Sorry I haven’t written in a while, folks. I was on vacation.
A lot has happened since my last article at the NHL Entry Draft, so I thought I would go through each move in chronological order, and analyze them. Let’s get right to it.
· Canadiens trade Andrew Shaw back to the Blackhawks (along with a 2021 seventh-round pick) for a 2020 second-rounder, a 2020 seventh-rounder and a 2021 third-round pick.
Analysis: My immediate reaction was of dismay when I heard of this trade, because Shaw was a beast last season. He played extremely well with Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin, and is the kind of player who can play on all four lines. Shaw is extremely versatile, and his feistiness will be missed. He also put up 47 points last year, a career high. The upside to this trade: Shaw is about one concussion away from ending his career. If he were forced to retire next season because his feistiness got him into trouble, then the Canadiens would lose him for nothing. Better they should play it safe and trade him for a decent amount of quality picks. As well, Shaw’s $3.9 million cap hit was a little much for the Canadiens, a team that wanted to get a big fish in free agency. As well, Shaw’s departure greatly helped the Canadiens sign Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia, the signings of whom I’ll get to later.
· Canadiens trade Nicolas Deslauriers to the Anaheim Ducks for 2020 fourth-round pick.
Analysis: Yet more cap space is being cleared; this time the Canadiens lifted a $950 000 weight off their shoulders. I am surprised that they were able to fetch a fourth-round pick for a fourth-line winger in Deslauriers.
On to Canada Day…
· Canadiens sign Keith Kinkaid to a one-year $1.75 million contract.
Analysis: The Canadiens can scratch the new backup goalie off their to-do list. With the unsatisfactory play and subsequent departure of Antti Niemi from the Canadiens’ organization, the Canadiens now needed a backup goalie. Charlie Lindgren, the starter for the AHL Laval Rocket, is most likely not fit for the job. Therefore, the Canadiens signed a serviceable backup in Keith Kinkaid. Kinkaid is coming off a pretty bad season on a putrid New Jersey Devils team, where he was the starter. Kinkaid is not a starting goaltender. However, if placed in a sheltered backup role behind an all-world goaltender, I feel that Kinkaid can thrive. He did, after all, lead the Devils to the playoffs in 2017-18. The role of a backup goaltender is much more important than most people think. If a team has a good backup goaltender, their starting goaltender can take a few games off to rest or nurse an injury, without having to worry about the team losing those few games. This, in turn, helps the starting goaltender play better, because he can take the time to return to form after a slump or an injury. A good starting goaltender, especially one like Carey Price, can drag a team into the playoffs, as Price has done numerous times. Good signing by Bergevin.
· Oh baby… The Canadiens sign RFA Sebastian Aho to a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet.
Analysis: It actually happened. The Canadiens tendered an offer sheet. Sebastian Aho was the star center for the Carolina Hurricanes. Whether or not he still is will be discussed later. Anyway, Aho is extremely versatile, and is an excellent playmaker. He can shoot very well, too. Aho had a breakout year this past season, scoring 83 points in 82 games. The contract that the Canadiens offered him seems low, but it doesn’t take into account the $21.87 million in signing bonuses owed to Aho in the first 12 months of the deal. Clearly the thought process here was that the small-market Hurricanes will be unable to shell out the cash for those signing bonuses. This opinion is not without credibility. After all, the Hurricanes’ gate revenue last year was only $27 million, only $5.13 million more than the value of the first-year signing bonuses. I’ve heard many opinions on this offer-sheet. Some think that Bergevin should have offered upwards of $10 million to ensure that he got Aho, and that the Hurricanes don’t match. Some think that the signing bonuses make up for the seemingly low annual salary, and that the Hurricanes are not stupid enough to spend almost all of their gate revenue on one player. Some think that Bergevin only made this offer-sheet for show, just to silence his critics, who say he’s not willing to go to great lengths to improve the Canadiens. This opinion is the most ridiculous of all. Nobody wants to create bad blood between general managers and freeze a whole bunch of cap space for a week just for PR purposes. Besides, Bergevin is not known to do things just because. He likes to make moves with a purpose. He would only tender an offer-sheet if he thought it had a chance of not being matched. Personally, I was in between the first opinion and the second opinion. I thought Bergevin could have offered more money, but I was also impressed by the way he used signing bonuses to his advantage.
· Canadiens sign left-shot defenseman Ben Chiarot to a three-year, $10.5 million contract.
Analysis: The Winnipeg Jets fans that are reading this article were most likely not looking forward to this bullet point. Ben Chiarot was a reliable, physical, stay-at-home defenseman for the Jets, often playing with Dustin Byfuglien or Tyler Myers on the second and third pairings, respectively. He is not afraid to take one for the team, ranking second on the Jets in blocked shots with 139, and third in hits with 171. He would look very good on the second pairing with Jeff Petry, who is more offensively minded. The two complement each other well with their different playing styles. Chiarot is not the solution to the hole on the left side of defence, but he does improve the situation slightly. I can see Bergevin addressing that need again in the near future.
· Canadiens sign Nick Cousins to a one-year contract.
Analysis: Nick Cousins is like Jordan Weal. He brings a powerful offensive element to the fourth line, but he is not suitable for any other role. I think if Ryan Poehling or Nick Suzuki or Charles Hudon fail to make the Canadiens in training camp, we could see Nick Cousins become a staple on the fourth line. However, the more likely scenario is that he becomes insurance if anyone gets injured.
· Carolina Hurricanes officially match the Aho offer-sheet.
Apparently the Hurricanes were stupid enough to spend most of their gate revenue on one player. Oh well, the Canadiens have plenty of young centers to rely on for now. Better luck next time, Bergevin.
· Canadiens re-sign Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia
Analysis: Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia were part of a dynamic third line known as the Finnish Line, which was centred by Jesperi Kotkaniemi. All three of the linemates are Finnish. Who would’ve guessed it? Anyway, Armia is an excellent physical presence on a team’s third line, and he has shown that he can play higher up in the line-up if needed. Lehkonen is a good sniper who is, unfortunately, quite snakebitten. However, he is excellent defensively and is used on the penalty kill. Lehkonen set career highs in points last year with 31, and spent time on the second line with Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin. This leaves only one RFA unsigned, by the name of Charles Hudon. Speaking of whom…
· Canadiens sign Charles Hudon to one-year, $800 000 contract.
Analysis: This is a make-or-break year for Charles Hudon. Either he finally makes the team full-time, and shows that he can realize his potential as a scoring forward, or he completely flops at the NHL level and is scratched for the season. This deal is a “prove-it” deal, and by the end of it, we will know if Charles Hudon has a future in the Canadiens organization.
The Canadiens have had a very interesting offseason so far. Most of their moves have garnered both positive reactions and negative reactions. There are some people (Montreal Gazette columnist Brendan Kelly among them) who have disagreed with pretty much every single move that Marc Bergevin has made this offseason. There are some people (Bo Knows Habs columnist Boaz Shron among them) who have agreed with most of the moves that Marc Bergevin has made this offseason. The rest are somewhere in between. Some people think that the Canadiens are done making moves this offseason. They most certainly are not. Jake Gardiner is still unsigned and I think the Canadiens will end up signing him, once his asking price goes down a bit. The Canadiens might trade for Nikita Gusev, a star prospect for the Vegas Golden Knights who needs a contract that Vegas cannot afford. Jonathan Drouin might find himself on the move this offseason after his frustrating play to end the year. And of course, there could be a trade for a top-pairing, puck-moving, power-play-quarterbacking left-shot defenseman. I bet that within three week’s time I will have to post an updated version of this article. Until then, let us wait and see.
Go Habs Go.
Signed, Le Bo