Montreal Canadiens Should Look To Buy and Sell at Trade Deadline

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 04: Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the Montreal Canadiens skates with the puck during warmups prior to the game against the New Jersey Devils on February 4, 2020 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Adam Hunger/NHLI via Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 04: Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the Montreal Canadiens skates with the puck during warmups prior to the game against the New Jersey Devils on February 4, 2020 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Adam Hunger/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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The Montreal Canadiens have fallen far out of the playoff race. Most teams in their situation would be sellers at the trade deadline. The Habs should sell some but also look to buy.

The Montreal Canadiens fell way back of the playoff race when they went on two separate eight game losing streaks. They have had some decent stretches of hockey here and there but it is nearly impossible to make up for two lengthy losing streaks.

The postseason will not be returning to Montreal this spring, so when the trade deadline approaches at the end of this month, the conventional wisdom suggests the Canadiens will be looking to sell off assets.

That’s the way things go in the National Hockey League. If you are going to miss the playoffs you trade away veteran players, especially players on expiring contracts and you add prospects and picks hoping to make your team better in the future. This is the route Montreal would typically look to go down as they sit with the 13th best points percentage in the Eastern Conference.

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With a few pending unrestricted free agents like Nate Thompson, Marco Scandella and Ilya Kovalchuk, the easy decision would be to trade them away for the best return possible. The more difficult decisions will come with veteran players that have some term left on their deals.

There are plenty of rumours suggesting Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry are generating interest on the market. It’s not that the Canadiens are dangling those players out there to see what the return is, but they are receiving plenty of calls to see if those particular players are available.

Both of them have one year left on their current contracts. They are also both on pace to set career highs in points. It puts the Canadiens in a difficult spot. Do they sell these players when they have the most value possible? Or do they keep them and hope things work out much better next season?

It is going to be a tough choice for general manager Marc Bergevin. He is likely getting great offers for these players which can be difficult to refuse. But, on the other hand, how do you sell off a couple of veterans and then tell Carey Price, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher and the rest of the team that they believe they can make the playoffs next year?

How do you keep everyone happy? Well, what if the Habs sell their veterans that they get a big haul for, but also buy a couple of younger players to fill the gaps?

If you look at the latest “Trade Bait Board” on TSN, there are some intriguing young players on the list. On that list you will see Kovalchuk near the top and Scandella and Petry near the bottom. The list would not have to be extended much further to add Thompson and Tatar based on the rumours you see all over the internet (from legit insiders at Sportsnet and TSN).

Trading Thompson and Scandella for late picks is a no-brainer. They are veterans who will be free agents in the summer and could help a team as a depth piece. It makes sense to grab a fourth or fifth round pick for each of them.

The tougher choice comes when taking offers for Petry, Tatar and even Kovalchuk. But what if the Canadiens trade all three of these players and then use the return to acquire younger players to fill the void?

For example. Let’s say the Habs trade away Petry to the highest bidder. They receive a first round pick and a great prospect like Ryan Suzuki from the Carolina Hurricanes who need Petry to replace Dougie Hamilton. Then they call up the Minnesota Wild and offer them a first round pick and a prospect like Jesse Ylonen for Matt Dumba.

Dumba is having a bit of a down year with a struggling Wild team, but he had 50 points in 2017-18 and is still just 25 years old. The Wild are apparently looking to find a new mix and would be willing to trade Dumba, which is why we see him on the “Trade Bait Board.”

Is Dumba better than Petry right now? That’s debatable. Will he be better than Petry in two years when Dumba is 27 and Petry is 34? Most likely. He is a right shot defender who plays physicals but also has an offensive acumen to his game. He would be a great fit behind Weber on the right side, is signed for three more years and would be a terrific replacement for Petry if the Habs decide to trade him.

Up front, it would be difficult to see Tatar leave town as he has been terrific since being acquired at  the start of last season. He has fit in perfectly on a two-way line with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. But what if the Pittsburgh Penguins decide they need a smart, two-way winger to play with Sidney Crosby with Jake Guentzel out long term and they offer up a first round pick and a top prospect like Nathan Legare? It would be difficult to refuse.

To fill the gap the Canadiens call up the Detroit Red Wings and offer Allan McShane and a third round pick for Andreas Athanasiou. Athanasiou is one of the fastest skaters in the league but like Dumba, is having a down season. He scored 30 goals last year, is only 25 so he could be a great fit on a speedy, offensive line in Montreal with Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin.

Athanasiou is a restricted free agent this summer and has been inconsistent in his career. However, it is likely that he would put up better numbers on a team like Montreal that has great possession numbers at even strength, rather than the Red Wings this season who are the worst team we have seen in the NHL in many years.

Trading Petry and Tatar would be a tough sell to the rest of the players on the team that believe this roster can make the playoffs next year. Offsetting that selling with the buying of Athanasiou and Dumba would ease the pain of losing two productive veterans.  It would make the Habs younger, but could also make them better next season and into the future if Dumba and Athanasiou play to their potential.

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I’d fully expect the Habs to be selling some players at this year’s trade deadline. If they decide to sell veterans with term like Petry and Tatar, I’d like to see them use the added picks and prospects to help them find NHL ready help in players like Dumba and Athanasiou.