With the Habs likely to lose Victor Mete on waivers, they moved quickly to find a replacement, acquiring Jon Merrill from Detroit in exchange for Ottawa’s 2021 fifth-round pick and Hayden Verbeek.
The 29-year-old has played in 36 games with the Red Wings this season, recording just five assists. However, he has logged 19:41 per game in ice time, a career best which likely appealed to GM Marc Bergevin. While he ideally won’t be counted on to play that much with Montreal, the fact that he can handle more than what Mete, or Otto Leskinen, or anyone in Laval can will certainly help for the stretch run. Merrill has played in 392 career NHL games between New Jersey, Vegas, and Detroit, notching a dozen goals and 54 assists.
This isn’t a move that is going to move the needle much in terms of raising Montreal’s overall upside. He has been a depth guy for years and will be one with the Habs. But he is more reliable than any of their other internal options at this stage of their careers which is important. He also adds a bit more size to what is becoming a big back end as he stands 6’3.
As for what the Habs gave up, it’s not a lot. Even with moving a fifth-rounder here and in the Eric Staal deal, they still have a fifth-rounder left plus 10 other picks including seven between the second, third, and fourth rounds. Verbeek’s inclusion is almost solely for contract-matching purposes as Montreal is fairly tight to the 50 contract limit at 48. He has been a healthy scratch for most of the year in Laval but has managed a goal and two assists in seven games with the Rocket once injuries forced them to put him in the lineup. He wasn’t receiving a qualifying offer at the end of the season.
There isn’t much of a cap cost for the Habs here as Merrill makes $925,000 and will be a UFA after the season. Assuming Mete is claimed off waivers on Monday, the net addition to the payroll will be a pro-rated $190,000 which means it’s not going to stop them from attempting to make any other acquisitions of note.
It will take a while for Merrill to join the team as he’ll have to go through the quarantine period first. With the Habs having a West Coast trip starting on Monday the 19th, they’ll need him to get into town as soon as possible to begin serving his seven days. If that happens, he may be available to join them for the start of that trip.