There is some excitement surrounding the Montreal Canadiens recently. The club managed to defeat the fifth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then outplayed the Philadelphia Flyers in six games in the First Round. The Canadiens came up short in the series, though. But despite that, the team proved that when healthy, they can compete with anyone. Youngsters Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi emerged as two of the best players for the club. This looks outstanding for the Canadiens longterm as they seem to have their top two centre positions filled. However, this excitement isn’t shared by Habs centre Phillip Danault.
Trading Phillip Danault May be the Best Option for the Canadiens
At the end-of-the-season media availability, Phillip Danault was a little disappointed that his role changed during the playoffs. Danault was quoted saying “I’ve seen my role change during the playoffs, but with what I’ve proven in the last few years, my role shouldn’t change in Montreal… I have demonstrated that I am capable of playing both defensively and offensively.”
Fair point. Danault has been outstanding for the Canadiens during the last few years. Stylistically, he has been compared to Patrice Bergeron and many felt he was snub by not being nominated for the Selke Trophy this season. Danault has been part of one of the most productive lines in hockey in between Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher. The line has been a possession beast for the Canadiens. However, Danault saw young star Nick Suzuki take over that role during the playoffs, pushing Danault down to the third line in between Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron. A role Danault says he’s not ready for yet.
Making Way for the Youngsters
Unfortunately for Danault, he might not have a choice. Suzuki and Kotkaniemi played magnificently during the Canadiens Stanley Cup Playoff appearance. They were arguably the Canadiens top two forwards, which has Habs fans as well as management extremely excited about the future.
Suzuki lead the Canadiens in goals (tied with Kotkaniemi) and points (tied with Jonathan Drouin) during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As mentioned before, he was given the task to shut down the opposition’s top players, having to deal with Sidney Crosby in the play-in round. He performed admirably, earning his keep as the top-line centre for the Canadiens.
For his part, Kotkaniemi was just as impressive. He tied Suzuki for the team lead in goals and played a physical game, taking the body every chance he got. He had an outstanding shooting percentage too, scoring on 36.4 percent of his shots. The improvements he made during the pause were noticeable, improving his skating and his shot as well as bulking up.
Being so young, there’s still a ton of room for growth. However, if their play during the postseason is any indication to how they’re going to play moving forward, the Canadiens are set at the centre position for a long time.
What Does This Mean for Danault’s Future?
So what does that mean for Danault? Danault has grown into an excellent two-way player for the Canadiens in his own right. Facing the oppositions top players each and every night while also producing offensively. Danault has produced 100 points over the past two seasons in 152 games. This is pretty impressive, considering he was never thought to be much of an offensive presence. However, Danault has grown his game during his time in Montreal. Now in his prime, Danault feels playing a strictly defensive role will not allow him to get better, stifling his career moving forward.
With just one year remaining on his contract, Danault has some decisions to make. He will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2020-21 season. If he feels Montreal’s plans don’t fulfill his wants and needs as a player, he very well may just walk in free agency. That’s not something the Canadiens can chance. They’re not in a position to let a quality asset like Danault leave for nothing. They also can’t afford to give him a hefty raise and pay him as a top-two centre when he’s used as a third line shut down centre. This is why it may be time for the Canadiens to move Phillip Danault.
Familiar Trade Partner
Marc Bergevin‘s best bet is to look for a trade partner for Danault during the offseason. His value is as high as it will ever be right now. And IF Danault does end up playing with different linemates and in a third-line centre role instead of in the top six this coming season, that will hurt his value. As already mentioned, Danault has certainly proven his ability to play in the top-six. He just finds himself in an unfortunate personal situation with the two youngsters emerging for the Canadiens. However, there is a team that has been crying out for a second-line centre. A team that Bergevin helped out just a few years ago so they could get the cap space to sign Connor Hellebuyck. That team is the Winnipeg Jets.
Phillip Danault is the Perfect Match for the Jets
The Jets lost their play-in match up to the Calgary Flames, 3-1. A large factor in this was the loss of Mark Scheifele. Scheifele was injured in Game 1 after a collision with Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk. This really exposed the Jets, who had to move Blake Wheeler from the wing to be the top-line centre and used Cody Eakin and Adam Lowry in the two-hole. Both these players are suited better in the clubs’ bottom six. Acquiring Danault from the Canadiens would finally give the Jets a second-line centre. It would allow Lowry to settle in as the club’s third-line centre. With Eakin becoming an unrestricted free agent, the club could allow him to walk away focusing their money elsewhere.
Patrik Laine, Anyone?
There are two big players from the Jets that the Canadiens could look into. Patrik Laine or Nikolaj Ehlers. Conveniently, both these players have found themselves on TSN’s latest Trade Bait Board. With the Habs need to score goals and the Jets need for a second-line centre, these two teams are a match made in heaven.
On paper, you would have to think Laine would be the preferred target. He is a consistent 30-goal scorer and a right shot, which is something the Canadiens lack in their forward group. As it stands, only four regulars in the Canadiens forward group shoot right, two of them being centres. Laine would add to that and having a sniper of Laine’s calibre is something the club has been missing the last few years. Laine also possesses a massive frame at 6’5”, 206 pounds. Another thing the Canadiens lack. Jeff Petry mentioned recently that it was an area that the Canadiens needed to improve on. Surely Bergevin heard him loud and clear.
However, defensively, Laine is a liability. This is certainly something that would drive Claude Julien crazy. It would also take much more than just Danault to make this trade work. The Canadiens would have to be willing to give up a small fortune to acquire Laine. Not because he has produced at an elite level since entering the league, more so just because of his name. He was drafted second overall behind Auston Matthews in 2016 and has scored 138 goals in four seasons. That is what you’re paying for. While selling the farm to bring in one player is not usually up Bergevin’s ally, you won’t be able to get Laine without giving up something significant in return.
How about Ehlers?
So we turn to Ehlers. Ehlers is also a proven goal scorer, scoring at least 20 in four straight seasons. He is a left shot, which doesn’t fix the Canadiens’ issue. However, that can be fixed with other moves. What Ehlers does bring is an excellent offensive skillset. He’s extremely gifted with the puck and can be a set-up man as well as a goal scorer. His offensive talents allow him to be able to create his own shot, which is something the Canadiens lack in their line up as well. He is also an explosive skater, which would also fit in well with the Canadiens as they are an exceptionally fast team.
Ehlers is the type of player that makes everyone around him better. Despite being a left-handed shot, Ehlers can play either wing position. His versatility is definitely something the Canadiens would want. Especially when it comes to the power play. The Canadiens could utilize Ehlers in the position Alex Galchenyuk used to occupy; making their power play a lot more lethal.
In terms of trade value, Ehlers would certainly cost less than Laine, making him a more realistic target. He is also already locked up long-term, allowing Bergevin to have more control over rather than having to deal with contract negotiations with Laine after next season.
Trade to be Had
While the exact trade is hard to pin-point, there is definitely one to be had between the two teams. Both teams have exactly what the other is looking for, it is just a matter of finding a way to make it make sense for both teams.
As mentioned, the Jets have a need for a centre, however, they also have a need for defence as well. With the Canadiens having Alexander Romanov joining the team next season, one of Victor Mete or Brett Kulak will be pushed out of the lineup. Mete is a restricted free agent and is only 22 years old. He could also be looked at by the Jets. As well as youngsters Cale Fleury, Noah Juulsen and Josh Brook, all of whom will battle for the final position on the right side for the Canadiens next season. I don’t expect that if a deal happens between two teams it will be a straight one for one. There will be multiple moving parts.
At the end of the day, these deals will all depend on the status of Phillip Danault. Are his feelings of being a top-six centre strong enough to make him move out of his home province? If they are, the Canadiens need to act now as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. While the Canadiens would love to keep Danault around, they can’t afford to let him walk away from nothing. Both parties are stuck between a rock and a hard place which, unfortunately, may spell the end for Phillip Danault with the Canadiens.