While Marc Bergevin has suggested that the Habs aren’t likely to be too active by Monday’s trade deadline, here are some players he may be looking into over the coming days.
Everyone knows the big names by now and considering Bergevin has said he won’t move a top young asset for one, there’s little point going over those here. However, as we saw with the Nate Thompson and Christian Folin acquisitions, he’s not against acquiring one as long as the price is reasonable. With that in mind, here are some pending free agents that could fill small holes that should be available for a minimal cost. These are all role players so don’t be getting too excited about any of these guys.
Brian Elliott (PHI): With Carter Hart looking like their starter for the stretch run and Cam Talbot joining them last weekend, there isn’t really room for Elliott. There are a handful of teams looking for goalie help so Montreal wouldn’t be the only interested team here but he’d represent enough of an upgrade on Antti Niemi to justify giving up a small piece.
Anders Nilsson (OTT): Craig Anderson is now healthy and Ottawa is going nowhere this year so they’d probably like to dump his salary. They didn’t pay much for him (basically a sixth rounder) so the cost shouldn’t be more than that.
Oscar Fantenberg (LA): Call him a left-handed Folin. If they want another player in place before having to recall Karl Alzner, Fantenberg could be had for cheap. (That said, I think they’ll bring Alzner back after the deadline and maybe try to add a lefty for Laval along the way.)
Ben Lovejoy (NJ): With Noah Juulsen likely out for the season, they made the move to acquire Folin for extra depth on the right side. Lovejoy would be an upgrade on Folin and is someone they may be comfortable actually putting in the lineup. He’s not the player he was back in Pittsburgh a few years ago but as far as seventh defenders go, he’d be a decent one.
MacKenzie Weegar (FLA): He’s not a true rental in that he’s a restricted free agent at the end of the season which could be of interest if the Habs are looking for a longer-term insurance policy for Juulsen. His point and TOI numbers aren’t all that interesting but some underlying analytics make him an intriguing target. Weegar is currently a healthy scratch so he could be up for grabs.
Michael Raffl (PHI): Raffl can play both wings and has had a scoring touch at times over the years. He wouldn’t move the needle too much but a little bit more flexibility on the wings would be handy and he can play a bit shorthanded as well. Given his diminished role with the Flyers this season, the cost would be cheap and he’d be an upgrade on the last winger they got from Philadelphia.
Riley Sheahan (FLA): I know the Panthers just got him but that was more to offset money than anything. I also know that he plays the same primary position as Thompson but Sheahan can also shift to the wing. He can kill penalties, win some faceoffs, and is a decent skater. It’s an incremental upgrade and not a notable one but that’s probably where the Habs are looking.
Bergevin hasn’t hidden the fact that he’s open to taking on a bad contract to add some extra assets. (I happen to think that this may be his preference at this time.) Here are a few players that could fit the bill.
Ryan Callahan (TB): His situation is well-known so I won’t go into too many details here. With a cap hit of $5.8 million through next year, the Lightning won’t be able to afford their highest-paid winger (this season) for 2019-20. They need every penny they can get so a buyout isn’t ideal for them. However, Callahan has a no-trade clause and it’s doubtful that he’d waive, especially to Montreal.
Patrick Eaves (ANA): This season hasn’t gone well for Eaves. After missing almost all of last year with an illness, injuries have limited the winger significantly this season to the point where he cleared waivers earlier this week. The Ducks are staring down a major cap issue for next season; they can’t even officially extend Jakob Silfverberg until the 10% increase in tagging room comes into play next month. They need to free up money and getting him off the books will be a top priority. Montreal could get a nice bonus for taking on his $3.15 million deal which runs through next year. I could see him getting some ice time in Laval and then potentially coming up for the stretch run if the deal was to happen.
Dmitry Kulikov (WPG): The first deal with Winnipeg worked out well so why not try again? Kulikov has not panned out as well as the Jets had hoped and with major cap issues on the horizon, they’d love to get out of the final year of his contract that carries a cap hit of $4.33 million for 2019-20. He’d add some extra depth on the back end for the rest of the season and then the Habs would likely buy him out which means they’d need a nice sweetener to take him on.
Players With Term
While Bergevin has said he won’t move a top young asset for a rental, he didn’t say he wouldn’t for someone that’s signed beyond 2018-19. Here are some notable players that could make an impact both for this season and the future but the acquisition cost will be particularly steep.
Jonas Brodin (MIN): With Minnesota clearly now in sell mode, Brodin is bound to draw some interest. He’s a capable defensive player and would be a great complement to someone like Jeff Petry. He’s only 25 and has two years left after this one with a $4.167 million AAV. The fit is really strong but are they prepared to move with a first-round pick or equivalent asset?
Cam Fowler (ANA): The fact the Habs need a left-shot defender and have been scouting Anaheim has resulted in Fowler being speculated as their target. He’s having a rough year but is still logging nearly 24 minutes per night and would fit in nicely alongside Shea Weber. Fowler has a pricey deal ($6.5 million per year through 2025-26) and has a restrictive trade list (four teams that he can be dealt to) so while this may be fun to speculate about, the odds of it happening are low.
Mike Hoffman/Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA): The Panthers appear to be wanting to clear the deck to make a big splash in free agency (largely speculated to be a pair of Russians in Columbus). To free up enough cap room to do, they may need to move one of their wingers. Hoffman comes with some off-ice concerns given what happened in Ottawa but he’s a high-end scorer on a team that doesn’t have a lot of snipers. He has one year left after this one at just under $5.2 million and will be the cheaper of the two to get. Huberdeau is having his best season and would probably step in on Montreal’s top line right away. He’s signed through 2022-23 at a $5.9 million AAV but the cost would be huge (think Nick Suzuki, Montreal’s first rounder, and more). That’s a lot to pay when they’re not safely in a playoff spot but he’s young enough to be part of the long-term core.
This list is far from exhaustive but Bergevin will have some options to consider depending on what type of moves he’s looking to make – depth adds, picking up bad contracts, or making a much bigger swing. All signs point to Monday passing without a lot of activity but that could certainly change in a heartbeat if the right deal presents itself.