Trading Jiri Sekac for Devante-Smith Pelly is an extremely confusing trade by Montreal Canadiens general manager, Marc Bergevin. There is really no way you can look at this deal and see it making sense, unless you believe the Canadiens desperately needed $125K against the salary cap next season. There are so many things wrong with it, we'll have to go over them point by point.
Player vs player
One thing we need to get out of the way immediately is that the Canadiens did not improve their roster in this trade. Smith-Pelly may be a nice guy, play physical, and have the 'good character' Bergevin always preaches about, but Jiri Sekac is very obviously more talented.
There can be no mistake that Sekac hasn't been playing great lately. Bounced around in terms of role and linemates, scratched frequently, and his underlying numbers have been sinking like a stone. Yet still, you can watch Sekac and see the obvious talent. It's not fair to write Smith-Pelly off completely at just 22-years-old, but in his young career he has been one of the worst possession players in the entire NHL, especially when you account for his extreme high quality of teammates.
While his even strength production this season has been similar to Sekac's, we're comparing a player in his fourth North American professional season to Sekac in his first, and one player plays on the sixth highest scoring team in the NHL, while the other plays for the eighth lowest scoring team.
Sekac has also been unlucky offensively, with his linemates scoring on a below league average number of their shots, whereas Smith-Pelly has experienced the opposite. There's also the matter of the role that they play, with Sekac facing decidedly tougher minutes, and pushing the play forward much more effectively.
Yet in spite of tougher minutes, fewer offensive opportunities, and worse luck in terms of the offensive of linemates, Sekac still out-produces Smith-Pelly, and puts up more scoring chances.The only improvement these you can possibly attribute to Smith-Pelly would be better discipline.
Capitalizing on trade value
When you're making a trade, one thing you always have to keep in mind is the current trade value. When you've decided to trade a player, often smart teams will give that player some cushy minutes in order to stimulate some offense, and pull the trigger at what looks like a high point. Unfortunately, this isn't what happened with Sekac.
Mired in a long drought, Sekac was made a healthy scratch, and his minutes actually got tougher during it, getting submarined with Lars Eller in extreme defensive zone starts. Things began to change after he was put with Eller and Tomas Plekanec on the second line, only for Therrien to resume scratching him. Essentially, Bergevin traded Sekac at the lowest his value could possibly be.
Addressing a team need
There are two things that the Canadiens are absolutely desperate for: Goal scoring, and players who can drive possession. Unfortunately, Smith-Pelly is worse than Sekac at both these things, and one of the worst players in the league in terms of possession.
You could spin if you want and say that Smith-Pelly addresses a need for the Canadiens to get bigger, except that he's smaller than Jiri Sekac by two inches, and though Smith-Pelly plays physical, Sekac was no wallflower. One of them used their physicality to create offense, while the other projects like a grinder, not a scorer.
The philosophy of it
This is what's truly worrying about this trade. Earlier in the season, it looked like Marc Bergevin moved players out in order to force the hand of Michel Therrien to get Sekac back in the lineup. Since the Emelin contract, Bergevin has made a series of shrewd moves that look like they're motivated in part by analytics. This all comes tumbling down with this trade.
This is a trade to placate the coach, who very clearly did not like Sekac. This is a trade that adds yet another 4th liner to the fold, the exact type of player that Therrien doesn't understand how to use properly. This is adding perceived grit in spite of all evidence pointing to Smith-Pelly being a bad player. In fact, the worst regular player on the Ducks.
You shouldn't read too much into a single move, but this optics of this trade are horrible. What it looks like is a GM who has been won over by the win column in spite of all evidence that has been proven time and again to matter much more long term, saying that the way his coach has the team playing is bad.
Maybe it's just a precursor to something bigger, but this is not a good-looking trade.