FEATURE | Habs Fans Countdown to NHL Trade Deadline

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by Blain Potvin, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

(Graham Hughes/La Presse Canadienne)

As the trade deadline approaches, Claude Julien has little time to assess what he has to work with. Overall, the Canadiens are a good squad. There are several quality core pieces that he can count on. However, this is a team that has deficiencies that just cannot be immediately filled by what is available on the farm.

Julien is a coach that tends to focus on defense. He likes his teams to control the slot and reduce those high percentage shooting lanes. Doing so means having his defensemen cut off the cycle behind the net and to angle passes out. This also means the centerman must drop low into the slot to help defend and to launch the transition game. That quick strike is where the offence will eventually be generated. As a coach that preaches puck position, those very same centermen must win faceoffs at a rate above 50 percent.

This highlights the major deficiency the Canadiens have had all year, a lack of quality offensively gifted mobile centermen. Phillip Danault is having a career year, but he cannot be a top centerman on a team aspiring for the highest honour in sports. Alex Galchenyuk is having difficulties rediscovering his game, that being said, it is obvious he’s making strides in the right direction as his confidence grows.

The glaring need at center is to find a true top six centerman that can win faceoffs, and play in Julien’s system. Beyond the obvious choice such as Matt Duchene who has been covered and are still rumoured targets for Marc Bergevin there can be some less than obvious choices that could be a fit.

Ryan Strome

A possible solution for the Habs second line centre problem could be Ryan Strome. The fifth overall pick in 2011 is in the first season of a bridge deal that pays him a cap hit of $2.5 million per season. That is a cost that the Habs would have little difficulty in fitting into the team’s cap structure.

Strome’s offensive numbers don’t leap off the page at 25 points, 11 of which are goals in 56 games played. His game is still raw, and he does need to work on the defensive side of the puck. The 23 year-old centre definitely holds untapped potential. Strome doesn’t make the team instantly better at the centre position. Yet if Marc Bergevin was willing to be patient and allow this player to grow in the organization, Strome could prove to be a coup for the GM.

Brandon Sutter

Vancouver is rumoured to be asking players to waive any no trade and/or no movement clauses they have, so they may be persuaded to move Sutter now for futures. There is a possibility they make some large moves by the trade deadline.

Adding a Sutter is never a bad idea. As with his father and uncles, Brandon Sutter plays a two-way game. Having that pedigree has given him the advantage of understanding what is needed to play in all situations at the highest level.

From having watched him play over the years, Sutter is defensively responsible and seems most comfortable in a shutdown role. He has a great release and accurate shot that he loves to use when on the fast-break generated on the transition. It is a style that fits in with the systems Julien has historically used. That being said, Sutter’s passing game requires some work as he is more of a shooting centre and prefers to make the safe plays instead of forcing an offensive play.

At 28 years of age, Sutter is entering the prime of his career. He is a big centre at six-foot-three-inches, 195 pounds. He uses his reach well and wins many one-on-one battles. Though he is muscled off the puck more aggressive players at times. Being a right hand centre that is able to win over 55 percent of his faceoffs is another major asset the Canadiens would like to add a player such as Sutter.

So far this season he has produced 15 goals and 27 points in 59 games. That type of depth production is something which Montreal desperately needs. Another positive in his favour is the cap friendly deal of $4.375 million until 2021 just after his 32nd birthday.

Marc Bergevin has always stated there is a need to bolster the blueline so he may be on the lookout for an inexpensive option or a rental that can fill that role. Montreal places a premium on defencemen that are mobile and can move the puck well. The big names have been tossed about on social media so here are some lesser names that, in addition to Jordie Benn, could be a possible target for the Habs GM.

Dan Hamhuis

Hamhuis plays a prototypical style that Marc Bergevin likes. Hamhuis is able to play in a shutdown role while logging heavy minutes. He has an excellent first pass and can skate very well. He plays a style similar to that of Jeff Petry. Yet, unlike Petry, Hamhuis is less comfortable playing against more physical opponents. Hamhuis is very capable of adding quality to a second wave of a power play and his active stick and solid positioning would help Montreal’s struggling penalty killing unit.

As of February 24th, Dallas is a full nine points out of a wildcard spot. The Patrick Eaves trade to Anaheim has seemingly signaled their stand as a seller at this deadline. Selling Hamhuis, who is under contract for next year as well at $3.75 million, would add some futures for them to build their blueline on as well as allow more ice time for their youth to develop.

Michael Del Zotto

The 26 year-old former 2008 first round selection of the New York Islanders is now playing on the second pairing in Philadelphia. He signed an extension as a free agent for $3.875 million per season and is in the final season of that deal making him a rental. If Philadelphia chooses to sell any assets he would be an ideal candidate to make room for less expensive prospects in their system.

Del Zotto has 10 points in 32 games while averaging nearly 20 mins per game. His play has been underwhelming and he can prove to be an inexpensive rental that can add some offensive flair to Montreal’s defensive port side. He provides offensive flair, excellent skating and passing, yet has had issues positionally in his own zone and can be muscled off the puck along the boards.

Jon Merrill

The 25 year old former 2010 second round pick of the New Jersey Devils is under contract for $1.37 Million per season for this year and next he is an inexpensive addition. Merrill, a six foot three, 205 pound left-hander is a solid two-way defender. He skates well, shows no fear in rushing the puck up the ice and can quarterback a second wave power play with his good distribution skills and shot. He has patrolled the Devils blueline as a second pairing defender. His statistics suffer somewhat from the team’s reliance on a stifling defensive structure and middling play over his entire NHL career.

Just before the trade deadline arrives, the Canadiens are clinging precariously to the top spot in the Atlantic division. Yet their uninspired play since the New Year has whittled away at their once daunting their lead. A coaching change has begun to breathe life into the dressing room, however the on-ice product requires a refresh as well. Marc Bergevin no doubt has identified the center depth and help in the top four as keys to Montreal gaining contender status. Now it is up to him to provide his new coach the weapons needed to defend the Bell Center from this foxhole.