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NHL Trade Deadline: Maxime Comtois could be an interesting target for the rebuilding Canadiens

The forward may be on the outs in Anaheim, can the Canadiens buy low?

Anaheim Ducks v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

When teams are stated to be sellers or rebuilding (or whatever you want to call it) like the Montreal Canadiens are heading into the NHL Trade Deadline on March 21, you don’t often think of adding players, but there’s an interesting name on the trade block in Anaheim Ducks forward Maxime Comtois.

Comtois is 6’2”, 216 lbs and 23 years old. He was Anaheim’s second-round pick (50th overall) in the 2017 NHL Draft. He is coming off of a season where he had 16 goals and 17 assists in 55 games and represented Canada at the World Championship, where he won a gold medal.

You might be asking yourself why a player like this is rumoured to be on the block. In 33 games this season, he has seen his production drop to two goals and six assists. He has missed 18 games with injury and an additional eight as a healthy scratch, including six of the team’s last 11 games. He has been back in the lineup in the team’s last two games, earning assists in both.

Why he fits

There are several reasons why he could fit in with the Canadiens. First of all, he is local, and before you roll your eyes, it is a stated goal of the Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes administration. It’s not the reason you acquire players, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

At 23 years old, he fits in with another stated goal of the braintrust. Hughes, the team’s general manager, has said several times that it’s not all about collecting draft picks. He is looking to rebuild with older players. Not only do teams have more data to go on in terms of evaluation, but the players are closer to helping the team. Only Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield are younger than Comtois among current Canadiens forwards.

Comtois is also a left-shooting winger, which is a bit of a soft spot long-term in the organization.

What he brings

Comtois sticks out as a potential buy-low candidate on a team that may be looking to give him a change of scenery. The drop of production this year is worrisome, but that’s why we can look at other trends.

The first thing you notice in the charts here is that the three-year trend sees him as a better offensive player than his current year. That can be pretty obvious when you look at the numbers, but you’ll also notice that the defence seems to have improved over his past numbers compared to other NHL players.

When you look at the raw numbers when Comtois is on the ice, quite frankly it doesn’t look like he has changed at all.

All data 5v5, courtesy Natural Stat Trick (as of March 7)

Almost all of Comtois’ shots at goal (both including blocked shots (Corsi For/CF) and not including them (Fenwick For/FF)), expected goals (xG%), and scoring chance numbers (Scoring Chances For/SCF% and High Danger Chances For/HDCF%) when he is on the ice are the same as where they were last season. The main difference is the grey bar, which is actual goal share when he is on the ice. There is little reason to believe that his actual play has dropped off, and if it has it has been marginal.

Looking deeper at what could cause that dip, and you have to look at his individual shooting percentage. In 2019-20, Comtois shot 13.04% at five-on-five (three goals on 23 shots). In 2020-21, he was at 17.95% (14 goals on 78 shots). This season, he is at a career low 5% (two goals on 40 shots). The NHL average team shooting percentage at five-on-five this season is 8.27%, a mark that Comtois has been over rather comfortably.

If you take his career five-on-five shooting percentage of 14.1% (including this season), that would have given him three additional goals from his current totals.

This isn’t to say that Comtois can be expected to be a top offensive player, and the odds of him finishing a season at over 17% shouldn’t be relied on, but it’s clear there’s more to him than the two goals he has scored this season.

In addition his potential to bounce back, Comtois represents another potential market inefficiency: older young players or prospects. Kent Hughes has already shown that he is OK trading for players he likes rather than draft picks, like the addition of Emil Heineman in the Tyler Toffoli trade.

How can it get done?

Anaheim is in a similar spot to Montreal, where they are looking towards the future with a new general manager at the helm. The Ducks are only a point behind the Edmonton Oilers, and five out of a playoff spot, but don’t expect them to be buyers at the deadline. That could make a trade tricky since both teams are looking for the same thing, but it could also create additional possibilities.

Since Anaheim isn’t likely to be trading for one of the veterans Montreal could move, let’s look at other potential fits. Former Laval Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard is in Anaheim’s organization, and has more intel on Montreal’s system than you could normally expect.

Ryan Poehling is a name that sticks out as a starting point. If you take the reports that Montreal will be aggressive in free agency, you can expect the Canadiens to look hard at adding a centre. With Suzuki, Jake Evans, and Christian Dvorak in the fold, plus a likely top-five pick, there is a good chance that Poehling could find himself without a regular NHL spot at centre.

A swap of 23-year-olds that play different positions may be something that could be the basis of a deal. Obviously Comtois has shown more at the NHL level so far, but there are options there. There may be other players in the organization that Bouchard might covet that could make sense for both teams.

Bottom line

While most people expect the Canadiens to trade veterans or expiring contracts for prospects and draft picks, you might also see some trades where they swap players with similar outlooks but that fit better into their vision.

Comtois is someone both reported to be on the trade block, and also with a profile that fits in nicely with what the Canadiens seem to be building. Even if it takes some of their draft capital or prospect depth, trading for a slightly older player with NHL experience can help accelerate the organization’s turnaround.