While it was believed that the Habs were looking for defensive help, many weren’t expecting them to deal for a depth defender. That’s just what they did though with the acquisition of Nikita Nesterov whose addition has forced Zach Redmond onto the waiver wire. Our writers offer up their thoughts on the trade.
Gordon Black: I like the Nesterov acquisition – Marc Bergevin’s mantra has always been that you can’t have too many defencemen, and I couldn’t agree more. More significantly, Nikita is a bonafide NHLer with some decent offensive upside. There are parts of Redmond’s game I really like but he is also prone to turnovers and is very soft behind the net. Nesterov is a significant upgrade that comes cheap, remains a controlled asset and risks nothing (if he’s good enough that the Habs want to keep him, the KHL won’t matter).
Mark Barberio too, has some upside – but his game comes with great inconsistency and he is clearly a follower, not a leader on the ice. Looking ahead, a pairing of Nesterov and Greg Pateryn will look much better headed into the playoffs – should there be an injury or – as may be the case – Nathan Beaulieu finds himself wearing a new jersey as Bergevin moves ‘all in’ for this postseason.
Hilding Gnanapragasam: On the surface, the acquisition of Nesterov appears to be nothing more than a depth move, to help shore up a blueline that has struggled to fill the void left by Andrei Markov and Pateryn. Ryan Johnston’s brief stint proved that he is not yet ready to make the leap and also exposed the fact that the Canadiens are only ever a couple of injuries away from being in defensive danger.
Beyond Redmond going on waivers, the more intriguing possibility here could be that this move puts Beaulieu back on the trading block. Once again, Nesterov brings puck-moving, offensive prowess to the left side, which could certainly help to bolster the loss of a Beaulieu, should Bergevin decide to include Nate 28 in a deal.
Three things we know about Bergevin are that he is a very active GM, he’s open to trading Beaulieu, and he’s all-in this season, in terms of bolstering for a Cup run.
All will depend, of course, on how Nesterov fares in the lineup, but if he achieves the potential many believe he possesses, this could be a much bigger move than it had first seemed.
Brian La Rose: This is a decent value acquisition by the Habs but there’s a reason Tampa Bay was willing to let him go for a return that’s only mildly better than losing him for free on waivers. Nesterov, to put it nicely, has some adventures when it comes to defending in his own end. There’s no denying that he has some positives as well and the fact he has played both sides and even as a winger at times is great. But at the end of the day, he’s still a defender who can’t defend particularly well.
With the decision to waive Redmond, the Habs have effectively changed one set of strengths and weaknesses for a slightly better set of strengths and weaknesses. Any upgrade, even if it’s a very small one like this, is a welcome one but I have a hard time seeing Nesterov getting a bigger role with Montreal than what he had with the Lightning once his defensive deficiencies start to show (which probably won’t take too long).
Alex Létourneau: Good depth move by Bergevin. An expiring contract, solid experience for a 23 year-old, and no lineup players going the other way. It adds to an already bottom heavy blue line, but it never hurts to be cautious, especially for cheap. Looking at Markov and Pateryn, the expectations are that they’ll be ready for February but you never know.
I’ve liked what I’ve seen out of Barberio over the last two seasons and I think he gets the raw end of the deal once everyone is healthy. Redmond’s been serviceable but I don’t mind putting him through waivers. The Canadiens have had the opportunity to see many players in the NHL this season, so it looks like they’re not too comfortable with the way their bottom defensive depth looks. Of course this can be part of a bigger plan and the Nesterov acquisition could be the first domino. From all the analysis and reports out there, prices are high as the trade deadline looms. We’ll sit and wait on those speculations, but as it stands I like the trade and I don’t mind risking a few fringe guys on waivers if it makes the Canadiens better. Which in this case I think it does.
Paul MacLeod: Many may view Nesterov as merely a bit of extra defensive depth for the Montreal Canadiens…and that is all that it may end up being. However, that view overlooks what a fantastic piece of work this trade was by Bergevin. He managed to get an NHL quality defenceman – to potentially solve the team’s 6/7 issue – and he did so by giving up Jonathan Racine, a career minor leaguer obtained for Tim Bozon, and a 6th round pick.
Racine and the 6th will most likely never see the NHL. Nesterov, on the other hand, has shown some offensive ability and was able to put up some points in limited ice time in Tampa.
If Nesterov performs as he has in the past this trade is a win for Montreal. If he continues to improve, it will be a steal. Will this lead to a trade of Beaulieu? I certainly hope not, but it could be part of the planning for a future deal.
In short, in typical Bergevin fashion, this trade reads to me: Risk= almost zero; Assets given up= minimal; Potential reward= high.
This is the kind of GM acumen and asset management that a team needs to thrive in the cap era.
Craig Scharien: I have a hard time finding fault with this move. Bergevin didn’t have to give up a lot of assets, as both Racine and the 6th round pick were ever likely to have an impact on the NHL roster. In Nesterov it seems as though the Habs have given the back end more flexibility with a player that can play both the right and the left side. While he is unlikely to be the difference between a championship or not, Nesterov certainly has intriguing upside and gives Montreal plenty of depth on defence.
With any luck, Redmond will slip through waivers and provide a boost to the IceCaps and be an additional depth piece for the big club after the roster limits end post-trade deadline.
Norm Szcyrek: I’m a little concerned about the Nesterov acquisition. Tampa is in a similar situation to the Habs regarding their depth at the defenceman position at this time. It’s curious why a young player at 23 years old, in his 4th professional season would be dealt away from their franchise. I suspect that as a player he may have been demanding more ice time and threatening to leave the team for the KHL if those demands weren’t met.
From accounts, Nikita has been a 7th player in their depth chart and as such has struggled to get into the lineup more regularly. His defensive ability has been suspect and very inconsistent particularly since he’s in his 3rd NHL season. That appears to stem from acting too aggressively too often, resulting in noticeable gaffes when a goal is scored against. He appears to have some offensive ability with good skating skills, a good shot and he’s excelled on the power play at lower hockey levels. In the NHL he has been used occasionally at forward which sounds like a good idea since he can use his skating and aggressive style for positive results as a 4th line player.
As I mentioned before, my concern about Nesterov as a defenceman is he’s a likely candidate to make a bad decision with or without the puck which will lead directly to a goal against and a benching or scratch from the lineup. The coaching staff will really have to work hard with Nesterov to develop him from his current project player status to a regular NHLer.
Dave Woodward: While the acquisition of Nesterov may be dismissed as a minor move, it could address a season-long weakness for the Canadiens. Even when all their d-men were healthy, it was unclear who slotted into the third pairing and who would be the seventh defenceman long-term. Redmond seemed to have the inside track for the third pairing coming out of camp but broke his foot early on. Pateryn was given some opportunities but never gained the trust of Coach Therrien, even before he went down with his broken leg. With Markov and Pateryn out, the drop-off between the second and third-pairing d-men has resulted in an inordinate number of defensive zone breakdowns. The Canadiens’ better defenders are also simply logging far too much ice time, Shea Weber in particular.
Of course, the return of Markov will provide a major boost to the back end but it remains unclear who the sixth and seventh defenders will be. Redmond had been underwhelming since his return and Barberio has been inconsistent at best. Pateryn’s role, if any, is at best undefined at this point. And the chances of having a lengthy playoff run with all their defencemen remaining healthy is at best slim.
Although the acquisition of Nesterov leaves the Habs with nine defensemen on one-way contracts (pending Redmond’s stint on waivers), the bottom three of the eight other defencemen have not yet stepped up and claimed the third pairing and seventh defencemen positions. Hopefully, Nesterov can step up or at a minimum provide some depth. Certainly, the price paid for Nesterov was not high (a sixth-rounder and a third pairing defender in St. John’s is unlikely to impact the big club). Given Nesterov’s young age (at age 23, he may develop further) and considering that the Habs are a team that wants to win in the near term, I like the move.