by Gregorio Lentini, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine
We are at the two week mark since the NHL trade deadline on February 26th. The biggest trades included Rick Nash heading to Boston and Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. It wasn’t a surprise to see players like Erik Karlsson and Max Pacioretty, staying put given the reported ask.
With the passage of some time, we now have the perspective to ask the question: did the Montreal Canadiens have a good trade deadline?
Trades That Were Made
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin got the ball rolling a few days ahead of the deadline by trading Jakub Jerabek for a 2019 fifth-round pick from the Washington Capitals.
On the Sunday before deadline day, Bergevin traded the longest-serving Canadien, Tomas Plekanec along with Kyle Baun to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Rinat Valiev, Kerby Richel and Toronto’s second-round pick in 2018. The Canadiens also agreed to retain 50 percent of Plekanec’s remaining salary.
On Monday February 26th, the Habs GM traded struggling defenseman Joe Morrow to the Winnipeg Jets for a fourth-round pick in 2018 and sent the fifth-round pick from Washington to Minnesota for defenseman Mike Reilly.
In my opinion, I think that the Plekanec trade was a win for Bergevin. Plekanec is thirty-four-years-old, at the end of his contract, had only scored 24 points even though he is considered an excellent shutdown center.
Prior to the trade, there was speculation that Plekanec would garner a middle round pick. However, he was ultimately traded for a second-round pick. Granted, it isn’t a major win, but a lopsided trade should never be expected when trading with a rival. In the trade, Bergevin was also able to obtain two youngsters in Rinat Valiev and Kerby Rychel. The former may have the potential to someday be a sixth defenseman while the latter might be a formidable addition to the Laval Rocket.
While some were irritated over the further addition of “fourth liners,” getting young players who can fill a role in the organization is a bonus.
Kyle Baun was arguably one of the best additions to the Laval locker room and his presence will be missed. But he now has an opportunity to play with the Leafs organization where his grandfather was a legend.
Morrow’s trade was another win for Bergevin. Though Morrow may still be twenty-five years old, his defensive abilities have been subpar. He has only accrued a dozen points since the start of the season and needs to improve his decision-making abilities. I had imagined that finding a trading partner for Morrow’s expiring contract would be impossible. Fortunately, Bergevin was able to do so while also acquiring a decent pick.
I was initially disappointed to see Jerabek leave because I believed he had yet to show his true potential. However, turning Jerabek into a younger, taller defenseman in Reilly was a good deal in my books.
Trades That Were Not Made
I have to be honest, my initial reaction to the trade deadline for the Habs was quite good. I was surprised Bergevin was able to get anything more than a fourth-round draft pick for Plekanec. I was even more shocked when Morrow brought in a middle-round draft pick. The fact that someone was willing to take him, even with the gaps in his defensive play, was remarkable to me.
This is the reason I was befuddled when I began to read comments and articles outraged over Bergevin’s deadline. The criticisms, however, were not directed at the trades he made. Many were upset over the trades that were not made. Several fans were upset that Bergevin didn’t trade underperforming players like Jordie Benn, David Schlemko and Karl Alzner and the over-achieving Antti Niemi.
Personally, I think it was unreasonable to expect any of these players to be traded.
The fact that that Benn, Schlemko and Alzner are all underperforming would be a red flag. Since their contracts are not expiring at the end of the season, teams in the playoff hunt would have been even less likely to want them. However, Benn can still be traded at next year’s deadline, and Schlemko in two years. At those points, more teams may be willing to give up a draft pick and use them as cheap depth. As for Alzner, he has actually begun to show some chemistry with rookie Noah Juulsen.
Though one can fairly criticize Bergevin for having acquired these players in the first place, that is a separate conversation altogether.
The only player who I was surprised was not traded was Niemi. He has an expiring contract and has been playing quite well. I imagined the market for such a goalie would have been decent. However, I was not angered that a goalie that was put on waivers twice this season is still with the team. In my opinion, trading him would have been a bonus, not a requirement.
The last, and most important, name many were frustrated had not been traded was Max Pacioretty. He is a five-time 30-goal scorer, still in his prime, signed at an extremely low price (four and a half million dollars) for another year. He has been in trade rumours almost since the start of the season and probably garnered much interest. However, as he is the player whose return will most impact the future of the organization, Bergevin should never have rushed into a deal.
It is paramount that Bergevin acquires at least a No. 1 centre prospect for Pacioretty as this area has been ailing the Canadiens for almost two decades. Every Stanley Cup winner over the past two decades has had a true, number one centre. Therefore, if Bergevin could not obtain such return at the deadline, I felt no reason to force a trade that involved only high draft picks and good winger prospects.
While five first-round picks were traded in the days leading to the deadline, each one will most likely end up being closer to a second round pick considering strength of the teams that traded them. No number one centre prospects were traded. Therefore, it was sensible to hold onto Pacioretty until the draft. Teams will not be worried about the immediate playoffs. At that stage, they may be more willing to part with a high draft pick and a number one centre prospect. However, Bergevin should not settle for anything less.
Others have evaluated Bergevin’s moves differently.
“Per MyTopSportsbooks.com, the Habs missed a chance to jump-start their rebuild by not moving captain Max Pacioretty at the deadline, and it’s already come back to bite them, with Patches suffering a serious knee injury just days later. With just one year left on his contract and coming off an uninspiring, injury-shortened season, his trade value will be diminished in the offseason. Landing a second-round pick in the deal that sent Tomas Plekanec to Toronto was a decent return, and they now have five picks in the first two rounds of the 2018 draft, but all in all you have to consider Montreal a deadline-day loser given the missed opportunity on Pacioretty.”
However, I believe that the Habs were not losers. It wasn’t a slam-dunk, but it wasn’t terrible. All in all, Bergevin garnered a decent profit for certain expiring contracts. He was able to accumulate picks and get younger. Any trades that were not made can still be made at the draft or at next year’s deadline. The real impact trades will most likely happen at the draft. If Pacioretty could not garner that top centre prospect at the deadline, I do not believe it would have been wise to make a trade. The opportunity still exists to trade him. The question of whether his value has significantly decreased can only be answered once that trade occurs. We’ll have to wait until the draft to see what happens.