Trading with Vegas ahead of the expansion draft may be a wise investment for the Habs

Using a draft pick to ensure a certain player gets picked might be the Habs’ best course of action

With the NHL protected lists finally revealed to the public, the next few days should see a flurry of trades involving the Vegas Golden Knights, specifically in the goal of protecting players that were exposed to the expansion draft. In Montreal there were no real surprises, as Charles Hudon, Tomas Plekanec, Brandon Davidson, and Alexei Emelin were among the notable unprotected players.

Based on what Vegas needs, and the incredible price of his new contract, it’s entirely possible that Hudon is in George McPhee’s crosshairs. Currently the Canadiens can only make trades involving the Golden Knights, yet they can still make a deal that would set them up well for the coming season. The concept involves sending a draft pick to Vegas, in a deal that would allow the Habs to protect a player like Hudon and have Vegas select one of Emelin or Plekanec. The key point, would be the cost. As it stands, the Knights reportedly already have three first-round picks in their back pocket, and are looking to add more.

For the Habs, the positive elements to making a trade are obvious: they get to keep a skilled player with an incredible team friendly deal, while freeing up anywhere from $4.1 to $6 million in cap space.  The salary cap is set to rise up to 75 million next year as well. Combining these two possibilities opens up several options for Marc Bergevin.

Alex Galchenyuk is looking for a long-term deal, and with Jonathan Drouin inking a 6-year deal, the new found cap space from losing Emelin/Plekanec makes it possible to offer the former first-round pick a respectable contract. There will also be room to make a splash on the free agent market, whether it be on defence to replace the departed Nathan Beaulieu, or down the middle to reinforce a position that desperately needs it.

The Habs are clearly in ‘win now’ mode, due to their aging core and the important contracts that are set to expire. Frankly, whether the Canadiens want to admit it or not, that should be their philosophy regardless of the rhetoric we hear every year about ‘making it to the playoffs’.

Opening up extra cap space and making a major free agent run, while keeping Galchenyuk, fits right into Bergevin’s ideal time frame. Keep in mind that Carey Price has an expiring contract next year. It will be much easier to keep him interested if the team makes a deep run at the Cup for the first time in several years. Although both Price and Bergevin have made it clear that their priority is an extension.

Of course, there’s a downside to the proposed transaction. In the past week, Bergevin has traded 2011 first-round pick Nathan Beaulieu, and his 2016 first-round pick Mikhail Sergachev. The Habs’ prospect pool was never very deep, but there were a few high end pieces still there. With the loss of Sergachev to Tampa Bay, Bergevin has traded away the 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2016 first-round pick, with the 2012 first-round selection, Galchenyuk, reportedly on the block. Losing another first-round choice would be a blow to a prospect pool that desperately needs a fresh infusion of talent. Even if the 2018 is sent to Vegas, the same issue remains: the Habs have little to no prospect depth, and should Bergevin move on, his successor will have a major hill to climb if he hopes to fix the situation.

If the deal was possibly two second-round picks or a combination of second and third round choices, then it’s an easier pill to swallow . A first-round pick is meant to be a can’t miss choice, a luxury that Bergevin and the Habs can’t easily afford to surrender right now.

The Canadiens have stockpiled seven second and third-round picks over the next two drafts, not including the conditional second-round pick sent to Tampa Bay in the Drouin trade. Those are obvious assets they can afford to use in order to entice Vegas to pick a player with a large cap hit.

With roughly $19 million left to re-sign Galchenyuk, Markov and Radulov, the extra cap space isn’t necessary to keep everyone. The advantage of trading a contract like Emelin’s or Plekanec’s would be to upgrade on top of what the Canadiens already count on.

Though, like any trade, it’s a gamble. If the Habs go all-in and don’t collect a Stanley Cup, then begin to enter the decline of their prime players without prospects to re-populate the roster, it could be disastrous.

George McPhee holds all the cards right now, and depending on how he values the pieces involved in the expansion draft, the Habs’ roster could be very different by the time the entry draft and free agency rolls around.

Should Bergevin pay Vegas to pick Emelin or Plekanec?

Yes - by any means necessary670
Yes - but not a first-round pick2006
No - the Habs are fine without extra cap space143
No - it costs too much258
Maybe - (explain in the comments)53

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