Back-to-back losses to the Arizona Coyotes and Toronto Maple Leafs have the Montreal Canadiens reeling. Entering this week, they’re five points out of a wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan observes the Canadiens are at or near the bottom of the league in offense (31st), defense (29th), penalty killing (28th), power-play percentage (27th) and faceoff wins (21st). Barring a major reversal of fortunes, they face an uphill battle to avoid missing the playoffs for the second time in three years.
The Habs’ woeful performance has some in the Montreal media questioning the severity of goaltender Carey Price’s latest lower-body injury. He and the club insist it’s minor and unrelated to his season-ending knee injury two years ago. However, the 30-year-old goalie’s last game was Nov.3 against the Minnesota Wild. Price’s absence is also sparking speculation about his trade status. Cowan wonders if the Canadiens might consider trading their franchise player before his eight-year, $84-million contract kicks in next summer.
He’s not the only Montreal pundit suggesting Price could be moved. During a segment last week with Tony Marinaro of Montreal’s TSN 690, RDS’ Normand Flynn said he wouldn’t be surprised if the former Vezina and Hart winner was dealt soon. Flynn didn’t cite any sources claiming Price was available, but his views could be indicative of the frustration felt among a segment of Canadiens followers this season.
If the Canadiens do put Price on the trade block, Matt Larkin believes they’ll get a significant return. Despite Price’s injury history and struggles earlier this season, Larkin considers him a superstar still in his playing prime. He doesn’t see the Habs landing a top center or a No. 2 defenseman but they could get a package of high draft picks and elite prospects “like what Colorado received for Matt Duchene, but multiply the return twofold.”
Cowan, meanwhile, suggests the Edmonton Oilers as a possible trade partner. He points out they have talented centers like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl and could use help between the pipes with starter Cam Talbot struggling this season.
Trading Price, however, is easier said than done. He’s got a full no-movement clause this season that also carries over onto his next contract. Even without that clause, rival general managers could balk at taking on his $10.5-million annual cap hit for eight years starting in 2018-19. Factor in his recent injury history and Price’s trade value loses some luster.
While it’s doubtful Price will be shopped, the Canadiens could consider other moves. Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reports there’s a sense team owner Geoff Molson and GM Marc Bergevin could lean toward a rebuild, retool or reset. That would mean making trades to improve their long-term future, rather than patchwork deals for immediate help.
Kypreos suggests left winger Max Pacioretty could be among their trade options. He believes the Habs captain is “drowning in Montreal,” comparing his plight to that of Phil Kessel during his final season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 29-year-old Pacioretty is a five-time 30-goal scorer carrying a $4.5-million cap hit through 2018-19 and lacks no-trade protection.
Moving Pacioretty now would weaken an already anemic Canadiens offense. But if they want to retool or rebuild, he’s a logical trade candidate. Despite his struggles this season he’s a proven scorer and would attract considerable interest around the league. The Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks could be among the suitors.
Another option is trading Shea Weber. Moving the 32-year-old blueliner would be a serious short-term blow to the Canadiens defensive depth and his $7.8-million annual cap hit through 2025-26 could be a stumbling block in trade discussions. But for teams in need of an established top-two defenseman, Weber could make a tempting target. Like Pacioretty, he also lacks a no-trade clause.
Last month, Bergevin said he wasn’t giving up on struggling left winger Alex Galchenyuk. However, the 23-year-old remains a fixture in the rumor mill. If big moves are in the offing for the Habs, trading Galchenyuk will likely be among them.
Whatever changes the Canadiens could have in store, they’re unlikely to take place before January. Despite the three-team trade earlier this month that saw Duchene dealt to Ottawa and Kyle Turris moved to Nashville, significant deals in the first half of an NHL season remain rare.
If the Habs rebuild, their first substantial deals will probably take place leading up to the Feb. 26 trade deadline. The really big moves, however, could wait until June, when teams have more cap space and willingness to swing major deals.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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