As the trade deadline draws closer, the topic du jour in Montreal is what general manager Kent Hughes and the team can acquire for its bevy of veterans on soon-to-expire or expiring contracts. Most of this attention centres on currently injured players Joel Edmundson and Sean Monahan, but players like Evgenii Dadonov and Jonathan Drouin are also part of the conversation.
The Dadonov question is particularly tricky. Acquired for Shea Weber largely as a salary balancer, the Russian forward has been competent — 17 points in 47 games — but by no means spectacular. Dadonov is a one-dimensional forward with a very good historical scoring track record, but has no league-wide cachet when it comes to intangibles. He also lacks what is a key priority for deadline buyers: playoff experience. Nonetheless, rumours persist around the pending UFA, with Arpon Basu from The Athletic calling him “the most likely Canadiens player to move before the deadline.”
But what can the Habs get for Dadonov? We turn to the history books to try to get a better idea.
Example 1 (February 24th, 2020):
Vladislav Namestnikov, from the Ottawa Senators to the Colorado Avalanche, for a fourth-round selection in 2021.
The 2019-20 season proved to be an eventful one for Namestnikov. He was first sent from Broadway to Ottawa after two games with the New York Rangers, and then dealt again as the struggling Senators unloaded him and fellow impending unrestricted free agent Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the deadline. Namestnikov tallied a passable but hardly awe-inspiring 25 points in 54 games with the Senators. Still, it’s clear that he didn’t live up to head coach D.J. Smith’s expectations offensively, and his power-play time was slowly whittled away over the course of the season. By the deadline, Namestnikov was a rental middle-six forward who could be employed as a penalty-killer.
Colorado, on the other hand, acquired him looking to rekindle that offensive spark. Upon his arrival in the Mile High City, Namestnikov played alongside Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, putting up six points in nine games before the suspension of the season. He continued in this offence-centric role in the Edmonton bubble when the season resumed, scoring four times in 12 playoff games. The Avalanche fell to the Dallas Stars in seven games in the second round, but Namestnikov did enough to earn himself an off-season reunion with Steve Yzerman, signing a two-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings, albeit at half his previous salary.
Namestnikov was, like Dadonov, a player with a more potent offensive track record than he was showing. Colorado’s gamble for that offensive potential, I would say, paid off. Eight goals in 21 games is more than a fair return for a fourth rounder (which Ottawa would later spend in exchange for Austin Watson). The problem, from a current Montreal perspective, is that Dadonov is not as multifaceted as Namestnikov. While Colorado wanted the Voskresensk-native for his offence, the Avalanche could always employ him as a third-liner/penalty-killer as a backup plan. That option is not available for Dadonov.
Example 2 (February 24th, 2020):
Dominik Kahun, from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Buffalo Sabres, for Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues.
Kahun came late to the NHL, breaking in with a 37-point rookie season at the age of 23 with the Chicago Blackhawks. Before his sophomore campaign, the Czechia-born German was dealt to the Penguins for Olli Määttä. Kahun was used largely as a third-liner, skating alongside the likes of Patric Hornqvist and Jared McCann. He did see an extended stint next to Evgeni Malkin later in the season, a stretch in which he racked up six points in nine games before suffering a concussion that would take him out of the lineup until just before the deadline.
Kahun’s 27 points in 50 games led the Sabres to hope that he could “return to his natural position and provide centre depth behind Jack Eichel.” In Sheary, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford was able to re-acquire a “known face to our team and a player familiar with winning” that he had jettisoned in 2018 for salary cap reasons.
Neither panned out beyond the 2019-20 season. Buffalo chose not to extend a qualifying offer to Kahun, while Sheary, as a UFA, signed a one-year contract with the Washington Capitals during the off-season. Naturally, it would be Rodrigues, a bit of an afterthought at the time of the actual transaction, who turned out to be the most important piece. It took two more years, but the undrafted Torontonian broke out in 2021-22 with a 43-point season.
Relative to Dadonov, Kahun had the advantage of youth while Dadonov has the advantage of track record. The deal was also probably made easier by Rutherford’s familiarity with and affinity for Sheary, who was likely, in Buffalo’s eyes, a third-liner who wasn’t providing sufficient value for his $3 million AAV. While it’s unlikely that Ottawa, the Florida Panthers, or the Vegas Golden Knights are carrying a similar torch for Dadonov, Kent Hughes could still leverage the Habs’ cap space as a carrot while focusing surreptitiously on finding another Rodrigues.
Example 3 (February 23rd, 2020):
Ilya Kovalchuk, from the Montreal Canadiens to the Washington Capitals, for a third-round selection in 2020.
This is one that Canadiens fans will be very familiar with, and it’s one of former GM Marc Bergevin’s smoothest pieces of work. Having fallen out of favour with the Los Angeles Kings, the Habs signed the former star to a one-year deal for league-minimum salary in early January, 2020. Kovalchuk set the Bell Centre abuzz with eight points in his first eight games in the Tricolore, and although he cooled off after that, 13 points in a 22-game stint was enough to attract suitors as the Habs slipped further and further away from the playoffs.
The Washington Capitals couldn’t resist the prospect of combining Kovalchuk with countrymen Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Montreal essentially walked away from the whole affair with a free third-round pick. Kovalchuk, however, became a prime example of “caveat emptor.” The new Capital played with Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller more than his fellow Russians, and only recorded a single point in eight playoff games as the Capitals, despite having a bye, were unceremoniously evicted from the bubble by the New York Islanders.
That third-rounder, by the way, was the main component of a package sent to the St. Louis Blues for Jake Allen.
Dadonov, suffice it to say, is a few tiers below Kovalchuk when it comes to production, pedigree, and hype. But it’s not impossible that someone could think that Dadonov could be the catalyst for a greater-than-the sum-of-its-parts situation.
Example 4 (February 19th, 2020):
Denis Malgin, from the Florida Panthers to the Toronto Maple Leafs, for Mason Marchment.
This scenario probably fits Dadonov more closely than the Kovalchuk one. As the 2020 trade deadline approached, the Maple Leafs, in their seemingly endless pursuit of secondary scoring, acquired Denis Malgin from the Panthers. Malgin’s stat line — 12 points in 36 games — was hardly eye-popping, but the Leafs figured at the time that they were getting a player that was more aligned with their team style than the physical but not fleet-of-foot Marchment.
Unfortunately for Toronto, Malgin became another name in a long list of unsuccessful attempts to find goals outside of the big four. To rub salt in the wound, Marchment broke out in 2021-22 with a near point-per-game campaign. Although he hasn’t achieved that level again with the Dallas Stars (and that four-year $4.5-million contract may become a textbook case of too much, too soon), Marchment has outperformed Malgin (zero points in eight games post-initial acquisition) by leaps and bounds.
The Leafs, nonetheless, appear to have been sufficiently impressed by Malgin’s milquetoast initial stint in the blue and white, seeing fit to bring him back to Toronto after a two-year foray in the Swiss National League A. According to Marchment, the organization told him that they were “looking for a player who could play alongside Matthews, and that Malgin and Matthews had spent some time playing together in Zurich in Matthews’s draft year.” The second stint turned out very marginally better than the first — although two goals in 23 games was at least enough to court a very injury-riddled Avalanche squad.
Ultimately, Malgin’s example isn’t so much a testament to his (or Dadonov’s) selling points, but rather an indicator that someone, somewhere, will always be looking for supplementary offence ... and that those individuals might just have hidden gems that they haven’t examined closely yet.
Example 5 (January 2, 2020):
Michael Frolik, from the Calgary Flames to the Buffalo Sabres, for a fourth round selection in 2020.
Frolik, like Malgin, was far from lighting the world on fire when he was dealt. Unlike Malgin, however, Frolik at least had a track record, coming off six consecutive double-digit goal seasons. Still, at the time that he was dealt, the Czech forward only had 10 points in 38 games and was a fourth-liner for the Flames.
Contextually though, Buffalo made the move for Frolik after moving defenceman Marco Scandella to the Canadiens for the very pick that they sent to Calgary. Here, the Sabres flipped a surplus defender for a forward who they hoped could provide bottom-six depth. The bottom-six depth didn’t materialize, as Frolik only recorded four points in 19 games to close the season. A year later, after eight pointless games with the Canadiens, his NHL career was over.
The Sabres can take some solace in that Calgary selected Russian goaltender Daniil Chechelev — who has yet to surpass a .900 save percentage in two ECHL seasons — with the pick that they received. However, their decision to part from Scandella should haunt them. Working with the Blues (and later, the Tampa Bay Lightning) Montreal was able to eventually parlay the aforementioned fourth-rounder that they paid for Scandella into three draft picks: a fourth-rounder in 2020 (Sean Farrell), as well as a second- (Oliver Kapanen) and a fourth-rounder (William Trudeau) in 2021. More than that, Scandella has gone from surplus to vital asset, with St. Louis liking what they saw enough to offer a four-year contract with an AAV of $3.275 million.
Again, like Malgin, the Frolik acquisition (and associated trade tree) isn’t a testament to Frolik’s positive qualities as a player, but an example of a team with a particular roster dilemma (in this instance, surplus defenders) looking for an unorthodox solution — which, in turn, gives an opportunity for a creative general manager to position themselves as that solution. Hilariously enough, the biggest winners of the Frolik trade weren’t the Sabres or the Flames, but rather the Blues and Canadiens.
Example 6 (April 12th, 2021):
Sam Bennett and a sixth-round selection in 2022, from the Calgary Flames to the Florida Panthers, for Emil Heineman and a second-round selection in 2022.
If you’ve gotten this far, you might have noticed that there’s been a bit of a trend. In short, the team acquiring the “Dadonov” — the underperforming forward with previous or untapped offensive potential — typically loses the deal. This is the counterpoint to that trend, and it’s a doozy.
As the 2020-21 season entered its home stretch, 24-year-old pending RFA Sam Bennett was the poster-child example of an underachiever relative to his draft pedigree. In the midst of his sixth season in Calgary, the 2014 fourth overall selection sat with only 12 points in 38 games. Moreover, his track record was likewise disappointing, having topped 30 points only once in his career to that point. It was no surprise that Bennett wanted out of the Stampede City, and Flames GM Brad Treliving duly obliged.
Bennett and the Panthers clicked instantly, with the forward catching fire immediately upon his arrival in the Sunshine State. Fifteen points in 10 games to close the regular season not only surpassed his Calgary point totals, they helped earn him a four-year $4.425-million contract extension. In the first season of that new deal, Bennett set career-highs in offensive production, lighting the lamp 28 times.
The Bennett transaction is a clear example that acquiring an underperforming player can actually work out. It’s also a clear example of what not to do with the return. Bennett’s resurgence in Florida may have made the Panthers clear winners of the trade, but the deal itself wasn’t terrible for the Flames, as Bennett’s draft pedigree likely fetched Treliving a higher return than the other examples highlighted in this article. The problem is that the Calgary GM no longer holds either of the assets that he acquired. Heineman was part of the package sent to Montreal in exchange for Tyler Toffoli, while the second-rounder was bundled with two other selections and sent to the Seattle Kraken for Calle Jarnkrok.
Past precedent shows us that a player with Evgenii Dadonov’s stat line and pedigree can be moved, but the return will typically be limited to a single third- or fourth-round selection at best. That said, teams with special circumstances or with specific needs can be potentially targeted to maximize the return. If nothing else, Kent Hughes has demonstrated a penchant for the unexpected, the unusual, and the unorthodox, and history does tell us that there are rabbits available to be pulled out of the hat.