The Montreal Canadiens are slowly becoming the NHL’s most interesting team as of late, currently riding a five-game winning streak under interim Head Coach Martin St. Louis. With a mere three weeks until the trade deadline, new President Jeff Gorton and General Manager Kent Hughes have extremely important decisions to make regarding the futures of several key roster pieces from the Marc Bergevin regime.
The contingent already tipped the first domino of trade season by dealing forward Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Tyler Pitlick, prospect Emil Heineman, a conditional 2022 1st round pick, a 2023 5th round pick, and a conditional 2024 4th round pick. If Calgary’s 2022 1st round pick falls within the top ten, they have the option to transfer their 2023 1st round pick instead. If that situation occurs, then Montreal will receive the 2024 4th round pick. Given that Calgary currently sits atop the Pacific Division standings with a 9-1 record in their last ten games, it is reasonable to infer that the pick will fall outside the top ten, eliminating that scenario. In this instance, Montreal would have an additional first-round pick in the upcoming 2022 NHL draft, as they will either get to keep Carolina’s pick (acquired via the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet) or their own pick, as they owe the lesser of the two to Arizona as part of the Christian Dvorak trade. Given that Montreal currently sits near the NHL’s basement and Carolina is first in the Metropolitan Division with games-in-hand, means that the Carolina pick will likely go to the Coyotes. Emil Heineman is a former 2nd round pick in the 2020 NHL draft by the Florida Panthers, later traded to the Calgary Flames in the deal that sent former fourth overall pick Sam Bennett to Sunrise. In thirty-seven games with Leksands IF in the SweHL, Heineman has eleven goals with five assists for sixteen points. Tyler Pitlick has had a busy year. After registering six goals with five assists for eleven points in thirty-eight games (-1.21 AB) in 2020-21 for the Arizona Coyotes, he was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 Expansion Draft. Pitlick was then traded to the Calgary Flames for a 2022 4th round pick, only registering two assists in twenty-five games with the team before this deal. Despite the lack of offensive production, Pitlick was still a positive AB player (+0.31) during his stint with the Flames and will be a fine player with the Canadiens for the remainder of this season. He currently makes 1.75 million and is set to hit unrestricted free agency at the end of the 2021-22 season. We think this trade is going to be a trend of what’s to come for the Canadiens, as we believe they will deal certain players (some with term, some pending UFAs) for collections of picks and prospects. The remainder of this article will consist of the pieces we foresee the Habs moving at or before the deadline. Typically on this site, we try to provide analysis based on our own opinions instead of buying into rumors or hypotheticals. However, during this trade deadline season, we will be discussing the rumors presented to hockey fans from credible insiders when it comes to this article, as well as the remaining thirty-one preview articles we plan on writing before March 21st to formulate our opinions. With that being said, let’s get started!
The consensus is that Ben Chiarot is the most likely player to be moved by the Canadiens before the March 21st trade deadline. Several insiders are even saying the return could net a first-round pick and a solid prospect. This would be simply incredible to us if this deal got done, as Chiarot has been a consistently poor AB player throughout his entire career. Chiarot is coming off three-straight negative individual AB seasons, including a whopping -13.04 individual score last season. He has only recorded two positive seasons in the seven seasons of data we have on him, as one was during his rookie year in 2014-15 (+0.54). His current career AB is -3.60, which could dip to as low as -5.53 if his midseason projection of -19.03 holds. That -19.03 score is the second-lowest score registered by a Canadiens player this season, barely ahead of only fellow defenseman Chris Wideman’s -19.12. In forty-eight games this season, Ben Chiarot has scored five goals with seven assists for twelve points. At thirty years of age, Chiarot currently makes $3.5 million and becomes an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season.
In our opinion, each day that passes makes it less likely the Canadiens trade Jeff Petry. He has four points in his last five games under new Head Coach Martin St. Louis and appears to be returning to his Norris caliber form from a season ago. Petry has done nothing but praise his new coach as well, saying things such as “he’s brought the joy back to coming to the rink”, “I look forward to coming to the rink day in and day out.” With that being said, we don’t believe the Canadiens should rule out the possibility of trading Petry. Like Chiarot, Petry has been a consistently poor AB player. His below-average -7.27 individual AB score at the midway point of the season would be the third sub-seven individual AB score of his career, and his worst individual score since 2017-18. He has a career AB score of -6.53 in eleven seasons, and it could drop to -6.60 if his midseason score holds. Petry actually has produced fewer points this season than Ben Chiarot, as he has only scored three goals (his lowest since 2016-17), with eight assists (his lowest since 2015-16) for eleven points in forty-six games. Petry could be difficult to move due to the fact he makes $6.25 million until the conclusion of the 2024-25 season at thirty-four years old. We will see what Kent Hughes and company decide to do, but a Petry return could include high picks and prospects as well to help accelerate Montreal’s rebuild.
Someone has an opportunity to get a very good player in Artturi Lehkonen this deadline season in our opinion. Of his five seasons of data, Artturi Lehkonen has registered four individually positive AB scores, including an outstanding +5.04 score in 2017-18 (Career AB +0.45). In fact, Artturi Lehkonen has the best individual AB score of any Montreal Canadiens player who has played a minimum of fifteen games this season with a -1.96, which is solid given that the entire team AB score at the midway point was -182.96. Offensively, so far this season Lehkonen has scored nine goals, with thirteen assists for twenty-two points in fifty games. Lehkonen is currently second on the team in scoring with those twenty-two points behind only Nick Suzuki’s thirty-three. At twenty-six years old, Lehkonen currently makes 2.3 million and is a pending restricted free agent at the season’s conclusion. If the price is a third-round pick or lower, plus a prospect, this is certainly a player we think most contending teams would love to have on their third or fourth line.
Brendan Gallagher is the player we believe the Canadiens will have the hardest time moving, not because there won’t be a market, but because of the significant cap-hit and remaining term. To us, this is a different situation than the Jeff Petry one, as there is more term to this deal and Gallagher obviously isn’t a right-shot defenseman, one of the most highly-coveted positions in hockey on the trade/free-agent market. However, there’s been lots of speculation regarding the Los Angeles Kings making a run at Gallagher this trade deadline season to help them pursue a Pacific Division title and a playoff berth. His former teammate Philip Danault just signed a long-term deal with the Kings last offseason, and his former General Manager Marc Bergevin is now part of the Kings front office, meaning the connections are there. The Kings currently have $7.893 million in deadline cap space according to CapFriendly, and with the contract of Dustin Brown ($5.875) finally set to expire at the end of the season, the Kings may have the resources to get a deal done. Their farm system is highly regarded as one of the best in the league, and they own almost all of their own draft picks in each of the next three drafts. Whether it be Gallagher or another player, we fully expect the Kings to make a big deadline acquisition. If a team does decide to trade for Brendan Gallagher, we don’t think they’ll regret it. He has been a perennial +4 or higher AB performer for his entire career, as in his nine seasons he’s recorded a score above that threshold seven times. He’s only registered one individually negative season in 2017-18 (-5.80) but followed it with three consecutive scores above +4.5. This season, however, at the midway point, Gallagher has a -2.17 score, good for second on the Canadiens behind only Artturi Lehkonen. Although he has missed some time this season due to Covid-19 protocols, he has only scored four goals with eight assists for twelve points, by far the lowest point totals of his career. Perhaps more time under the Martin St. Louis system will help Gallagher get back on track but a trade could cause the Canadiens to stockpile significant futures in addition to whatever they get for the players we previously mentioned.
Regardless of what the Canadiens decide to do this deadline season, we think the next month is critical to the organization’s long-term future, as they continue to play well under Coach St. Louis. They will certainly be one of the more interesting teams to watch down the stretch, as an influx of youth and futures into the organization, along with a potential top-three pick could return Montreal to contention in the seemingly near future. Much more to come.