Essentially a lock to make the playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens still may not be buyers at the National Hockey League trade deadline April 3.
This is due to the fact that general manager Marc Bergevin may already be done with his roster tweaking. Last week, for example, he addressed a pressing need by claiming Jeff Halpern off waivers from the New York Rangers.
Halpern Back in Montreal
At the time of the acquisition, Montreal ranked 22nd in the league in faceoff percentage at 48.7 percent. As recently as last Saturday, the Canadiens lost a key faceoff in the Sabres’ zone in the dying seconds that helped secure Buffalo's second win against Montreal in four days.
Halpern, a faceoff specialist who played for the Habs in 2010-11 with some success by scoring 26 points in 72 games, is of course 36 and two years older now and cannot be relied upon to provide secondary scoring to the same degree.
However, this year he has won 56.7 percent of his faceoffs, which would be good enough for 10th place in the league had he taken enough. (He had just 164 total and 93 wins in 30 games with the Rangers). It would be second-best on Montreal behind only Gabriel Dumont, (63.4 percent) who has taken just 41.
A Lack of Size
Also, considering Bergevin has already significantly improved his top six by acquiring Michael Ryder for Erik Cole (and a third-round pick), many might believe that he has done enough this year to at least guarantee a lengthy playoff run.
That isn’t to say the Canadiens shouldn’t pull the trigger if the right opportunity came along, as Montreal did lose some size and a physical presence in the deal with Dallas. Ryder (6’0”, 198 lbs) is significantly smaller than Cole (6’2”, 210 lbs), and Halpern (6’0”, 190 lbs) isn’t exactly Georges Laracque.
So if Bergevin does seek to improve his club next week, he should theoretically be looking at power forwards, enforcers and physical defensemen. Simple enough, right? Not when most everyone else in the league is doing the same, and there are just a half-dozen worthwhile names out there.
Of the names being circulated as being available, there are at least four that could be of serious interest to Montreal that would fit under the projected $15,203,850 annual average salary cap hit the Habs could take on at the deadline (via CapGeek.com):
Jaromir Jagr (RW-Dallas Stars; $4.55 million salary cap hit; 6’3”, 240 lbs)
It is a well-known fact that Jaromir Jagr wanted to sign with the Habs this past offseason, but Bergevin wasn’t interested, as giving more ice time to rookies was more of a priority than on-ice success.
Nine months later, that may not necessarily be true for the first-place (in the Northeast Division) Habs, and they could really use his experience (two Stanley Cups), his scoring (over 1,600 career points) and, let’s be honest, the jersey sales really wouldn’t hurt.
Jagr, even at 41, is a top-line talent that should fit in well playing alongside Tomas Plekanec and relieve the pressure on captain Brian Gionta to produce consistently (which he isn’t really, anyway).
Depending on what Montreal would hypothetically give up for Jagr, the deal could end up giving Montreal four different lines that could contribute offensively. Of course, the same goes for the following three names.
Ryane Clowe (LW-San Jose Sharks; $3.6 million salary cap hit; 6’2”, 225 lbs)
Another pending UFA, Clowe is rumored to be going just about anywhere these days, including division-rival Boston. This despite the fact that the Sharks are right in the middle of the Western Conference playoff race.
Although the same can be said for the Stars, Clowe is just 30 and could be a much-more pivotal piece for a team looking to go deep in the playoffs (or, you know, win it all)—a criterion that should still apply to the Sharks, unless of course they’ve decided to skip the first few rounds and just give up now for a change.
In any case, Clowe has yet to score this year despite usually being good for around 20 goals per season. So a change in scenery may be just what the doctor ordered (compared to an on-call, medically-trained team employee always ready to apply the Heimlich in San Jose).
Chris Stewart (RW-Saint Louis Blues; $3 million salary cap hit; 6’2”, 232 lbs)
With Patrik Berglund, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart all scheduled to be restricted free agents at the end of the season, St. Louis is reportedly listening to offers for the latter.
Currently leading the Blues in scoring by a wide margin, Stewart will fetch a huge return, with St. Louis reportedly looking for a defenseman in return (via TSN.ca).
No idea why the Blues would be looking for help on the blue line, as they have one of the deepest corps in the league and lead it in shots against per game, but there you go. Seeing as their crop of forwards is actually deeper, maybe there is a method to the madness that would see them trade away arguably their best player.
Stewart is indeed a young power forward that could help out any team, especially Montreal. The Habs have Max Pacioretty on the left side, but no one like Stewart on the right. Considering he’s built like a tank, few teams do.
Jarome Iginla (RW-Calgary Flames; $7 million salary cap hit; 6’1”, 210 lbs)
At 35, Iginla is undeniably in the twilight of his career, but he is still a top-line forward capable of scoring, a consummate professional, leader and playoff warrior.
While he would undeniably help out the Habs in the playoffs (and during the few weeks beforehand) he does have a no-movement clause, meaning he would have to clear any trade to Montreal. No worries, though. It’s not like there’s any reason teammate Michael Cammalleri wouldn’t give the team a ringing endorsement.
In the spirit of full disclosure, Iginla is the longest of long shots. It starts with the fact that Calgary general manager Jay Feaster may still be holding out hope that he can resign Iginla. Failure to do so would of course mean goalie Miikka Kiprusoff would instantly become the new face of the franchise, and he wears a mask on the ice (and probably one in public).
In addition, Iginla would have to agree to have to go to an Eastern Conference team and a French-speaking city, which, honestly, does kind of handicap the Habs right off the bat. They reportedly aren’t even on his list of teams to which he would willingly be traded to, anyway.
Finally, there are no guarantees Montreal would be able to meet what would undoubtedly be a long list of demands on the part of Feaster that could conceivably handicap the team further.
Possible Bargaining Chips
Montreal’s team chemistry is very good. At least, that’s the perception on the ice. It’s so good that, as his recent string of bad penalties would indicate, P.K. Subban is clearly no longer afraid of making mistakes on the ice and being ostracized by teammates.
So, with such good team chemistry, Bergevin would have to be very careful both picking up a new player and potentially sending someone the other way. Most every player in the locker room currently has a role to play and does it very well. The few exceptions would be defensemen Yannick Weber and Tomas Kaberle.
Despite all indications that Weber does not have the trust of the team’s coaching staff (the two games played are a good hint), he does have some trade value as a potential power-play quarterback who’s only 24. The same can’t be said for Kaberle, unfortunately, and his $4.25-million salary cap hit makes him a target for an amnesty buyout this coming offseason.
In terms of prospects currently in the organization, the only real untouchable currently not on the big club is Nathan Beaulieu, considering his pedigree, skill and size.
Players like Danny Kristo, Louis Leblanc, Sebastian Collberg, Charles Hudon and Dustin Tokarski should, meanwhile, be considered valuable assets, but not necessarily for trading. Despite Kristo, Leblanc and Tokarski taking longer than expected to develop, they are each still young. Collberg and Hudon, meanwhile, were just drafted last year and could similarly still pan out.
That leaves a small sample size of lower-caliber prospects and Hamilton Bulldogs, including the recently waived Petteri Nokelainen, who could be included in any potential deal.
Also, considering there is reportedly a sharp drop-off in skill after the first 10 or so picks in this year’s draft and the Habs are hoping to earn a late selection therein, it would make sense that all future Montreal draft picks be up for grabs for the right player.
It remains to be seen who that is if anyone at all. But, chances are, if Bergevin does acquire someone, they will be just that as his moves so far have led the team to become a contender. There’s little reason to doubt him at this point.