If you’re accustomed to living life in a penthouse, it’s hard to swallow being told your future will be in the basement. It could be the life Phillip Danault is forced to live as a Montreal Canadien.
A few weeks back, Danault told the media that he might not be ready to accept playing a reduced offensive role as Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi look primed to lead the Canadiens as their top two centres going forward.
Danault, of course, has been the Canadiens top option at centre alongside Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher, two players counted on as primary goal scorers. The advanced statistics say that the 27-year old was pretty good in his role. He helped generate offence at 5-on-5 while also locking down opponents’ forwards on defence.
But when it came time for the playoffs, Danault, a defensive centre who has earned Selke votes, was eventually propped down onto the team’s third line in a more defensive role. Suzuki and Kotkaniemi, meanwhile, shone in their roles on the team’s top six.
The future looks bright for those two players, but it could come at the expense of a solid centre who has already gotten used to playing on the top line. Danault is due to be an unrestricted free agent in 2021 and may likely command a raise from his $3.083 million salary. In other words, from a player’s perspective, not the time for your offensive numbers to take a hit.
On any other team that truly sees him as a top centre, this could make sense. The truth is, Danault doesn’t produce nearly enough to be counted on as a number-one centre on almost any other NHL team. His skills, locking down the best players and winning faceoffs, are much more valued in a bottom-six role if his production isn’t going to be at the same level as his linemates.
Or, if another centre can produce just as much. Danault (13g, 47pts) was nearly outproduced by Suzuki (13g, 41pts), who was playing his first NHL season.
Some prognosticators view Danault as a trading chip for the Montreal Canadiens this offseason, one which could be seen as a total failure if the team doesn’t land a finisher before the season starts. The team already got two former St. Louis Blues to fill a pair of needs, Jake Allen as a backup to Carey Price and Joel Edmundson (who was last in Carolina) for added defensive help.
Similarly to Max Domi, if the Canadiens see Danault as a piece in a trade that could fetch them scoring help, Bergevin could likely pull the trigger. For what it’s worth, Bergevin mentioned a handful of players as untouchables in a trade. Suzuki and Kotkaniemi were considered as such, but Danault wasn’t.
Montreal currently has around $10 million dollars in cap space which could still be thrown at a big-named free agent next month. The trade winds could be blowing as well, and it will be fascinating to see if the Canadiens consider dealing their best defensive forward in the hopes of gaining more offensive production.