The Montreal Canadiens continued their pre-trade deadline movements on Sunday with their acquisition of defenceman Jon Merrill from the Detroit Red Wings. It’s far from flashy in terms of what the Canadiens need, but Merrill will also help areas in which the Canadiens have struggled mightily all season. In the simplest terms, Merrill plays a stay-at-home style, but far more effectively than some of the current options on the Canadiens roster.
In fact, that’s the entire name of Merrill’s game, he’s been an outstanding shot suppressor on some absolutely miserable Detroit teams, which makes his numbers all the more impressive.
Jon Merrill (acquired by MTL) is very strong defensively but lacks offensive skills. He'll help the Habs hold leads but they likely won't get those against the Leafs pic.twitter.com/zGvmZWAQKU— Evolving-Hockey (@EvolvingHockey) April 11, 2021
While he’s lacking offensive output, his defensive play is likely why Marc Bergevin went out and grabbed him for the extremely low cost of a fifth-round pick and fringe AHL prospect Hayden Verbeek.
Perhaps, and maybe most importantly, that defensive strength carries over to the penalty kill as well. Relative to the league, when Merrill was on the ice he was a more than respectable penalty killer.
It’s not the largest sample size, but when you compare it to Detroit as a whole it shows just the sort of impact that Merrill can have on special teams.
There is a noticeable difference having Merrill on the ice versus him being on the bench with the Red Wings penalty kill. For a team like the Canadiens that have struggled mightily to get their own penalty kill in order, he seems like a welcome addition. Better results on the kill would see this team in a better position, so addressing that flaw is a smart move by Marc Bergevin.
So we know he can help with an important special teams flaw in Montreal, but who should Merrill be paired with on the blue line?
Merrill spent a large chunk of time with Christian Djoos, Filip Hronek and Marc Staal this year in Detroit. While he and Staal were more of a stay-at-home third pair, his partnerships with Hronek and Djoos allowed those young defenders more leash to carry the puck, and fall back on Merrill’s safe play defensively.
That should sound like ideal news for the Canadiens, who have been rotating through partners with Alexander Romanov, and now seem to have a perfect piece in place for him. Romanov has shown an eagerness to be the puck carrier on any pairing he’s been on, and giving him a stable defensive option like Jon Merrill seems like a no-brainer. It’s a near-perfect fit, not only in terms of style, but in the role as well since Merrill was a solid 4-6 defender for the Red Wings this year.
Allowing Romanov, and other puck carriers the freedom to carry the puck out to start the offensive breakout, while still keeping a solid defensive posture at the back should bring some of the speed elements back to the Canadiens offence, something that’s drastically gone missing in recent weeks.
Also at 6’3’’ Merrill isn’t an easily movable piece out on the ice, and despite being a stay-at-home type, he keeps himself out of the box pretty well, with only two seasons with 30+ PIMs on his record.
So there is clearly some good value here, and when you consider the price that Bergevin paid to acquire Merrill versus that paid for David Savard, it’s easy to like the deal for Montreal.
Similar stats, similar cap hits due to salary retention, but a vast difference in cost. Verbeek was a long shot to ever crack the Canadiens roster, and a fifth-round pick in a weak draft year is easy to part ways with. Overall, this is a great value deal for the Habs.
With the deadline looming tomorrow, the only remaining question is if Marc Bergevin has something else up his sleeve.