The Montreal Canadiens 2023-24 season has had its share of ups and downs. While some fans want them to make moves to help get them into a playoff position, team management is asking for them to remain patient during the rebuild.
As the rebuild continues, there are still significant needs to be met in the Canadiens system. Montreal has several players who are drawing interest from other teams. Some could net general manager (GM) Kent Hughes a significant return, while others would open up cap space and roster positions.
Canadiens Open for Business
Montreal is in a good position to make some deals that can fetch a high return. They have leverage as well as they can boast depth in any position. That depth consists mostly of young, unproven talent, but there is a growing need to provide space for these youngsters to grow into the roles currently filled by veterans. That being said, given the Canadiens’ injury history over the past two seasons, especially to key players such as Kirby Dach, Hughes could be reluctant to part with anyone.
It is no secret that one of the biggest needs for Montreal is scoring, and not necessarily for this season. The Canadiens are obviously relying heavily on Cole Caufield to score more goals, but as the only true scoring threat in the top six, opposing teams can focus their best defenders on trying to shut him down.
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Because of where they are in the process, Hughes can look to add prospects that have a high potential or add picks to be used to help address those requirements.
Canadiens NHL Goaltenders
Now, with the extension in place for Sam Montembeault, three years at $3.15 million per season, it is likely to mean he is no longer considered a trade asset for Montreal. TSN’s Darren Dreger said there could be a decision coming that might involve trading one of the other goaltenders, as several teams have been linked to the Canadiens’ netminders.
The pressure to make a deal doesn’t fall on Hughes, as he is willing to let the season ride with three goaltenders on the NHL roster. Despite it being less than ideal, as it does cost Cayden Primeau starts and even time at practice, Hughes’ concern seems to be with retaining him as an asset for now, which can point to the goaltender being a short-term asset and not in the team’s long-term plans.
While Montembeault holds the most value, he is likely not on the market. That doesn’t mean that if a team desperate for a goaltender, like the Edmonton Oilers, calls and offers a ridiculous overpayment, Montreal says no. However, the likelier scenario sees either Primeau getting moved to a team in search of depth and youth or Jake Allen getting moved to a team in search of a proven 1B capable goaltender with a Stanley Cup ring.
The return for goalies is usually far less than the value they provide to their teams. In this case, if Hughes can fetch a third-round pick for Allen or a fifth-round pick for Primeau, then he has done well. So, the question he will face is if that return and open roster position is worthwhile for the organization.
Josh Anderson is the resident power forward dubbed “the powerhorse.” He provides a rare quality in the NHL, a player who has the size (6-foot-4, 238-pounds), the speed, and the ability to defend himself and his teammates with physical play or a fight. And, until this season, he was consistently a 20- to 25-goal scorer. So far, in 2023-24, he is still looking for his first goal after 23 games.
The value of a player like this can vary, depending on who you ask. But there is no doubt that NHL GMs place a very high value on players of his ilk, meaning it would likely be easy to move the 28-year-old right winger and his $5.5 million per year contract until 2026 if Hughes wanted to. The question is, would anyone be willing to pay the value the Canadiens have on him if he can’t regain his confidence?
Veteran center Sean Monahan has been subject to trade speculation since his arrival in Montreal before the start of the 2022-23 season. Now that the 29-year-old is on a one-year, $1,985 million cap hit, that talk has amplified.
So far, in 23 games played, Monahan has scored six goals and 13 points. This puts him on pace for over 20 goals and around 50 points, ideal production for a second or even elite third-line center on a contending team. This is especially so as the trade deadline approaches, as that is when veteran depth is most sought after. Well-known as a two-way player for his entire career, now that he seems healthy, he can provide a team with the offensive depth they would need to compete in a long playoff run while also allowing them to match him up against top lines without worrying about any defensive lapses.
Monahan can also give a team option on the power play and the penalty-killing units. The value Monahan can return to Montreal is high. A top prospect or a first-round pick, or in a best-case scenario, both, would be helpful. Granted, these picks and prospects belong to top contending teams and may not be able to give Montreal the elite talent it is missing in its prospect pool.
Canadiens Blue Liners
Don’t be surprised to see interest in some of the Canadiens’ plethora of young, left-handed defensemen. Jordan Harris, Arber Xhekaj, and even Jayden Struble are among several names. That isn’t to say any of them will be shopped or even have Hughes entertain trading them, but there is a desperate need for second and third-line NHL defenders, and Montreal is well stocked. If a team is willing to pay a high premium to convince Hughes, it is a possibility.
Some fans have discussed whether Struble’s play makes Xhekaj expendable. But why would it? Why wouldn’t Habs management want to keep two big, physical, defensively reliable defenders on the roster, especially when both can play either the left- or right-hand side and are on entry-level contracts? With Harris out injured, it is less likely to see one of the youngsters moved. However, by the trade deadline, if everyone is healthy, a team may offer a king’s ransom for one of the youngsters. Until then, because several are still waiver-exempt, Hughes doesn’t need to move anyone as he has all the leverage.
Even though the injuries continue to mount in the Canadiens’ system, there is no rush for the GM to make a move. As a matter of fact, he is positioned well to ensure a maximum return for any of the team’s assets. The team is still in the market to accumulate as many high-end futures (picks and prospects) as possible. With management asking for patience, it points to a busy period of collecting futures to bundle with those already in the system this offseason for what the team is truly missing: an elite offensive talent.