Nathan Beaulieu’s time with the Habs came to an end on Saturday with Montreal only getting a third rounder for him. Could they have got more? Our writers offer up their thoughts on the trade.
Hilding Gnanapragasm: On the surface it would appear that Nathan Beaulieu represents yet another case of a squandered first-round pick; his tenure with the Canadiens ending at the tender age of 24, with a lacklustre return of a 3rd round pick from the Buffalo Sabres. In reality though, this represents a case of the Habs identifying a player they had lost confidence in at an early enough stage that it allowed them to move him for an asset, before his value was completely diminished (see: Jarred Tinordi).
Beaulieu may one day prove to be a serviceable NHL defenceman, but the odds are that he will not amount to much more than that. While a smooth skater, his passing is good but not great and his shot from the point is not one that will ever strike fear into the hearts of goaltenders. Couple this with some character and discipline issues and compounded with the urgency presented by the expansion draft and this was simply a move that needed to be made.
Marc Bergevin declared at the outset of the 2016-17 season that he was open to dealing Beaulieu. The fact that he did not pull the trigger until the last possible hour, suggests that this was the best return out there for a defenceman of Beaulieu’s ilk.
Brian La Rose: On the surface, this feels really underwhelming but the more I reflect on it, the more I come to the realization that this was the best they were going to get. Beaulieu’s warts are well-known and while he’s a serviceable 4/5 most nights, he’s in line for a bigger payday via arbitration this summer, one they likely weren’t going to want to pay.
I’m not as worried as some as losing an extra player for free after this as those players aren’t exactly worth more than third rounders themselves at this point themselves. It’s far from an exciting return and they’ll need to do something to shore up the left side but they were going to need to do that regardless of what Beaulieu’s status was anyway.
Alex Létourneau: I don’t mind the trade. It’s pretty clear his future wasn’t in Montreal anymore. Despite rising point totals over the last three seasons, he hasn’t been the player the Canadiens expected when they drafted him and if you’ve watched Beaulieu enough over the years, the progression isn’t where it’s supposed to be. He got the top job on the first defence pairing with Shea Weber last season and it was all downhill from there. A high third round pick is a decent return, not sure how anyone thinks he’d be worth anything more given what he’s done and where he’s trending. Not sure what’s in store for the Habs, but it is disconcerting to see how barren the back line is looking right now. Either way, Beaulieu moving on isn’t an issue in my eyes.
Paul MacLeod: One word: disappointment. Disappointment that he wasn’t able to seize the opportunity to play alongside Weber last season. Disappointment, that he wasn’t given a longer opportunity to play alongside Weber last season. Disappointment that their prospect development has failed so miserably with a number of highly touted prospects. Disappointment that Bergevin and the management team believe that Benn is a better option on the back end than Beaulieu. Disappointment that Bergevin couldn’t or wouldn’t make a deal with Vegas to keep Beaulieu. Disappointment that the best Bergevin could get for Beaulieu is a 3rd round pick when the Sharks trade a young defenseman in the same circumstances and get a 2nd rounder and flip their 5th round pick for a 4th round pick. Disappointment that Bergevin couldn’t package Beaulieu in a different deal to get that seemingly mythical centre. Disappointment that I don’t have more faith in the management team to make the right decisions going forward particularly when it comes to overhauling the minor league development system. Disappointment that we are having this discussion five years into Bergevin’s tenure.
Norm Szcyrek: Well the Beaulieu trade out of Montreal was predictable given Bergevin’s comments at the end of season press conference that Nathan “was at a crossroads”. What was surprising is that he was moved to the same division. The move gave the Habs some flexibility for their expansion draft protection list, since there was a lot of debate among fans and media if Beaulieu was going to be protected. Personally, I thought he was going to be left unprotected. At the same time, it’s a little disappointing to see the Habs give up on a homegrown 24 year old player. I predict that Beaulieu will flourish in Buffalo under new head coach Phil Housley.
Dave Woodward: This deal was probably the worst trade of Bergevin’s tenure as Montreal’s GM. I have no objection to leaving Beaulieu unprotected and Bergevin was wise to make every effort to get a reasonable return for him prior to the expansion draft. I have little doubt that the third round pick was the best deal available. However, the Canadiens’ front office, with Houleian foresight, made this deal by evaluating the possible loss of Beaulieu in isolation (i.e., they cannot lose a defenceman they do not want for nothing) without regard to the stark reality that the expansion draft will subtract a player from their roster. The Habs should not have made the trade if the best available deal was a third round pick.
Before dealing Beaulieu, the Habs were going to lose a player in the expansion draft. After dealing Beaulieu for less than his fair value, the Canadiens will still lose a player in the expansion draft. That player will not be Beaulieu but it may be Charles Hudon, Brandon Davidson, or another player they prefer to retain in their organization. If they had concluded that Beaulieu was not part of their plans going forward, why make the trade for a third round pick? Either Beaulieu is picked up by Vegas or he is not. If he is picked, all you have lost is a player the Canadiens were prepared to sacrifice for a third round pick and who did not fit into their future plans. If he is not picked, you lose another player but Beaulieu is now worth much more on the market since the expansion draft is done. By then, your trade partners know that you are not desperate to deal them a player that will be unprotected and available to Vegas in days.
The expansion draft will hurt every team. By trading Beaulieu for only a third rounder, the Habs have compounded the damage to their roster. Do not let the talking heads at TSN tell you the move was necessary. The move was short-sighted. The trade makes the loss of the only recent NHL-ready offensive prospect their AHL team has developed (Hudon) more likely. The trade also has the potential to fully decimate the left side of the Canadiens’ defence if Davidson is selected by Vegas. That would be three left defencemen lost from the organization in a week.
What were they thinking?