Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has made it quite obvious he has little fear of the big, bold off-season move. Matter of fact, you could say it’s Bergevin who really kicked off the summer trade market in each of the past three seasons.
Ahead of the 2016-17 campaign, it was Bergevin’s acquisition of Andrew Shaw and subsequent trades of Lars Eller and P.K. Subban that were three of the most notable of the off-season. Little more than one year ago, it was the Canadiens who started the off-season with a bang when they shipped top prospect Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for shifty winger Jonathan Drouin. And Friday’s swap that brought Max Domi to Montreal and sent Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes can be seen as the third consecutive season in which Bergevin has jump started the trade market.
Chances are Bergevin isn’t about to be one-and-done, however. Instead, it feels like the Domi-for-Galchenyuk deal could be the precursor to a busier summer in Montreal. One reason is that Bergevin, by his own admission, doesn’t see Domi as a center, which means one of Montreal’s biggest needs — a top-line pivot and depth at center — hasn’t been addressed. If the rumor mill is to be believed, though, the Canadiens are already searching for that solution. One of the rumors that has persisted over the past several weeks is that Montreal could be one of the teams in pursuit of Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly.
O’Reilly as a Canadien makes all sorts of sense, too. A true-blue top-line center, O’Reilly has all the qualities Montreal should be searching for in a pivot. He may not be an Anze Kopitar or Patrice Bergeron, but to call him a poor’s man version of either would also be to sell O’Reilly short as he possesses many of the same attributes at only a slightly lower level. He has three top-15 finishes in Selke Trophy voting over the past six seasons, has been a consistent 55-point player and few in the league log minutes like O’Reilly. Matter of fact, no forward has a higher average ice time over the past three campaigns than O’Reilly, whose 21:19 per game puts him seconds ahead of the second-place Kopitar.
Acquiring O’Reilly won’t come easy, of course, but the Canadiens have as readymade a trade chip as any team seeking to land the oft-talked about center. Montreal captain Max Pacioretty has found his way into the rumor mill since before the past trade deadline, and as he enters into the final season of his current contract with unrestricted free agency on the horizon, the Canadiens could be looking to move on from the 29-year-old winger. With Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt down the middle, as well, Buffalo may be looking to flip O’Reilly for a scoring winger to help the two young pivots, and Pacioretty would most certainly fit the bill.
It’s not as though missing out on O’Reilly would preclude the Canadiens from filling the void they have in the middle of the ice, however, and one other important aspect of Friday’s trade was opening up a touch more cap space. Following the swap, the Canadiens inked Domi, who was set to become a restricted free agent, to a two-year pact that carries a $3.15-million cap hit. So, while there’s an argument that a certain offensive element was lost in moving Galchenyuk along, there was a net positive for Montreal financially. And while it’s not as though the Canadiens were cap-strapped to the point of being handcuffed this summer, the $1.75 million in savings against the salary cap — Galchenyuk is slated to earn $4.9 million in each of the next two seasons — does give Montreal slightly more breathing room, and if the cap rises to $80 million, the Canadiens will have about $19 million to spend.
What the Canadiens can do, too, is use that extra cap room to add to their thin stable of centers. John Tavares seems an unlikely free agent candidate, particularly given his asking price and recent reports he’s been in daily discussion with the New York Islanders, but other options remain. Paul Stastny is a quality veteran center who could be an excellent top-six acquisition for Montreal, and while he hasn’t earned the same Selke consideration of an O’Reilly, Stastny is reliable in all situations and brings a level of pure playmaking ability that could really help Drouin shine brighter on the wing. That said, Stastny is likely to be the second-most sought after center on the market and he’s not going to come cheap. More cap friendly options might include Tyler Bozak, Derek Ryan, Valtteri Filppula and Antoine Vermette, though the cost of bringing each aboard will vary from one to the next.
Bergevin and Co. can’t simply focus on plugging the gap at center and call the off-season a win, though. The needs in Montreal go beyond adding pivots, and the other major areas of focus should be bringing in some additional defensive depth and secondary scoring to supplement the offense provided by Brendan Gallagher, Drouin and Pacioretty, should he move along.
For that, there are two things working in the Canadiens’ favor. First, the aforementioned cap space should allow Montreal to pursue another defenseman via free agency, if that’s the route they choose to go. There are a handful of blueliners on the open market who could fit the bill for the Canadiens, and a rearguard such as Nick Holden, John Moore or Michal Kempny could be a cost-effective addition instead of spending big to bring in a Jack Johnson, Dan Hamhuis or Mike Green in free agency. The same goes for depth scoring options, too, as Michael Grabner, Blake Comeau or Riley Nash might provide more bang for their buck than David Perron or Rick Nash.
If Montreal chooses to go the trade route, though, there are few teams more well equipped to make a splash at the draft. Beyond possessing the third-overall selection in the upcoming draft — a pick the Canadiens could entertain moving if they want to trade down for a player available later in the draft — Montreal four second-round draft choices and nine picks in the first four rounds. Utilizing those picks to make a move or two doesn’t seem out of the question, and Montreal could pair a couple of their second rounders as part of a potential trade offer if there’s a center, winger or defenseman of interest to them on the market come draft day.
No matter how Bergevin decides to proceed, though, the one thing that’s for certain is that he isn’t done. The past season was the worst of his tenure as Canadiens GM, and with holes to fill throughout the lineup, chances are the Domi acquisition was only the beginning of what stands to be another busy off-season in Montreal.
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