of soon to be free agents that fit that bill, and they are Matt Niskanen and Anton Stralman.
Niskanen is more of an offensive defenseman who scored 46 points last season on an offensively gifted Pittsburgh Penguins team. He did not play much on the Penguins penalty kill, but is a great puck mover and could help out any team. While replacing Gorges with Niskanen would weaken the Habs penalty kill, having Markov, Subban, Niskanen and Beaulieu would give the Habs one of the best groups of puck moving defensemen in the league.
Stralman is the opposite, as he was a big help on the New York Rangers shorthanded unit, but scored only one goal and 13 points this past season. He is more of a defensive minded player, and could fill the void left by Gorges potential departure, but from the right side where the Habs already have an enormous void. This wouldn’t change the makeup of the Habs team very much, but would give a better left-right balance on the blue line.
It is difficult to read the poker face of Marc Bergevin, but with only five defensemen signed for next season at the moment, including Beaulieu and Tinordi who are still rookies, trading Gorges is a curious move.
If Josh Gorges is traded, there is no question the Canadiens have another big move up their sleeve. The Canadiens simply can not and will not move Gorges without replacing him or upgrading their defence in the mean time. Niskanen and Stralman are both intriguing options that could make the Montreal Canadiens a better team next season.