The Montreal Canadiens were sellers at the trade deadline, sending out any veteran player who had an expiring contract. Will they regret it?
The Montreal Canadiens looked to be far outside the postseason picture in February when the trade deadline was approaching. Considering their long odds of getting near the postseason, general manager Marc Bergevin went about selling off any veteran on an expiring contract for future draft picks.
Out the door went Marco Scandella, Ilya Kovalchuk, Nick Cousins, Nate Thompson and Matthew Peca. In came second, third, fourth, fourth fifth and seventh round draft picks. It made sense at the time, since every one of those players was scheduled to be a free agent on July 1, but are the Habs going to regret selling all these veteran players for future draft picks that have slim chances of becoming NHL regulars?
Consider this: the last time the Canadiens played the Toronto Maple Leafs, they were losing 1-0 late in the third period. Then, Scandella fired a shot from the point that found its way into the Leafs goal. The teams headed for overtime tied at one, and Kovalchuk pounced on a rebound and fired the puck into the back of the net to win the game, and give Habs fans one reason to cheer during a long, disappointing season.
Now, the league is searching for a proper format to use when it finally returns to action in the near future. The most recent plan sounds like a 24-team playoff format that would include the Habs as the lowest seed. We can debate about how odd or goofy or undeserved that playoff spot would be, but there is no way to make the 2020 NHL postseason anything other than unusual, so as fans of the Habs we should just step aside and let the league put the underserving Habs in and enjoy playoff hockey for the first time in three years.
One scenario that the league has sent across the bow has been to take the top 12 teams in the each conference. This would mean seven teams from the Metropolitan Division and five from the Atlantic Division. According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, this would lead to the New York Rangers moving from the Metropolitan Division to the Atlantic, joining the Habs, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers.
In this scenario, the Habs would be the sixth seed in the Atlantic, and would face the Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs. The top two teams (Boston and Tampa Bay) would automatically move to the second round, while the third seed Leafs would host the Habs and the Rangers would host the Panthers.
Remember that last Habs-Leafs game? With Scandella scoring late to tie it up and Kovalchuk playing the role of hero? Well, Scandella wouldn’t be able to help the Habs as he is in St. Louis now and Kovalchuk would be playing in the Metropolitan Division suiting up for the Washington Capitals.
Though it made sense for the Habs to trade these players at the deadline, not having them in a playoff series against the Leafs will reduce their chance of pulling off an upset. I don’t care if the Leafs finish ahead of the Habs by 50 points in the regular season, but watching the Habs beat the Leafs in an odd third seed vs sixth seed in the division would be unbelievable.
Will the Habs end up regretting being sellers at the trade deadline? You can’t really blame them for adding more draft picks at the time. Who knew that the league would go on a three month hiatus and then come back with an expanded playoffs that includes 24 teams instead of 16?
Nobody, obviously, so I’m not trying to slander Bergevin here. In fact, getting second and fourth round picks for Scandella was one of the best deals we saw at the deadline. However, if the Habs do find their way into a playoff series with the Leafs in a few weeks (or months) it will be hard not to think how much better they could do if they had Scandella, Kovalchuk, Thompson and Cousins in the lineup.
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Bergevin got good returns for each of the players he traded, and at the time they appeared to have no chance at the postseason. It sounds like Kovalchuk has plenty of interest in returning to Montreal next season. It will be difficult not to wonder what would happen with Kovalchuk in the lineup if the Habs find themselves in a playoff overtime game with the Leafs.