Marc Bergevin had quite an eventful trade deadline in 2017, dealing three players and several draft picks away and gaining five acquisitions. Two defencemen were added in the days leading up to the deadline, with three fourth-line forwards brought in between midnight and the deadline of 5:00 PM on March 1.
The first area addressed before the playoff roster was finalized was the defence corps. Not long after bringing in Claude Julien to replace Michel Therrien behind the bench, a young defenceman was on the move as Greg Pateryn was packaged with a fourth-round draft pick for Jordie Benn of the Dallas Stars.
In Benn, the Canadiens added some more experience and an established NHLer to take the spot held by a replacement-level talent. Benn is a left-handed player who prefers to play the right side, adding versatility to those other traits.
He surprised many fans with some goal-scoring when he first arrived, with two goals in his first nine games with the Canadiens. That offence proved to be a bit of an anomaly for the defensively minded blue-liner, though it did help him to set a new career high of four goals.
With the Stars, Benn was hovering just below 50% in shot-attempts-for percentage, but was quite a strong possession player after joining Montreal and playing a steady third-pairing role. Including the six playoff games he dressed for, he clocked in at a 54.1% Corsi-for percentage (CF%), and was slightly better in scoring-chances-for percentage (SCF%), at 56.0%.
He has two more seasons remaining on a contract that will pay him $1.1 million per year. That’s a very reasonable salary for a steady defender to round out the defence, and will help the Canadiens maintain some cap manoeuvrability even with a hefty commitment to Shea Weber at the top. The question is how enticing the Vegas Golden Knights believe that contract to be, and whether the Habs will need to use one of the protection slots for the upcoming expansion draft to hold onto Benn’s services.
The day after Benn was acquired, the Canadiens added Brandon Davidson from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for David Desharnais. With some wondering just how much value Desharnais had when he was at his career peak, let alone after being a healthy scratch on a few occasions leading up to the deadline, getting an NHL player back was an unexpected return.
Davidson didn’t get regular time with the Habs, dressing for 10 of the final 18 regular-season games and just three playoff contests, but he did provide the team with decent bottom-pairing performance when called upon. He managed two assists in those 10 games to finish the season, but was one of several players to be held off the scoresheet in the post-season.
His shot numbers were a bit abnormal this year, as he finished with a positive shot-attempt differential (51.5 CF%) but quite a negative scoring-chance differential (45.5 SCF%). Those numbers only became more disparate in his time with Montreal, sporting a spectacular shot-attempts-for percentage of 57.1%, but with just 44.0% of the scoring chances going in his side’s favour while he was on the ice.
A look at the underlying numbers provides some of the answer. Davidson was one of the top defenders in shot attempts against per 60 minutes (48.9) but had one of the highest scoring chances against values of all Habs defenders, at nine per 60 minutes.
The difficulty getting into the lineup and getting used to a new system may have played a role in those numbers, or it could point to an inability to contain the opposition in his own zone. He should have a full training camp to work on whatever the issue is, as he enters the final year of his current contract when training camp begins in September.
The day of the trade deadline started off with a midnight deal for Steve Ott. He was traded to Montreal from the Detroit Red Wings for a reasonable cost of a sixth-round selection in 2018. The move kicked off a day of transactions for fourth-line rentals on expiring contracts.
Ott played 11 games down the stretch for the Canadiens, contributing one assist and adding 17 penalty minutes.
When we looked into his stats at the time of his acquisition, it seemed as though Bergevin had brought in a player who would be relegated to pressbox duty soon after arriving and have a hard time making a post-season lineup, but he was fairly effective in the bottom-pairing role he played for the team.
One thing Ott won’t bring to the team is a source of offence on the bottom trio to exploit another team’s depth, but he showed at the end of the season and into the playoffs that he does have some gas left in the tank, and shows good determination in the offensive zone.
It seemed quite unlikely when he was added, but Ott may be a candidate to earn a low-cost contract to stay with the team for next season. Flanking the centreman with similarly-skilled wingers isn’t the best approach going forward, as was seen in the post-season with a fourth line that was never a threat to score, but he could be the forechecking option with young linemates next season should the Habs be interested in injecting some skilled youth into the roster.
It will likely come down to either Ott or Torrey Mitchell earning that role, and right now Mitchell has a leg up with a contract already in hand, while being two years younger as well.
The most promising of the deadline-day deals seemed to be Dwight King, who had decent possession stats in his time with the Los Angeles Kings and appeared to be a solid addition for the playoff run. Just a few games into his Habs tenure, it became apparent that King wasn’t really a fit with Montreal’s construction.
The lack of footspeed that was compensated for with a strong team game in Los Angeles stood out nearly every shift he played for the Canadiens, whether it was failing to catch up on an offensive rush or arriving to the puck too late to put pressure on the forecheck.
The decent possession stats didn’t last long once he donned the Habs jersey. His Corsi-for percentage dropped well below the 50% he had maintained on the west coast, while his scoring-chances-for percentage plummeted to a horrendous 37.3% in his time on Montreal, seeing about twice as many scoring chances against when he was on for his shifts. To put that number into context, only 19 players who played at least 400 minutes this season finished below 40%, with nine of those being members of the Colorado Avalanche, who finished with one of the worst team performances in NHL history.
There doesn’t seem to be much of anything that King can add to the team going forward, and Julien did try several deployment options to get the most out of his player, including some time on the second line. While King is due for a contract, with his performance and a draft pick in play, you’d have to say that an extension would be a mistake. The community seems to agree.
The final move ahead of the deadline was shifting Sven Andrighetto to Colorado for one of those nine Avalanche players mentioned above, Andreas Martinsen. The reasoning for the trade seems fairly obvious when looked at in relation to the other deals made: turning small skill into a large body.
Martinsen did have a few physical shifts that suggested he could be an effective fourth-line checker, but more often than not he was trapped in his own end with his linemates, perplexed as to how to reclaim the puck as Carey Price was peppered with shots.
He saw action in just nine regular-season games and two playoff contests, making him the least-used of the five deadline additions. In that time he put up zero points, though also spent no time in the penalty box.
It’s not as though Andrighetto was lighting it up on the team, and he was never going to earn a top-six role in Montreal with the players the team had, but giving him up for a player with as little to offer as Martinsen seemed like a poor move at the time, and looks even worse in hindsight.
With Martinsen looking for a new deal for next year, there doesn’t seem to be much chance of that contract being signed with the Canadiens.