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Canadiens’ acquisition of Ott more puzzling than it is positive

The Canadiens did well in landing Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson, but the Steve Ott trade is puzzling, even if it didn’t cost Montreal all that much to make the acquisition.

If the Canadiens needed anything at the deadline, it was depth defensemen and maybe an additional bottom-six piece who could contribute up front. They accomplished the former by acquiring Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson, both of whom can contribute to the team’s defense. However, Montreal’s lone move to add to their offense thus far was a deal that sent a 2018 sixth-round pick to the Detroit Red Wings for Steve Ott, and it’s downright puzzling why the Canadiens made the deal.

There will be no shortage of talk about what Ott brings to the Canadiens, which is a certain element of physical play, peskiness and well-researched trash talk. He also brings with a veteran presence up front that the Canadiens didn’t really have much of before Ott’s addition. Tomas Plekanec is 34 and Torrey Mitchell is 32, but Ott, 34, has the ability to bring that veteran voice to the team’s fourth line. He seems to be beloved by his teammates everywhere he goes, too, and that doesn’t count for nothing. 

It’s also worth noting that what the Canadiens gave up, the sixth-round selection, will almost certainly amount to nothing. Over the past 10 drafts, only eight players drafted in the sixth round have gone on to score more than 100 points in the NHL. There are some diamonds in the rough to be found, but even if Detroit does turn the pick into something, there’s a fair chance Montreal would have gone a different route, taken a different player and the pick would have gone bust.

But even after all of that is taken into account, it’s hard to say why exactly Montreal went after Ott.

One of the more immediately confounding aspects of the trade is that much of what Ott brings can be found in other players on the Canadiens. When it comes to the off-ice intangibles, you can look to any number of the players in the lineup for the leadership qualities that Ott may have been brought in for, specifically captain Max Pacioretty and alternate Shea Weber, who was in part acquired because he had that ability to lead by example. When it comes to the grittiness and peskiness that Ott can bring, Andrew Shaw and, to a lesser extent, Brendan Gallagher are the go-to guys on the Canadiens. And as far as fourth-line minutes go, it doesn’t make sense to try to compete in the speedy East with a grind-line type of player like Ott.

It’s worth comparing what Ott stands to bring to what Shaw can provide, too, as some see them as similar players, and if one is in the lineup, it’s hard to say what the use for the other is. Shaw has registered nine goals and 22 points in 50 games for the Canadiens this season, and his .44 points per game rate is better than any mark Ott has provided in the past four campaigns. And there’s only a slim chance that Ott does much to provide any scoring punch during his time in Montreal. Through 42 games with the Red Wings, albeit one of the league’s lowest scoring teams, Ott had three goals and six points. He was averaging roughly 10:30 in ice time per game, whereas Shaw is close to a 15-minute per game player who has seen time on the power play.

It goes beyond the pure offense when comparing a player such as Shaw to Ott, though. Even the underlying numbers for Ott aren’t nearly as favorable as Shaw’s. At 5-on-5, Ott had a Corsi For percentage of 44.9 to Shaw’s 55.3. Ott’s expected goals for percentage was 37 in Detroit, while Shaw is currently at 51.8 during his first season in Montreal. While on ice, Shaw saw 53.6 percent of the total scoring chances. Ott, on the other hand, saw a mere 31.7 go the Red Wings’ way this season. And total goals for percentage at 5-on-5, Shaw had a nearly 20 percent edge on Ott at 51.2 to 31.6.

One thought that may be crossing the mind of Canadiens fans trying to seek an understanding of the trade is that Shaw has shown a certain proclivity for taking an ill-timed penalty here or there. That’d be true, and Shaw’s antics have gotten him in some trouble this season with the Department of Player Safety while Ott has kept his nose relatively clean. Overall, however, Shaw has actually managed a better penalty differential. At 5-on-5, Ott is in the positives, drawing eight more penalties than he’s taken, but that’s still two behind Shaw.

And if we’re talking intangibles and past playoff experience, Shaw still has the edge. His 67 games in the post-season are 12 more than Ott, and it’s not even fair to compare the offensive contributions. Shaw, who won two Stanley Cups during his time in Chicago, has 16 goals and 35 playoff points to his name, whereas Ott has mustered three goals and eight points. The playoff experience simply isn’t there with someone like Ott, nor is the history of production or grand contribution in the post-season.

It’s not as if Ott’s $800,000 salary breaks the bank, but it does put a dent in what the Canadiens have left over to spend on deadline day, especially with no money going the other way in the deal. That’s money that could have been used to add a depth scorer, something they could use in the high-flying East. And with a player like Shaw already in the lineup, it’s hard to say what Montreal GM Marc Bergevin saw that necessitated a deal for Ott. 

No one will go as far to say the trade will prevent the Canadiens from truly competing for the Cup, but acquiring Ott didn’t really do all that much to improve Montreal’s chances.

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