Considering the Montreal Canadiens’ current position in the standings, Marc Bergevin seems likely to be a buyer at the NHL Trade Deadline. Though that is still months away, the news that Paul Byron will be out for at least a month, and Jonathan Drouin is likely out for two, may accelerate his timeline for any trades he would be looking to make.
The offence has been stagnant and lacking finish for a few games now. The loss of two regular forwards — in particular a legitimate top-six threat in Drouin — is certainly part of the problem, but notwithstanding the injuries Marc Bergevin was always going to have to go shopping if he wanted this team to really compete.
They still have a cushion on a playoff spot for the moment, but Bergevin may as well look for some help now so that can continue to be the case. He mostly needs to look for help on the wing, and the biggest name rumoured to be on the block this season is Taylor Hall.
The New Jersey Devils are struggling mightily, and there doesn’t seem to be a quick turnaround on the horizon for them. There also doesn’t seem to be any sort of guarantee that Hall will re-sign with them when he hits free agency this summer, so it stands to reason that they’d want to get some assets for a potentially rapid rebuild around the young talent they do have on the roster.
Does he fit?
Hall is the type of player you can shoehorn into any lineup. If you don’t have a spot for him, you make one. He hasn’t been without his struggles on the year, mostly in the goals department, but he has 17 points in 20 games as of this writing, which has him on pace for roughly 70 points despite being on a struggling team.
You could argue that more scoring is to be expected of him, but the reality is he’s playing very well individually and the floodgates should open at some point.
He’s been getting better and better over the course of his career, so decline doesn’t appear to be coming for him anytime soon.
He does start about 55% of his end-zone shifts at the offensive end of the ice this year, but with an offensively gifted player like him, that’s the type of deployment he should receive. When he’s on the ice, his team is generating far more opportunities than they allow. It doesn’t take exhaustive statistical analysis to come to the conclusion that he is an elite hockey player.
The bigger question isn’t if he fits, but where. Claude Julien seems happy with the chemistry that exists between Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, and Brendan Gallagher, but he has also tried on several occasions to get Drouin on that line, so Hall could easily slide into Tatar’s spot
Or you form a 1-B line of sorts with Max Domi and Nick Suzuki, or insert whoever you like on the right side and let Suzuki thrive against third-line competition, moving Domi back to second-line centre. With the forward depth being restored by introduction of another top-end player, the line possibilities are endless, and I bet Julien would love to have the non-problem of figuring out where to use a Taylor Hall in his lineup.
To want a player of this calibre on your roster is a no-brainer, but that leads you to perhaps the most important question of all ...
What would it cost?
There aren’t many recent and comparable trades that come to mind. Perhaps the closest in terms of player calibre came when Ottawa traded Mark Stone at last year’s deadline. For Stone, Ottawa got Oscar Lindberg, blue-chip defensive prospect Erik Brannstrom, and a 2020 second-round draft pick.
The Stone trade came with an eight-year extension in Vegas that was finalized just over a week later, so their cost to acquire him is justified considering the length of time they’ll hold his rights. There is a very good chance that Hall will want to test the market in July; as at 28-year-old, he’s in a similar position to the one John Tavares found himself in, and the latter showed everyone what a bidding war can get you.
I’d expect the eventual price to be similar to that paid for Stone: a roster player, a first-round pick in 2020, and at least one quality prospect.
The roster player is easy. It probably has to be a left-winger so he can fill out their lineup, and as much as I hate to see him go, I think Artturi Lehkonen would be a prime candidate. He won’t score 40 goals and ruin their chance at the Alexis Lafrenière sweepstakes, but he also can be a valuable piece for them in the future.
The pick could become a sticking point. Bergevin likely has to give his first-round pick for 2020, which just so happens to be a draft that Montreal will be hosting. I don’t think New Jersey is going to be alright with losing Hall for a first in 2021 or 2022, so a big decision will be if the Habs’ brass are okay with not having a first-rounder in front of a home crowd, though trotting out Taylor Hall on the draft floor may alleviate some of that pain.
The prospect in the deal could become a big sticking point. If I were Ray Shero, and I already have Jack Hughes on my roster, I would demand Cole Caufield and die on that hill in negotiations. Reuniting the chemistry they had in the US development program is too tantalizing to pass up.
If I were Marc Bergevin, I would absolutely not trade Cole Caufield. Even if the trade comes with an extension for Hall I wouldn’t do it if that is the cost. The whole point of adding Hall is to improve goal-scoring, and Caufield’s highest projections have him becoming one of the league’s best finishers. Were I Bergevin, I would try to sell Shero on one of the solid defensive prospects they have like Alexander Romanov or Mattias Norlinder, as much as it would sting to see them leave the prospect pool.
It will be a steep price to pay. It begs the final question that must be asked when determining if Bergevin should pull the trigger on this hypothetical deal.
Can the Habs keep him?
Hall’s agent, Darren Ferris, has a history of telling his clients to wait as long as possible before signing in order to gauge the market, according to Elliotte Friedman. So in the hypothetical scenario where the Habs do execute a trade for Hall’s services — whether that be at the deadline or before Christmas — will he consider signing an extension right away?
A first-round pick, a roster player, and a top-tier prospect is a hefty price to pay for a rental player that leaves the organization on July 1. Especially if that prospect is someone like Romanov, Norlinder, or Caufield. These are players that are expected to be major parts of the team in the future, so to do all that for a rental had better mean a parade down Saint Catherine Street in the summer.
If that isn’t considered a serious possibility, then it wouldn’t be wise to deplete what many experts feel is one of the top prospect pools in the league, unless there is real confidence that Hall will sign long-term in Montreal. If he’s willing to do that, the loss of a first-rounder and a prospect is much more palatable since he’ll join a strong core that will be very competitive for years.
It’s a tough sell. The cap situation in Montreal permits Bergevin to make a very enticing offer right away — one of few contending teams that can do so — but Hall could understandably elect to wait and see what other teams around the league might be willing to give him. Bergevin isn’t going to offer him Connor McDavid money, but there just might be a team out there willing to offer him something in that realm.
Bergevin has two important players heading into restricted free agency in Max Domi and Victor Mete. The latter just so happens to share an agent with Hall, and both players stand to earn considerable raises of their own. The general manager has space to work with, but he can’t exactly write a blank cheque for Hall without sacrificing some breathing room he’ll need for assets he already has.
It’s a tricky situation, but if Bergevin can get Hall for the right price, and with the legitimate possibility of an extension, I believe most fans would give him the green light to make that move.