It’s most hockey fan’s favourite time of year, the trade deadline. Everyone loves to speculate about trades; Who is buying, who is selling, who is available, what is the price. In Habs crazed Montreal, the anticipation goes up a notch or two. Fans and the talking heads always link the Habs to all the big names available. Partly because it’s wish-casting and partly because fans eat it up. Still, the Montreal Canadiens are not usually big-time players at the deadline, especially under Marc Bergevin. With that in mind, let’s look at some under the radar Montreal Canadiens trade deadline targets.
Montreal Canadiens Trade Deadline Targets
The Habs are in an intriguing situation. They appear to be all-in on the playoffs after making substantial moves in the off-season. Still, they are sitting in fourth place in the North Division and need to make some moves to bolster their playoff and Stanley Cup hopes. As fellow Habs writer on Last Word on Hockey Colton Osmond wrote, there are plenty of major targets for the Habs to target this year. One of the targets mentioned was acquired, as the Habs traded for Eric Staal on Friday. However, their off-season spending spree has left them up against the cap. According to capfriendly.com, the Habs have just over $2 million in cap space at the deadline. The Habs will need to get creative to get one of the high ticket players.
On the other hand, Marc Bergevin doesn’t tend to make big moves in season or at the trade deadline. So while the big names are always nice, unless he gets a sweet deal (see Thomas Vanek or Jeff Petry), it’s not likely he will break the bank on a big-ticket player. So let’s take a look at some lesser-known names that could still help the Habs.
The Habs have a few needs right now. The two biggest needs are a left-shot puck-moving defenceman and veteran depth at center. Every team wants to add more scoring depth as well so the Habs are probably in the market for that also.
The New Jersey Devils look to be one of the busier teams at the deadline. With their season going nowhere and a number of veteran pending free agents, the Devils will likely want to move some of those players for future or younger assets. With that in mind, the Canadiens should target Sami Vatanen. The veteran has all the qualities the Habs are looking for. He is a great puck-moving defenceman with solid offensive skills and hockey sense. Vatanen can quarterback a power play and has an accurate shot. He plays on the left side and most of all, he is relatively inexpensive. The Habs can add Vatanen and it wouldn’t put them over the cap. He has seen his role on the Devils diminish this year, however. He is averaging 16:55 of ice time, down from 21:45 last year. It’s hard to imagine the Devils seeking a huge return for the defender, so it would definitely be a move up Bergevin’s ally. The concern with Vatanen would he health as he has never played more than 72 games in a season. Still, this is the type of low-risk high-reward move Marc Bergevin is always looking for. His skill set is what the Habs have been desperately looking for since Andrei Markov left (not saying he is as good as Markov just they play a similar style).
Sticking with the Devils, another low-cost option for the Habs defence would be Dmitry Kulikov. He is an excellent skater with great mobility. He can quarterback a power play, has a big shot and likes to jump into the play, using his speed and skating. Despite his offensive inclinations, Kulikov has solid two-way instincts. He can log minutes as he has averaged 19:56 of ice time over his career. While Kulikov’s numbers won’t wow you but his game is something the Habs need on their back end. Kulikov’s contract is low enough that the Habs will not have to move money around to make him fit.
Moving to another team primed to be very busy at the deadline, the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have been beyond disappointing this year. The team looks primed for (another) rebuild, which means they are looking to shed some veterans. Cody Eakin is an interesting case. He is not a pending free agent, signed through 2021-22, but is 29 and not likey part of the Sabres future plans. Eakin is not going to wow you with offensive numbers, but he is a solid two-way player with versatility. He also is having a solid year in the face-off circle ranking tied for 16th with 56%. The Habs need help in the faceoff dot. Eakin would immediately become the top faceoff man for the Habs. Along with his faceoff prowess, Eakin is a fierce competitor that would inject life into a lineup. While he is not known for his scoring, he does have a bit of the clutch gene. Eakin would fit perfectly on the Habs fourth line.
Keeping in mind the deadline cap number from capfriendly.com, Eakin’s contract would just fit under what the Habs have available at the moment on deadline day.
The Nashville Predators are another team seemingly looking to start over. That means they are likely open for business. For the Habs, Erik Haula would be an interesting option. Haula possesses some creative playmaking ability, good speed and good hockey sense. He is a versatile forward, but he would be best suited to play centre for the Habs. His 54.9% faceoff percentage is 25th in the league. He is also a useful penalty killer, something the Habs need help with as well. Again, this would be more of an addition to the bottom of the Habs lineup, but his contract is not prohibitive to the Canadiens tight cap.
Circling back to the Sabres (and defencemen), Brandon Montour is an interesting player for the Habs to consider. This is admittedly a cheat, as Montour is not really under the radar, but is still an interesting player to consider. The 26-year-old is a pending free agent and will attract a lot of attention near the trade deadline. Another issue is fitting his salary into the Habs salary cap. His $3.875M salary (although only $1,427,155 is left to pay) will require Marc Bergevin to move some money off his books. Montour will also be the most expensive player to acquire in terms of assets. It will require more high-end prospects or picks and likely a roster player to make room for Montour.
Outside of the money, Montour is a gifted offensive defenceman. He has exceptional mobility and skating ability, something the Habs lack on their backend. Montour has the ability to quarterback a power play and can score goals due to his good shot. He would give the Canadiens a unique dimension to their back end that is missing.
Montreal Canadiens Trade Deadline
With the quarantine rules being relaxed somewhat in Canada, the Canadiens have a bit more time to make a move. Still, they can’t wait too long because they are in a dog fight to make the playoffs and need help sooner rather than later. Waiting too long might mean the help arrives too late. With expectations raised in Montreal missing the playoffs seems like it’s not an option. Despite the pressure, it’s unlikely Marc Bergevin will make a huge splash, outside of the Staal deal of course. Expect the Montreal Canadiens trade deadline to be filled with smaller more under-the-radar moves. Still, those small moves can pay off in a big way come playoff time.