As soon as David Perron opened his mouth and started talking about accountability, the first thing that popped into my head was that his days in Edmonton were nearing a close. We've seen this scenario work out before our eyes recently, in a season with big expectations where the Canadiens were crumbling, Mike Cammalleri was frustrated and said that the team was preparing like losers, calling out his teammates, himself, and the coaching staff.
Soon after he was dealt at perhaps his lowest value to the Calgary Flames along with Karri Ramo for Rene Bourque, Patrick Holland, and the second round draft choice that became Zachary Fucale, a trade Pierre Gauthier swore up and down wasn't born of panic, but something he'd been working on for months. Sure. Fucale is the only part of that trade still around, with Bourque being a colossal disaster for most of his time in Montreal. Cammalleri meanwhile, continued to be a very productive goal scorer, 15th best per minute at even strength in the entire NHL since the trade, to be exact.
When organizations are spiralling out of control and a talented player speaks out of turn, especially if that player is experiencing a down swing in the percentages, they make themselves an easy scapegoat, and other teams are all too happy to take advantage.
While there are people in the Oilers organization that love Perron, like the newly hired Tyler Dellow, credible insiders like Bob McKenzie and late last night, Elliotte Friedman have been fairly confident in saying Perron is going to be moved, and soon.
Would Perron help the Habs?
It's pretty tough for me to imagine a scenario where David Perron on the Canadiens would be a bad move (pending the return). Last season among Oilers to play over 750 even strength minutes, he ranked fourth in shot attempt differential, second among all forwards, in spite of starting a slight majority of his shifts in the defensive zone.
Perron had a positive impact on his teammates in Edmonton last season both offensively and defensively, though it was his defensive impact that showed up a little bit more. That's a bit surprising because you don't hear much about Perron's defensive acumen, but he isn't a one-dimensional player.
Where Perron really shines though is his offensive production. Over the last three years (two of them with St. Louis), Perron ranks third on the Oilers in even strength points per 60 minutes played, ahead of Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. On the Canadiens he would rank fifth, behind Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, and Desharnais. Not too shabby.
The Canadiens are also in need of a left winger who can produce offense, since the Rene Bourque experiment turned out to be a miserable failure. Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk are both excellent players, but Galchenyuk is bound for the center position eventually, and a solid left winger behind Pacioretty is a must going forward. Even if Galchenyuk doesn't move to center right away, that added scoring depth on the wing can't hurt, especially with Peron's easily digestible $3,812,500 cap hit this year and next.
The Oilers have a desire for centers and defensemen, two areas the Montreal Canadiens have a lot of depth, and let's face it, they have to move a center within the next calendar year to get Galchenyuk playing there, it's the next step towards becoming a contender and they've already pushed it a little long.
That leaves the Canadiens with three possible main pieces in a trade for Perron, so let's explore all three.
Eller's name was the first to be brought up in Edmonton media. Eller is an enticing player, bringing size, defensive ability, and a bit of a scoring touch that remains untapped for the most part in Montreal. He's in the midst of a very good start as far as scoring goes, which will naturally lead to him being brought up in trade discussions.
Would it cost more than Eller?
We have a very high view of Eller on EOTP, but league wide he isn't considered a top end center. His career high in points is just 30, albeit in the lockout shortened season, and the most goals he's ever scored in a season is just 16. Last year Perron scored 28, and while centers are more valuable, Perron is a consistent 20 goal scorer, which is worth a lot in the NHL. Considering one of the players rumoured for Perron is Artem Anisimov, who has better career statistics than Eller, and is also even bigger, I would imagine it would cost the Canadiens more than just Eller to get Perron.
In order to create a lucrative package for Perron, the Canadiens would likely need to add one of their many nearly NHL ready defensive prospects such as Greg Pateryn, Magnus Nygren, Darren Dietz, or Mac Bennett, along with possibly a draft pick.
Can the Canadiens replace Eller internally?
Right now, Eller has faced the toughest competition of all of the Canadiens' centers, faced the second toughest zone starts, played with the lowest quality of teammates, and has been the Canadiens' best possession driver this year. He's coupled that with the second highest goals per 60 minute rate on the Canadiens after Pacioretty, which is pretty impressive.
Plekanec can do the job that Eller is performing right now, but then that brings up who will do Plekanec's job. I don't believe that Galchenyuk is ready to take on the minutes that Eller plays, so trading him plus assets for Perron would possibly be making the team weaker.
His name hasn't been mentioned, and it would be blasphemy to many Habs fans to trade him, but the fact is that Tomas Plekanec is 32 years old, and up for contract in two years, and off to a hot start this season while not playing the toughest minutes on the team for the first time in ages. Over the last few seasons Plekanec's offensive contributions have been declining, but he is the type of veteran who could turn the Oilers' ship around. He's a toolsy, 200 foot player who seems to be able to score 20 goals per season even if his linemates are simply weights around his ankles.
Would it cost more than Plekanec?
Perron is younger than Plekanec, but both players are unrestricted free agents in two years, and as much as I like Perron as a player, I think that the perception around the league is that Plekanec is significantly superior at this point in time. Plekanec is making significantly more money than Perron is with his $5,000,000 per year salary, but the Oilers do have a fair amount of wiggle room under the cap. In all likelihood it would be a one-for-one trade if it were to happen.
Can the Canadiens replace Plekanec internally?
Before this season, the answer has always been no, but Eller has kind of already done it, with better results. However Plekanec is still far from playing easy minutes, taking on the second toughest competition among centers, and has a zone start split similar to what Eller has. Plekanec also still has a much bigger role on special teams than any other center on the team, which is a secondary concern, but still a concern.
Eller can likely take Plekanec's shorthanded minutes and excel, While Galchenyuk could definitely use more time at center on the powerplay, but at even strength that job is tougher to handle, and a lot to ask of a 20 year old center. It may work out eventually, but it's a tough ask.
Before the "untradeable" talk starts, let's take a look back at the players Marc Bergevin has traded in the last few months. An ancient Daniel Briere for P.A. Parenteau and the Habs got a fifth round pick in the deal. Two years of Travis Moen traded for Sergei Gonchar, who has actually been really good. And two years of Rene Bourque gone for one year of tolerating Bryan Allen.
Desharnais is diminutive, and easy to criticize, but he also has 151 points in his last 231 games, which makes him just under a 54 points player every 82 games played. Is he a top line center on a championship team? No. Is he a huge upgrade for the Oilers at center? Absolutely.
Would it cost more than Desharnais?
I think sometimes we get so caught up in how much Desharnais is given favourable minutes, assignments, and linemates that we forget how many points he's been producing. He's small, but of the centers available on the trade market, he likely has the best offensive pedigree, and he's cheap at $3,500,000, cheaper than Perron. His size is an issue though, especially out west, so we have to account for that general league bias.
Because of his size, Desharnais may have around the same trade value as Lars Eller, meaning in order to grab Perron, the Habs may need to give up a solid defense prospect and a pick.
Can the Canadiens replace Desharnais internally?
Because Desharnais doesn't carry much of a defensive workload, is gifted a lot of offensive zone starts, and plays with the team's most talented wingers, I believe that his spot in the lineup is destined to be taken by Alex Galchenyuk. Desharnais is a tricky player to trade due to being one of the few French Canadians on the team, but like Briere before him, trading for another French Canadian may be the perfect route.
Galchenyuk may struggle initially with the duties of a center, but considering how little defensive value Desharnais brings to the table, I'm highly skeptical that the increase in offensive talent he would bring wouldn't offset that almost immediately. Right now, a player like David Desharnais likely has a lot more value to a team like the Oilers than a team like the Habs.