Montreal Canadiens: Could The Habs Actually Be Buyers At The Trade Deadline?

MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 12: Alec Martinez #27 of the Los Angeles Kings fires a slap shot against the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL game at the Bell Centre on December 12, 2014 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 12: Alec Martinez #27 of the Los Angeles Kings fires a slap shot against the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL game at the Bell Centre on December 12, 2014 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens season seemed over weeks ago. A recent surge in their play has them with a slim chance of catching their division rivals and getting into the postseason. Could the Habs actually be buyers at the trade deadline?

The Montreal Canadiens were written off by most the fan base weeks ago. The biggest debate around the team in anticipation of the trade deadline hasn’t been whether they should buy or sell, but just how much of their roster should they sell.

Most people agreed that pending unrestricted free agents Marco Scandella, Nate Thompson and Ilya Kovalchuk should be dealt to the highest bidder before the trade deadline passes on February 24th. When the Canadiens entered their bye-week surrounding the All-Star Game just two weeks ago, Marc Bergevin said he would meet with his scouts and management team to decide the next steps.

It seemed only logical with them being 13th in the Eastern Conference at the time that those next steps would be to sell off these veterans and add as many draft picks as possible. The NHL Draft is taking place in Montreal this June, so why not load up on picks to keep that fans engaged all weekend?

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Well, the team has gone on a hot streak since, and must have Bergevin considering all of his options once again. A win over the Toronto Maple Leafs last night gives the Habs nine wins in their last 12 games. They remain five points back of those Leafs for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

Is it possible that Bergevin and the Canadiens could decide to be buyers at the trade deadline?

With their team battling many injuries throughout the season, it is difficult to gauge just how good this team is when they are healthy. They started the year 11-5-3 in their first 18 contests with a mostly healthy lineup. That was without Carey Price playing his sharpest hockey.

Lately, the former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner has been at his best once again. In his last ten starts, Price has an incredible 1.58 goals against average and a .950 save percentage. Not surprisingly, the Habs are 8-2-0 in those games. With Price playing at the top of his game, it’s not inconceivable that the Habs can continue their strong recent play for the rest of the season.

If they continue to play well for their last 25 games, they do have a chance of catching the Maple Leafs and earning a playoff berth. The Leafs and the Panthers both have their defensive struggles and aren’t invincible. If they stumble a little down the stretch, a record of 17-8-0 could be good enough to get the Canadiens into the playoffs.

If they have a chance at the postseason, I can’t see Bergevin deciding to sell assets at the trade deadline. Acquiring fifth round picks for Thompson and Scandella isn’t worth it if it reduces the team’s chances at making the playoffs. The one player that could fetch a bigger return is Kovalchuk, but he was available as a free agent a month ago and no one was overly interested in signing him. Will they admit they were wrong and give up assets for Kovalchuk now? I’m not convinced they will. This will limit the return Bergevin can get for Kovalchuk.

So, why not keep him around and push for the playoffs? If the Habs decide not to sell, they could look to buy before the trade deadline. Especially if they play well over their seven games between now and the deadline.

If the Habs decide to add another player, who could it be? Up front, their top line of Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar doesn’t need to be adjusted. Their second scoring line of Nick Suzuki, Ilya Kovalchuk and Joel Armia has looked great since being put together. Jonathan Drouin just returned from injury and provides excellent scoring depth with Max Domi and Artturi Lehkonen on the third line. Nate Thompson is a fine fourth line centre and should have Paul Byron back on his wing soon as well as Nick Cousins on the other side.

That is a tremendously deep pool of forwards. With the team getting healthy up front finally, they don’t really need to go out and acquire another forward. Drouin and Byron are acting as the deadline acquisitions and the team was off to a great start before they got hurt. They should slide back into the lineup seamlessly.

On defence, the Canadiens have already acquired Scandella to balance things out, but he is a third pairing guy. They have Jeff Petry, Brett Kulak, Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot playing in the top four right now. With Weber on injured reserve, the Canadiens will look to add a defenceman if they look to acquire anyone before the deadline.

The Canadiens were rumoured to be interested in Los Angeles Kings defender Alec Martinez earlier in the season. He would  be a perfect fit for a fluid Habs blue line. Martinez has been eating up top four minutes in Los Angeles since they were Stanley Cup contenders. He can play both sides of the ice, rarely makes mistakes and can contribute offensively as well.

He could play anywhere from first pairing minutes on the left side with Weber, to third pairing minutes on the right side behind Weber and Petry. He is a veteran of close to 600 NHL games and has won two Stanley Cups with the Kings. He has just nine points this season, but set a career high with 39 three seasons ago.

The Habs already robbed a key player from the Kings in Kovalchuk and saw him play far better once he left their struggling team. Could they do it again?

Martinez would probably cost a second round pick which seems like a lot for a team that is not guaranteed a playoff spot. However, he is signed for another year after this year at a manageable $4 million cap hit. Giving up a second rounder for him would give the Canadiens more depth on the blue line and a better chance at sneaking into the postseason this year. It would also give them a better team headed into 2020-21.

It would also provide a little insurance next season for Alexander Romanov when he arrives from Russia. If Romanov is ready to play, put him in the lineup. If he needs a little AHL seasoning, then you have enough depth at the position that you don’t need to rush him.

Next. Reinforcements on the way for Habs. dark

The Canadiens have played well enough in the past month that they are back on the fringes of the playoff discussion. If they decide not to sell, and look to make a push for the postseason, Alec Martinez would be the perfect trade deadline addition.