Montréal Canadiens: The Trade Deadline Dilemma

Hockey fans have yet to see if the Montréal Canadiens are legitimate playoff contenders or heading for another draft lottery.

The Montréal Canadiens picked up a huge 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night to bring their record to 13-10-5. That gives them 31 points and sole possession of the second wild card spot and one point behind the Boston Bruins for the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Now, just cause the Montréal Canadiens are in a playoff spot now does not mean they will be there by the time the trade deadline roles around on February 25th. In that regard, we also don’t know if the Habs will be buyers or sellers on that date. With how up and down the season has been so far, a betting man would probably say the team will be sellers.

That is where the issue lies, the Habs can’t be sellers at the deadline.

A Rough Roster Situation

Usually buyers at the deadline are looking for experienced players with maybe one to two years remaining on a relatively cheap contract. For example, Valtteri Filppula, a center with playoff experience who is on a one-year, $2.75 million deal. That is a contract that can be easily moved, a position that is in need on many playoff teams around the league, and will expire after the playoffs, meaning it won’t damage a team’s cap situation.

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Now occasionally you’ll see players traded with larger cap hits but with salary retained, like the Tomas Plekanec trade the Canadiens made with the Toronto Maple Leafs in February of this year ($6 million cap hit, $3 million retained by the Habs). But usually it’s smaller, shorter deals that get moved around.

That will be a problem for the Canadiens this year. Of the 12 players on the active roster with one or two years left on their contracts, seven of them are players 25 or younger and two of them are 26-year olds. Some are players that the organization should keep in order to help them grow and prosper on the Canadiens lineup (Max Domi for instance) and the others are depth pieces that wouldn’t really fetch much on the trade market.

And of the ones who aren’t 26 or younger, you have Jordie Benn (31, one year left at $1.1 million) and David Schlemko (Also 31, two years left at $2.1 million), both left defensemen playing on a team with an already depleted defensive core. The others are Nicolas Deslauriers (27, two years remaining at $950,000) who has done next to nothing in the NHL. And lastly backup goalie Antti Niemi, who’s 35 and making $950,000 for one more year. There just aren’t many players the Canadiens can move without hurting their starting lineup or getting a minuscule return for a depth forward.

The Montréal Canadiens could certainly be buyers at the deadline and make a run for the playoffs, but they would be giving up potential prospects, depth pieces or draft picks that are crucial to this organization’s future. It’s too early and the team is far too inconsistent to make a determination of where they will be come April, but with the roster currently assembled, itself unlikely they’ll be able to move many contracts once February hits.

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler

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