SAN JOSE, Calif. — It has been a couple of weeks since teams around the NHL began sitting players out of games for “trade-related purposes” while the Montreal Canadiens have been impatiently waiting to get their injured players back into them just to be able to potentially trade them before Friday’s deadline.
Sean Monahan, who’s been out of action with a lower-body since the first week of December, was essentially ruled out of that process on Saturday night, when it was announced he wouldn’t travel with the Canadiens on Sunday to San Jose.
They’ll play the Sharks on Tuesday and the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday without the 28-year-old centre, and the chances they capitalize on what his value was perceived to be before he was forced to the sidelines are practically nil.
The Canadiens got a first-round pick just for taking Monahan and his expiring $6.375-million cap hit from the Calgary Flames last summer, and it was looking like a legitimate possibility they’d get another one ahead of the deadline after he posted 17 points in 25 games.
But now that Monahan, who has a vast injury history, has spent months on the sidelines and remains there indeterminately, the Canadiens would be fortunate to convince another team to take a chance on him in a trade that would bring back a fifth- or sixth-round pick which — at best — could escalate into something as high as a second-rounder if he reaches a certain threshold of games as part of a deep playoff run with an acquiring team.
Even with half his cap hit and salary retained by the Canadiens, that’ll be a tough sell.
Moving Joel Edmundson won’t be much easier.
The six-foot-five, 221-pound defenceman has missed the last month with what’s been labelled an upper-body injury, which is all but certainly the same back malaise that cost him 58 games a season ago and the first 10 to start this campaign.
Even if he’ll be back on the ice Monday with the Canadiens, and even if he plays the Sharks and/or the Kings, the possibility he’ll show well enough to quell whatever concerns suitors may have about his health is negligible.
If Edmundson’s $3.5-million cap hit were expiring at the end of this season and the Canadiens were willing to eat half of it, perhaps someone would step up and pay full value for him. Heck, the physicality and proven track record of the player as a Stanley Cup winner and key playoff contributor could still prove attractive, even if he’s still under contract for one more season.
But considering how much time Edmundson has missed, the Canadiens are hardly sitting in a position to extract good value right now.
If they can’t, they’ll kick the can down the road with Edmundson, even if they’ve got some maneuvering to do ahead of next season to create space on their blue line for all their young, emerging players.
The Canadiens are hoping to have the chance to clean things up at forward and would be willing to accept marginal returns on certain players they’re making available, but that opportunity isn’t guaranteed to be available to them.
Meanwhile, Evgenii Dadonov was shipped to the Dallas Stars for 26-year-old Denis Gurianov in a swap of forwards on Sunday morning. It was a low-risk move with potential for high reward if Gurianov can exploit his considerable talent to prove he’s worth the $2.9-million qualifying offer he’s due at the end of this season.
He appeared to have so much promise just a few years ago — notching 20 goals in the regular season before putting up 17 points over the Stars’ 27-game run to within two wins of the 2020 Stanley Cup — but Gurianov has been a shell of that player since, and his questionable hockey sense and defensive commitment left too much to be desired for coach Peter DeBoer to rely on him in a meaningful role.
DeBoer knows and trusts Dadonov after having coached him during in Las Vegas last year. The Stars, who freed up a bit of cap room by also having the Canadiens retain half of Dadonov’s $5.2-million hit, are hoping that familiarity makes this a good bet for them.
The Canadiens are hoping a clean slate for Gurianov under Martin St. Louis makes this a great one for them. That so many players have already turned things around under the Hall-of-Fame-player-turned-coach over the last year made them more inclined to take Gurianov over a fourth- or fifth-round pick in 2024.
If this latest reclamation project fails, the Canadiens can elect to wash their hands of Gurianov by not qualifying him and allowing him to walk as an unrestricted free agent. Considering they initially took Dadonov just to rid themselves of the remainder of Shea Weber’s contract, they’re coming out of this whole situation neutral at worst.
Executive vice-president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton and general manager Kent Hughes are hoping to earn some wins in transactions between now and Friday, though, even if they’re not overly confident there will be much action.
Projected deadline day cap space: $4.138M
Cap space committed to 2023-24: $72.941 million (committed to 15 players)
Futures of any kind.
That’s what the Canadiens are after, whether they be players who still have upside like Gurianov, prospects or picks.
Unlike some other teams we’re previewing here at Sportsnet, the Canadiens don’t have hard targets we can list off.
The prospect of them shocking the hockey world by buying assets — they certainly won’t be renting them — is alive but infinitesimal. And knowing that, it would be purely speculative to suggest a name or two they may look to add.
We know the Canadiens would love to obtain a third first-round pick for this upcoming draft, but the chances of that were all but eliminated with the injuries Monahan and Edmundson sustained.
Assets to trade
Even if Monahan and Edmundson would both be tough to move, both are still in play.
So is Jonathan Drouin.
Whether or not any team will take him is another story. Drouin hasn’t scored a goal since January 2022, and even if he’s put up 13 assists over his last 17 games, played consistently well since late January, has a history of elevating his game in the playoffs, and comes at half his $5.5-million price tag, there just might not be a team willing to give up anything of worth for him.
Could one come calling at 2:45 p.m. ET on Friday just to scoop the 27-year-old up on the cheap? Sure.
But that might be the only way Drouin moves.
Hughes should be in consideration for GM of the year if he can push Mike Hoffman out without having to give up draft picks to do it. He’s going to try, and power to him if he succeeds, but it’s more likely he’ll be stuck with him through the deadline.
We know Canadiens fans saw Nino Niederreiter — who has one year after this one at $4 million and 28 points on the season — get traded from Minnesota to Winnipeg for a 2024 second-round pick earlier this week and thought that might be a template for a Hoffman trade because the player also has one year left after this one at $4.5 million on the cap and has 27 points. But they’re fantasizing on that.
Trading Christian Dvorak seems far out of reach, too. Sure, centres are always in demand and Dvorak can be a serviceable one, but he still has two years left under contract after this one and counts annually on the cap for $4.45 million.
It’s conceivable a couple of teams will come calling on Josh Anderson. Some might even be willing to pay a hefty price for the power forward who has 18 goals and a $5.5-million cap hit through 2027.
But whether or not they’d pay as much as Hughes would be asking for is debatable, especially ahead of the deadline.
We don’t think Hughes will trade David Savard, either. We don’t think Hughes is trying to trade Savard. The player’s value is higher to the Canadiens than it likely is to anyone coveting him.
• The Canadiens have let teams know they’re willing to use their cap space and be a third-party broker in deals requiring one. But with just over $4 million in space and 47 contracts on the books, they’d be limited to serve in this role — especially if they aren’t able to move any players out before the deadline. They also have incentive to save some room for college free agents and their own college prospects (like Sean Farrell and Jayden Struble).
• One of the most interesting things to monitor between now and Friday will be which players get placed on the Laval Rocket roster to be made eligible for the AHL playoffs. Once those players are papered to Laval, the Canadiens only have four non-emergency recalls they can make from post-deadline through end of season.