With the NHL’s trade deadline less than 24 hours away the Montreal Canadiens have played their way into a position of being a buyer instead of selling off assets like they did a year ago. As the deadline approaches, the Habs will be sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference, only trailing the now Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins have added significant pieces to an already impressive lineup, bringing in Brendan Morrow, Jarome Iginla and Doug Murray well ahead of the deadline. The Pens have loaded up and Montreal’s division rival Boston Bruins added one of the best of all time in Jaromir Jagr to their roster in an attempt to catch the Canadiens in the standings.
Thus far Montreal has added defenceman Davis Drewiske from the Los Angeles Kings who is a big defender that doesn’t add much offensively but can contribute on the penalty kill. Now the question becomes who else (if anyone) will the Habs bring in for the stretch drive?
First of all, the Habs need to identify their biggest need before deciding on a target acquisition. So let’s take a quick look at their depth chart. Starting with the forwards:
Pacioretty Desharnais Gallagher
Ryder Plekanec Gionta
Prust Eller Galchenyuk
Moen Halpern Armstrong
This lineup has been kept together since Ryder was brought in for Erik Cole and all four lines have been contributing to the Habs success. There are no players playing out of their comfort zone in this lineup and no major holes that need to be addressed before the deadline.
If the Habs are to add a forward, don’t expect them to sell the farm on an all star. A player with size who is capable of moving throughout the lineup would be the best target for Habs GM Marc Bergevin.
Also, don’t forget that Rene Bourque and Ryan White are both back skating and will be added to the Habs lineup within the next few games. The return of both players to the Habs lineup will leave them with White and Armstrong fighting for a spot in the lineup so adding another depth forward may not make much sense.
On the defensive side of things, Montreal is currently rolling out a top six of:
The top four has been playing great all year for the Habs, and Francis Bouillon has met expectations as a third pairing defender who can help on the penalty kill. Drewiske draws in as the 6th defender but was in and out of the Kings lineup the past few seasons, never able to solidify his position with the team.
Montreal has auditioned youngsters Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi alongside Bouillon and although none of the three looked out of place, the safe bet is to bring in an experienced NHL veteran. The Habs also currently have Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber but neither of them are likely to play with the Canadiens again this season. Kaberle is being held out of the lineup to keep him healthy so he can be bought out at season’s end. Weber has only played 2 games all season and is not the type of player that Head Coach Michel Therrien trusts to play on his blueline.
Raphael Diaz had a blazing hot start to the season but is out indefinitely with a concussion. If Diaz were healthy there would be no pressing need to add depth on the back end. Perhaps a 7th defenceman in case of injury but nothing major. With Diaz out, a defender capable of playing on the 5/6 pair and a 7th defenceman to make sure depth is not an issue was needed to balance out the Habs blueline.
The question now becomes, is Drewiske capable of contributing every night in the top six or is he just the 7th defenceman? Well, Drewiske was a member of last season’s Stanley Cup winning team in L.A but did not dress for a single playoff game. This leads me to believe Bergevin is still in the market for a defender that can play in the top six regularly, while Drewiske is an insurance policy so the youngsters can play out the year developing in the minors.
Based on Montreal’s need, who may they be looking to fill the void before the clock strikes midnight (which is actually 3:00 EST tomorrow afternoon). Let’s also keep in mind, the plethora of young defenceman in the AHL are on the precipice of becoming regulars in the NHL so Montreal will exclusively be looking at depth NHL defenders on expiring contracts. I know this isn’t the most exciting stuff for Habs fans to dream about tonight with the deadline looming but it bodes well for the strength and depth of the current roster.
Onto the shopping list:
Joe Corvo, Carolina Hurricanes
Corvo is a bit of a reach due to the fact the Hurricanes are still in the hunt for a division title. However, with star goaltender Cam Ward injured Carolina has been in free fall for nearly three weeks. A loss to Washington tonight would be crushing to the Canes playoff hopes and could perhaps lead GM Jim Rutherford to decide on being a seller. Corvo is a great skater that can move the puck well. He would fit in on the second powerplay for Montreal, a unit that currently contains Josh Gorges and Francis Bouillon. Corvo would be a major upgrade on Gorges and Bouillon as a powerplay specialist but his defensive play has led to the nickname “Uh-oh Corvo” and could perhaps keep Bergevin away from bringing him in.
Ryan O’Byrne, Colorado Avalanche
O’Byrne is a former member of the Canadiens and if brought back into the fold would join Bouillon, Michael Ryder and Jeff Halpern as second time Habs. Eric Engels mentioned several times that O’Byrne could be a great fit with the Habs and I definitely agree. A huge defender at 6’5 and over 230 pounds, he would be asked to form a pair with Bouillon and could be counted on to help the Habs mediocre penalty kill. Most fans of the Canadiens tend to remember him as the youngster who went through some growing pains in a Habs sweater and of course the player who scored in his own net. However, O’Byrne was a solid defender during the 2010 run to the Eastern Conference Finals with Montreal and remains a heavy hitter who can make life miserable for opposing players.
Mark Streit, New York Islanders
Streit would join the long list of returning Habs and if brought back could prove to be the best of them. He scored 62 points when he last wore a Habs sweater and remains one of the best powerplay defenceman in the NHL. The defensive side of his game has been in question for years and though he is not a defensive stalwart, if he were to be paired with Bouillon and matched up against opponents third best offensive lines his defensive game would not prove to be much of a problem. The problem with Streit is, even though the Islanders are having a hard time getting his signature on a new contract, they are currently in a battle for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It is doubtful that the Isles move their captain and powerplay quarterback while in the hunt for a playoff berth but this is a team looking to the future and could be enticed to move Mark if the price is right. Bringing him back to Montreal would greatly improve an already tremendous powerplay even if he would be relegated to secondary duties. The difference between Gorges and Streit on the second powerplay could be enormous for Montreal. With Markov and Subban on the roster it may seem redundant to bring in Streit but Montreal has the most powerplay opportunities in the NHL and overwhelming teams with PP options could prove beneficial to the Habs come playoff time.
Of course, Bergevin could sit back and decide asking prices are too high and he is satisfied with his current group. If he decides to do this, don’t fret Habs fans, as this team is neither built for one season nor desperate. This team has all the makings of a squad that can be held together and stay competitive for years to come.