This year’s trade deadline started slowly for everyone except the Columbus Blue Jackets, who by the end of the weekend had unloaded nearly all of their future draft picks for a bevy of rental players. Marc Bergevin had previously stated that he didn’t plan to make any major moves, or mortgage the future for a rental this year, and he stuck to that approach.
Names like Matt Duchene, and Mark Stone were tossed around as possibilities, and that was an exciting prospect in Montreal. Adding a potential elite player to their lineup would be needed to keep pace with the heavy-hitters in the Eastern Conference. Then the weekend came and went, the deadline as well, and at the end of it all, the Montreal Canadiens had acquired just Jordan Weal from the Arizona Coyotes.
In and of itself, the move for Weal is a solid one for Bergevin, who upgraded part of his team that had been causing issues for weeks, and did so at the cost of an AHL forward only. The Laval Rocket take a lump, but as a whole the Canadiens organization became better with Weal as a part of it.
That was it, just the upgrade on the fourth line, while there was otherwise a lot of movement across the league. In Marc Bergevin’s post-deadline press conference, it made perfect sense why: the asking prices of the Canadiens for the big stars would have been astronomical.
#Habs Bergevin said if he agreed to proposed deals today, giving in to the other team’s demands, Montreal fans would call him an idiot. The asks were Kotkaniemi or Poehling. “You might call me an idiot anyway,” Bergevin jokingly added.— John Lu (@JohnLuTSNMtl) February 25, 2019
Simply put, trading Jesperi Kotkaniemi (the team’s future number-one centre) or Ryan Poehling (arguably a top-three prospect) for a Matt Duchene type player, without an assured contract extension, would have been too much. It stands to reason that Montreal standing pat was the right choice. Above all else, they kept their prospect depth fully intact, as well as their cache of draft picks for this upcoming summer.
Selling off one of your most dynamic pieces on the roster or one of the surefire NHL projections is a bad way to approach things, especially for a team that is rebuilding on the fly. Montreal’s way forward lies with its youth filtering its way through the ranks and to the NHL. Players like Jesse Ylönen, Alexander Romanov, Josh Brook, and Cayden Primeau all will take some time moving up, but keeping them in the fold allows Montreal to bolster their pro ranks slowly, and they don’t have to overpay in free agency or in trades when they can replace pieces from within.
That is the key to building a team with long-term success: trust your prospects and allow them to develop as they turn pro. We’ve seen it in Tampa Bay and Toronto. They’ve drafted and developed their young stars, to the point that a team like Tampa can just slide them in and out of the lineup without much issue. There is lots of quality depth coming for the Canadiens, and it’s where their future strength should be, so not shipping those pieces out looks like a smart move.
At the end of the day, Montreal upgraded an area of weakness for a minimal loss, and kept their biggest pieces outside of the NHL. If we look at another playoff bubble team in the Blue Jackets, they bought heavily at this deadline, and as a result they have just two picks left in this upcoming draft. They’re fighting for a playoff spot, and took a huge gamble. If it doesn’t pay off, they’re up a certain type of creek, especially if those stars leave in the off-season without agreeing to contract extensions. Montreal can’t afford that risk as they try to build themselves into a contending team again.
Montreal has managed to stay in the playoff conversation with their current roster and Carey Price struggling to start the season. Now the goaltender is playing at his best level, with a (mostly) healthy roster in front of him. Even if the team falls short of the post-season, they’ll have their picks and pool of prospects for next year to bolster their ranks and improve both the NHL and AHL teams.
It was a quiet deadline, but it looks like in the end that was for the best.