Four players who played as a part of the Montreal Canadiens organization left the team this season: some via trade, others claimed off waivers.
Let’s take a look at how they performed with the Habs, and how their production held up with their new teams.
The writing was on the wall for David Desharnais, who found himself as a healthy scratch at times, even while Michel Therrien was still coach of the Canadiens.
Despite the situation, Desharnais kept his usual positive attitude, stating "it's better to be a scratch in the NHL than healthy in the ECHL or AHL."
Truth be told, Desharnais probably received more criticism than he deserved, seeing as it was his ridiculous usage on the first line and power play that bothered fans, rather than anything in particular he did — or didn’t do — on the ice. He definitely has flaws in his game, but they were compounded by the fact that the former coach was utterly obsessed with using Desharnais as his #1 centre, rather than developing a player such as Alex Galchenyuk down the middle.
As it stands, neither Galchenyuk nor Desharnais are part of Marc Bergevin’s vision for the Canadiens’ centre depth, so we can admit that it was a botched experiment.
Interestingly, Desharnais’ score-adjusted Corsi-for percentage last season hit a four-year high with the team, at 51.95%. While he was on the ice the Habs controlled almost 65% of the goals, but only 46% of the scoring chances, indicating he was rather lucky not to get outscored. The problem was Desharnais’ lack of production, which saw a steady decline since 2013-14. In the end, he would score four goals and add six assists in 31 games, which led to him being traded for Brandon Davidson at the trade deadline. Following the trade, Desharnais’ production dipped even further, going from 1.36 points per 60 minutes with the Canadiens to 1.24 with the Edmonton Oilers.
Not only did his offensive output suffer, but so did his underlying numbers. While on the ice he had a negative impact in terms of shots, scoring chances, and goals scored. Predictably, he saw a major reduction in ice time once he left the Habs.
Essentially, the Canadiens traded a player with little to no value, for a player that has some potential in Davidson. I genuinely thought the Habs made the move as to free up precious trade deadline cap space, but as we saw they failed to make any big moves at the deadline, and actually finished the day with a surprising surplus when it came to their allotted cap space.
Regardless of what the plan was approaching the deadline, the Desharnais trade should be considered a success by Bergevin, albeit not a major one.
When it comes to Barberio’s fate with the Canadiens ... well, simply put, they flew too close to the sun and burned their defensive depth by giving him away. That may not be a popular idiom, nor simple, but in this case it’s entirely accurate.
The Habs managed to sneak him through waivers to start the year. I heard rumblings that a few teams were interested at the time, but seeing as most rosters are set come October, Barberio went unclaimed, joining the IceCaps as their best defenceman.
When the Canadiens acquired Nikita Nesterov from the Lightning, the Canadiens added a decent replacement defenceman to the roster, and they seemed to be in good shape with Zach Redmond, the aforementioned Nesterov, Barberio, and Greg Pateryn vying to be an extra body with the Canadiens. The Canadiens had waived Redmond so he could join the team in the AHL not long before they atempted to do the same with Barberio, arguably the best player of those mentioned.
I say arguably, but it’s really not that much of a debate. Barberio had the best shot-control numbers among all Canadiens defencemen that played over 200 minutes this year (55 CF%), and he also found himself on the positive side of things when it came to scoring chances (52%) and goals scored (53.5%). Every single metric pointed to him being a solid NHL player that simply needed more opportunity to prove his worth.
And that’s exactly why the Colorado Avalanche claimed him. Fortunately for his new team, they had the perfect roster to provide the every-day opportunity, and it paid off in spades.
In 34 games with the Avalanche, Barberio saw his ice time balloon from third-pair minutes to first-pairing numbers, and though his statistics took a hit in terms of shot control, we do have to keep in mind that the Avalanche are essentially a giant tire pile doused in gasoline and set on fire by the local pyromaniac. It’s really hard to get a good read on any of their players, similarly to what we saw from Edmonton in the last few years.
Barberio is one that got away, and as a puck-moving defenceman he could have been a great option come playoff time, when the Habs were struggling to produce much offence off the rush due to their inability to leave the zone with the puck. It wasn’t a major blow to the organization, but a mistake nonetheless.
On February 27, the Canadiens sent Pateryn and a fourth-round pick to the Dallas Stars for defenceman Jordie Benn.
It’s not that Pateryn was playing particularly poorly for the Canadiens, but he simply wasn’t getting the ice time he wanted. Fortunately, the Canadiens acquired the better defenceman in this deal, and paying a fourth-round pick to upgrade from Pateryn to Benn was quite the coup for Bergevin.
We’ll delve a little more into what Benn brought to the lineup once we review the players who were acquired around the deadline, but the key was that the coach trusted his new player, whereas they had absolutely no faith in Pateryn’s play, something that eventually led to the player himself losing all confidence.
Chalk this one up as a win for Bergevin. And frankly, it was also a win for Pateryn, who desperately needed a fresh start in the NHL.
We all know how this one ended up. Andrighetto was traded to the Colorado Avalanche for Andreas Martinsen at the deadline, and the result was the Avalanche acquiring a useful offensive player, whereas Martinsen never found a role on his new team.
Andrighetto was immediately placed on the first line in Colorado, alongside Nathan MacKinnon. You can definitely assume that MacKinnon was the driving force on that line and helped Andrighetto’s production, but the fact of the matter is that the Swiss forward was able to keep up with the speedy Avalanche forward, which is an asset not many players in the NHL are able to claim.
Were the signs there that Andrighetto could do more for the Canadiens? Absolutely. Not only was he one of the fastest players on the team, but he’s creative, and has the ability to control the puck at high speeds; a rare talent in the NHL. His production was closely linked with his usage, and it rose from a respectable 1.41 P/60 with Montreal, all the way to 2.42 with the Avalanche.
In the long run, it was clear Andrighetto was not part of Montreal’s plans, but it also showed signs of a changing mentality at the deadline. Out was the idea of quality depth, to be replaced with toughness, truculence, and a general inability to skate.
The Habs lived and died by their acquired toughness, while Andrighetto found success, and potentially a stable career, elsewhere. Like Barberio, the Canadiens could have used Andrighetto’s talent in the playoffs. If we’re being honest it’s not like either are game-changing players, but rather very useful depth skaters. Losing those players was not the only reason the Habs lost in the playoffs, but it sure didn’t help to have a lack of quality talent available when push came to shove.
The Canadiens batted .500 when it comes to the players who departed the organization. Not an ideal number, and certainly not a disaster, but there was clearly room for improvement, and perhaps a little more foresight into what makes a good hockey team competitive in the playoffs.
(all statistics & graphics via the excellent website corsica.hockey)