Canadiens can't afford to stand pat at NHL trade deadline

Julian McKenzie
·NHL Writer
·4 min read

Through one half of the Montreal Canadiens season, it’s a bit unclear how good the team really is.

They showed they could be a scoring juggernaut through the first month of the season after general manager Marc Bergevin added key pieces like Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson in the offseason. The Canadiens then ran into the Ottawa Senators at the start of February, a team they should have beaten handily on paper but who ended up beating Montreal in three of the first four meetings.

It led to the firings of head coach Claude Julien, associate head coach Kirk Muller and goaltending coach Stephane Waite, who told the Journal de Montreal that Bergevin said if Price didn't start playing better, the GM would be next to go. Bergevin did not want his team to revert back to the 2019-20 squad that suffered two eight-game winless streaks and failed to beat lesser teams on a consistent basis.

Bergevin has made personnel moves with the intention of bringing his team back to the playoffs and it’s clear that missing them entirely wouldn’t go over well with fans. If Waite’s comments are true, Bergevin is definitely considering his mortality as Canadiens GM. It remains to be seen what his standing is with owner Geoff Molson, who has to consider his team’s revenues, or lack thereof (they’ll be on the hook for Julien’s $5-million salary next year), amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fast forward to this past Wednesday, when Bergevin admitted his team’s lack of financial flexibility may make things difficult if they were to pursue a move prior to the April 12 trade deadline. Canadian NHL teams — not just the Canadiens — already have to deal with the fact that players acquired at the deadline will have to quarantine for seven days if traded within Canada, and 14 days if coming from a U.S.-based club. But the Canadiens are tight against the cap with just under $1 million in projected space, according to CapFriendly.

Bergevin hasn’t ruled out making a move, but considering the acquisitions and changes he’s made to this point, and the team’s playoff aspirations, standing pat wouldn’t be the best move. Not with Montreal's current flaws on display and other teams catching up in the standings.

Since Julien’s firing, the Canadiens have seen some improvements on their power play while young players like Jesperi Kotkaniemi have looked much more confident. But despite having games in hand, teams like the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks are breathing down the Canadiens’ necks in the North Division.

The Canadiens have picked up points in their last two contests, but they’ve failed to win when they go beyond regulation time, holding an 0-8 record in games that go to overtime. Montreal has received its fair share of criticism for the players they deploy in the extra frame, and it's fair to argue their possible line combinations at 3-on-3 trail behind teams like the Winnipeg Jets or Toronto Maple Leafs. Montreal also hasn’t won back-to-back games since Feb. 1-2, when it took to straight from the Vancouver Canucks. 

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin can't afford to sit on his hands at the NHL trade deadline. (Photo by Shafique Bakush/NHLI via Getty Images)
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin can't afford to sit on his hands at the NHL trade deadline. (Photo by Shafique Bakush/NHLI via Getty Images)

What do the Canadiens need at the trade deadline?

Montreal is in need of another centre. They took a bit of a gamble in running their offence through two young pivots in Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki, and Phillip Danault who can do just about everything except score. Suzuki in particular seems to have hit a sophomore wall after a hot start to the year, matching a season-long four-game point drought last week. 

It wouldn’t hurt to add a fourth line centre on the cheap who could pick up the slack for Jake Evans, another young player who is going through the growing pains of his first full NHL season.

The Canadiens are also in dire need of defensive help after Ben Chiarot fractured his hand, making him unavailable for at least the next six weeks. Montreal could use any bit of defensive help it can get. Why not knock on the door of the Nashville Predators, who might be shopping Mattias Ekholm? The salary cap logistics are difficult to navigate, and Bergevin will have to part with some assets to get him, but he fits a need for the Canadiens and might just be worth putting together a competitive offer for.

Bergevin has swung for the fences on numerous occasions in hopes of making the playoffs, and he needs to get there this year or it could cost him his job. With these stakes in play, it would be quite a surprise to see Bergevin hold off on making any moves ahead of the deadline.

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