Montreal’s biggest move on trade deadline day came when they moved Artturi Lehkonen to Colorado for Justin Barron and a 2024 second-round pick. Having had some time to ponder the move, our writers offer up their thoughts on the move.
Terry Costaris: I’m very pleased with this deal. Yes, Lehkonen is a premier third liner who consistently elevates his game come playoff time. And, yes, he has at least five years of quality hockey ahead of him. But, trading him away in his prime for Barron and a second-round pick is a fantastic transaction.
The Habs have another two-to-three years to go before they are ready to begin competing with contending franchises. Lehkonen’s value would only truly kick in with just two more years remaining of his prime value.
Barron is a stud right defenceman, someone Montreal desperately needs, who is two-to-three years away from significant maturation. He will be part of a very excellent group of top four defenders who are slowly making their way onto this team.
Montreal literally has traded back to the future here.
Of course, my excitement for this deal is premised on Barron not getting seriously injured. Noah Juulsen for sure, and perhaps Josh Brook and Mattias Norlinder, show what can happen in this regard. This is why getting extra draft picks is essential.
The second-round pick that was included in this great deal then, was both gravy and insurance if things go south.
Another insight to be gleaned here is that it is always good to trade with teams that have overstocked cabinets with certain types of players. Colorado is stacked with defensive prospects, which made Barron expendable.
He was a “nice to have” prospect for Colorado as Artturi Lehkonen was a “nice to have” player for Montreal. Conversely, both are now “need to have players” on their new teams.
This summer, Montreal must target the Kings who have far too many centre prospects to hold onto. It’s in L.A.’s best interest to sell now before what’s on their shelves becomes reduced to clear.
The excess in Montreal draft picks gathered these last few weeks could be the sweetener that lands one of the King’s centres.
When you take all of the savvy moves that the tandem of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes have done to date, plus some of the talent that they will acquire in the next two drafts, Montreal already appears to be on a path that emulates the Boston Bruins or St. Louis Blues of this last decade.
The final cherry on top should happen three-to-four years from now, where Montreal lands a high-end free agent. There are a lot of moving parts at play in what Hughes and Gorton are up to. The two are really showing us that days for this once-moribund organization are definitely coming.
I love this deal. I love it a lot!
Allan Katz: The Lehkonen trade was a hard pill to swallow for not only the fans, but the coach, and no doubt, the management. In breaking down elements of the trade this deal turns out to be positive on so many levels.
The Habs need to create space against the cap to continue the very necessary rebuild. Lehkonen is due for a nice, well-earned raise, one that will handcuff future moves. The team has a plethora of third and fourth liners making a lot of money. Paul Byron and Joel Armia have talent, cumbersome contracts, and have the skills to fill the vacuum. Even with the second-round pick. this is not the reason why the trade needed to be made, but it does mean the drop in talent will not be as bad as anyone fears.
This is why the trade is a winner; RIGHT DEFENCE. This is a position that can be difficult to fill because most defencemen play on the left side. Let’s compare the depth issue on right and left defence on the Habs. On Montreal’s left side are Edmundson, Romanov, and a few NHL players on the bubble. Among prospects, they have Guhle and Harris as blue-chip talent plus Norlinder, Struble, and Xhekaj. The team will be strong here for years to come.
Yet, on the right side, they have Petry who has been a disaster this year and is on the trading block for the summer. Weber is here in name only and Savard and Wideman have some talent, but not enough to excite anyone outside of their families. The top AHL talent is Josh Brook who seemed to be on the way but has been injured so many times who knows where he stands as a future talent. Among prospects, they have one significant talent Logan Mailloux who might be a few years away from being a legit NHLer but due to an incredibly stupid action, might be shipped off one day if a number of sportswriters in Montreal have their way. I find it difficult to take a stand on this young man, but the fact is he might never play for Montreal and might land up being traded at a discount. There are no blue-chip prospects behind him. The right side might be led by Savard and Wideman next year. So, this is where the trade makes so much sense; Barron is a legit NHL talent. He is on par with Guhle and Harris and he plays on the right side!
So. while Montreal has decent replacements for Lehkonen, they literally have nothing on the right-side defence. And that is worth everything for Montreal. Now for the cherry on top!!!
The defence next year (or next week) will be flush with royalty; on the left side the Tsar himself Alexander Romanov and on the right side the Baron himself, Justin Barron. The Baron and the Tsar … exciting.
Brian La Rose: I like Lehkonen and it wouldn’t have been hard to see a longer-term future with the Canadiens. But with the bloated contracts they have on their books, it comes down to what was better – lose the better player in Lehkonen and get the return they did or cough up draft picks to get out of one of those bloated deals to afford to keep Lehkonen? For where Montreal is in their rebuilding window, they made the right choice.
I think Barron’s starting to get a bit overrated since the trade. He’s not a blue-chip, can’t-miss prospect. He’s trending upwards and there’s a lot to be excited about but he is a complementary player in terms of his skill set. I’ve seen comments where some feel he’s a high-end piece and Barron isn’t that. He looks like a steady two-way defender that can slot in on a second pairing. There’s a lot of value in that and with him filling a big organizational need, it’s a very nice pickup for Montreal but let’s keep expectations in check.
All in all, it’s a move the Habs basically had to make and in Barron, they get someone who should fill a pretty important spot on the back end for several years plus a lottery ticket in the second-rounder. Montreal made the best of the situation they were in with this move.
Kevin Leveille: A few seasons ago, I thought previous management really missed their chance at collecting a haul of futures when Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry were not moved at the deadline. In fact, I believe it is the only time in the Marc Bergevin tenure when I hopped on the bandwagon and used the popular #firebergevin. I looked at this year’s deadline as the same opportunity, that of taking a step back for a better future. I was therefore already in a good mood seeing the Habs take advantage of high-value assets to reap some big-time returns on Tyler Toffoli, Ben Chiarot, and Brett Kulak. I will admit to being far more on the fence about dealing Lehkonen given his RFA status and seasonal output to date. Prior to the deadline, I thought anything less than a first-rounder made it not worth moving Lehkonen.
This made me quite nervous when the trade broke, but the return received from Colorado here absolutely justified the move made. The Habs sold high on Lehkonen instead of moving on from Byron or Armia. Instead of selling low on players being overpaid, they sold the high-value asset that was about to be overpaid, so even though I prefer Lehkonen to the other two, the move is entirely justified on that front also.
That the Habs received a developing first-rounder in Barron, and a second far enough away that Colorado has time to not be the juggernaut they are this season (they might still be, but at least there’s a chance), means that this deal not only addresses the current need for high-end RHD prospects which was addressed in a big way with Barron, but they also got a pick that could be a much higher value than it is being perceived at the moment. As previously stated, my expectation was a first prior to the deadline to move Lehkonen. They got one, and then some. A big win for Hughes on this one, even if it’s also a big win for Colorado who won’t miss Barron on their right side, and see a contributing Lehkonen now as far more important than the lottery ticket that is the 2024 2nd rounder.
Peter Longo: The Lehkonen trade is a tough one to judge and that’s mostly because Lehkonen is a tough player to evaluate.
Looking at his career performance, Artturi is a pretty consistent 30-point producer with a good split on goals and assists mostly in 5v5 play. He’s developed into a strong defensive shutdown player playing against top opposition. He’s a relentless forechecker and constantly breaks up plays or forces opponents into making bad plays. He’s only 26 and just entering his prime and this year is on pace for career highs of 18 goals and 40 points. If you believe this will be his future performance while playing 3rd line minutes and the penalty kill on a $2.3M salary cap, then you absolutely want to keep him.
The flip side and one that I believe is more likely is that this year is an anomaly and Lehkonen will end up signing an inflated long-term contract. I’ve watched him too long to think that he’s moved beyond the missed scoring opportunities, tripping over the blueline on breakaways, and passes not connecting with wide-open linemates. No linemate he’s ever played with has done well; in fact, they usually have career-low offensive numbers. This year due to injuries, Lehkonen has played more minutes and at times on the top lines. This has given him more offensive chances and his numbers show that. But overall, the team’s offence has plummeted. This is the Lehkonen effect.
So, while he’s a good 3rd/4th line player, the Habs currently have enough of those with Byron and have likely upgraded with Rem Pitlick (who also is a relentless forechecker but is younger, faster, cheaper, and better offensively). With other 3rd/4th line options available in the offseason, the Habs won’t miss Lehkonen at all.
When the offer came into Hughes to add two assets (a former first-round pick and a second-round pick) for a third line player, he must have fallen off his chair. As a bonus, one of the assets was a right-handed defensive prospect developing well in the AHL which helps immensely to fill an urgent organizational need. Hughes has done a great job by filling an organizational need and saved some salary cap space without any loss to the lineup.
Ken MacLeod: I would argue that the Lehkonen deadline deal with the Avalanche is the best trade made so far by the Jeff Gorton/Kent Hughes management team, if only for the fact the acquired prospect already has clear core player potential, unlike their shiny new crop of first-round picks that have yet to be actually selected.
Barron is one of the top young right-handed defensive prospects in the National Hockey League, so to get him AND a 2024 second-round draft pick for a pending RFA winger who had probably priced himself out of Montreal’s cap situation is first-rate work.
Barron is also an interesting case for a more practical reason. When Team Canada claimed silver at the 2021 World Junior Championship, the defensive pairing of Barron, picked 25th overall in 2020, and Habs prospect Kaiden Guhle, taken nine spots earlier at number 16, was the team’s shutdown duo that went up against the opposition’s top lines every night.
We should see Barron and Guhle pairing playing big minutes for the Laval Rocket next season, likely on the same pairing, with full-time roles in Montreal the following season.
Norm Szcyrek: The old adage of “buy low and sell high” describes well the reason Gorton decided to move Lehkonen. In my mind, his recent offensive production is a blip, and he was bound to come back to earth. Perhaps he has put an extra effort into increasing his stats this season because his contract was coming up for renewal, and as an RFA, your performance is your best bet to getting a good raise. However, I don’t believe his offensive numbers were sustainable and now it’s up to Colorado to risk venturing into those waters beyond this season. I do like Lehkonen as a defensive forward, but thanks to Marc Bergevin, Montreal’s current roster has too many overpaid bottom six forwards. Moving Lehkonen is the better way to help get out of that, especially with the NHL’s salary cap likely to say frozen for at least a few more seasons.
When it comes to the return on this trade, I am a big fan of Barron. In his draft season, he was originally pegged to be selected in the top 10 of some draft lists, but surgery for a blood clot in his shoulder caused him to miss a significant part of his draft season and about half of the next season. Many NHL teams were scared off by the medical concerns, but Barron has had no complications and returned to play at a high level. After his final junior season was over, he played a few games with Colorado’s AHL team and produced decent numbers. Justin is a solid-sized defenceman who can skate really well in all directions. His hockey sense is excellent and he’s capable of skating the puck out of his own zone or delivering an accurate pass. Barron reminds me a lot of Marc-Edouard Vlasic, a really capable defender who can become a top-three defenceman and deliver a little offence. He was paired with Habs prospect Kaiden Guhle during the 2021 Team Canada world junior tournament and looked very solid for the team. I expect he will finish his rookie season in Laval, then get a legitimate shot at making the team next training camp.