Who wins the “hockey trade” between division leaders Anaheim and Montreal? It’s a risk for one side and a safe move for the other.
The trade deadline marks a time of buyers and sellers, of lopsided deals helping one side in the short term and the other down the road.
That’s why Tuesday’s swap between the Anaheim Ducks and Montreal Canadiens feels odd. They rank second and first in their respective conferences and completed a true “hockey trade,” with right winger Devante Smith-Pelly, 22, going to Montreal for left winger Jiri Sekac, 22. Both players have one year remaining on their deals, Smith-Pelly at $800,000 and Sekac at $925,000, before becoming restricted free agents. They were born four days apart in 1992.
The trade is all about team needs. The Ducks have a plethora of wingers who combine size, grit and scoring touch, from Matt Beleskey to Patrick Maroon to Corey Perry, not to mention two-way presence Andrew Cogliano playing the wing and promising prospect Jakob Silfverberg. The Ducks’ elite farm system has also yielded Emerson Etem and Kyle Palmieri in recent years, with bruiser Nick Ritchie on the way. So, aside from Beleskey being hurt at the moment, Smith-Pelly gave them a lot of what they already had. He’s a human bowling ball who bruises opposing defensemen on the forecheck. He’s built for playoff hockey. Smith-Pelly’s best NHL stint to date was the 2014 post-season, in which he rifled home five goals in 12 games.
He sure seems to give Montreal precisely what it needs most entering the playoffs. The Habs have speed and skill to spare up front. Max Pacioretty is among the league’s most underrated goal scorers and has strong chemistry with shifty David Desharnais. Alex Galchenyuk is coming into his own. Tomas Plekanec is a tremendous two-way center. Until Michael McCarron becomes NHL-ready, however, Montreal’s grittiest forwards are among its smallest. Brendan Gallagher is courageous but a runt. Brandon Prust fights like a heavyweight but isn’t one. Smith-Pelly brings a heavy forecheck at six-foot and 220 pounds.
The Ducks acquire the lower-floor, higher-ceiling guy in Sekac. He has promising raw skill and speed, with a lethal goal-scorer’s release. He’s taller than Smith-Pelly at 6-foot-2 but obviously plays smaller and hasn’t filled out yet at just 174 pounds. Sekac hasn’t mastered the defensive side of the game yet, and his frequent healthy scratches suggest he’d clearly fallen out of favor in coach Michel Therrien’s system. Montreal was also a tough place for a rookie to ply his trade. I interviewed him earlier this season, and he was quite shy. As Plekanec said that night of his Czech countryman:
“He’s getting so much advice and information from coaches, and it’s new for him. So you don’t want to put a lot of talk into his game.”
So maybe Sekac was overwhelmed. Now he lands in Anaheim, a more obscure market. More importantly, he’ll play under Bruce Boudreau, who seems like an ideal fit as an offense-minded coach who lets the skill guys do what they do best. It is any coincidence Alexander Semin’s best years came under Boudreau? Perhaps Ducks GM Bob Murray wants Boudreau to extract a Semin-like game from Sekac.
The trade looks smart for both sides. Montreal gets the sure thing who makes it harder to play against. Anaheim gets some serious scoring potential, albeit with major bust potential.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin