Not only did the Habs make a big splash with their first-overall draft pick but they also made a big splash on the trade front, completing a three-team trade that saw them move Alexander Romanov and two draft picks while acquiring Kirby Dach from Chicago. Our writers offer up their thoughts on the swap.
Terry Costaris: This three-way deal is definitely a risky reclamation project trade for the Montreal Canadiens. It’s also a very expensive one. They gave up one of the Habs’ most promising defencemen in Romanov to complete the transaction.
Yes, I realize that Montreal has a surplus of defencemen but, they just gave up on “the Tzar!” Sadness.
What happens next with Kirby Dach is a coin flip.
On the one side, he was grossly mishandled from the get-go in Chicago. This may impact his development – both physically and psychologically.
On the other side, the Blackhawks are a franchise that perpetually gives up on their draft picks. So, maybe the Habs have hit another Phillip Danault home run here.
I realize that this move was done by Kyle Davidson and not Stan Bowman but one could argue that he too is showing a lack of patience with this 21-year-old former third-overall draft pick.
The good news-bad news is that we should know in the next two years which side the coin flipped.
The Canadiens continue to expedite their rebuild by adding yet another prospect who has not yet fully developed. Also, if you look over the last four years, Montreal now has two first-round picks in Dach and Cole Caufield in 2019; two with Kaiden Guhle and Justin Barron in 2020; one with Logan Mailloux in 2021, two more with Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar in 2022; plus another two coming next year. That’s nine first-rounders in five years. Wow!
I really have strong faith in both Montreal’s development team and coach Martin St. Louis. Dach will be given the resources to turn his game around. He seems to have strong character and will no longer be expected to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. He will be eased in in terms of assignments and not be asked to perform first-line duties right away. This, combined with some intensive skills training in the faceoff circle, could redirect his trajectory.
Finally, it is my understanding that the Detroit Red Wings really wanted Dach. It’s General Manager, Steve Yzerman, possesses one of the smartest minds in hockey. If he tried to land Dach, then this player has to be worth the risk.
But still. They gave up Alexander Romanov!
Allan Katz: Before writing this, I read dozens on dozens of comments on the Habs’ first pick and the Dach trade and it seemed half of them ended with, “Well, I’m sure the Habs know better than I do what they’re doing.”
I fell ill watching the NHL draft. My cough was strange and overwhelming. Well, the Doc checked my blood work and confirmed his greatest fear: I had a SLAV-COUGH. I don’t know how I got it; I did everything Wright!
So, the story goes that the Habs chose Slafkovsky over Wright because they were planning to acquire a still young dynamic centre to slot into the lineup instead of Wright; namely Kirby Dach. This is simply not true on multiple levels. The Habs planned on taking the more dynamic talent (Slaf) instead of the so-called safe choice (Mr. Wright) regardless of whether they got Dach or not. None of this makes me feel better about the trade.
Dach has not only had three mediocre NHL seasons but was not all that productive for a player picked third in the draft. People complain that Wright only had 90+ points in his draft year! Dach had a career-high of 73 points and 25 goals! Yet, that’s not the worst of it; before that, the last time he scored over 20 goals he was on an under-15 team in Fort Saskatchewan! Yes, he’s big, yes, he’s fast for his size, and the biggest YES of all … he’s still only 21. That’s the good news; young and huge.
Despite what has been said the Habs decided that they’d rather do a bridge deal with Dach rather than with Romanov and here’s why; Romanov’s ceiling has been dropping exponentially since he showed up in Montreal. The team and the fans have overvalued this kid and he plays a position that the team is well-stocked in – Left Defence. Next season it is possible that Guhle will slip in and take over for Romanov. Even if Guhle needs a season in the AHL the team has a plethora of youngsters ready to take his place. The team will sign Dach to a bridge deal and the youngster will have two years to show everyone what he’s got. Management believes that they can unlock his talent … I hope they’re right.
Bottom line: The Habs won’t miss Romanov once the youngsters get up to speed and Dach is a lottery ticket. I’m not crazy about this trade, but I’m sure the Habs know better than I do what they’re doing.
Brian La Rose: First things first. I’m surprised that they moved Romanov although I’m also pleasantly surprised they were able to get the 13th pick for him. That’s a solid value move that largely went under the radar with the pick immediately being flipped for Dach.
As for the second swap, I’m a little skeptical. As Allan noted, it’s not as if Dach has ever been a high-end scorer. He was drafted early because he’s 6’4 and plays down the middle. After three so-so at best seasons, he still was able to yield picks 13 and 66 in a trade because he’s 6’4 and plays down the middle. But being a 6’4 centre doesn’t inherently mean there’s a bunch of upside, especially when Dach never flashed big offensive upside in junior.
Don’t get me wrong, the Habs are correct in expecting some improvement. Where we disagree is the degree of the improvement. I could see Dach getting to 15-goal, 25-assist territory which is still a useful player, especially since he can kill penalties a little bit. That’s a worthy piece to have. But that’s the statistical profile of someone like Lars Eller. Is that worth a lottery pick through the trade of a second-pairing defenceman? I’m not so sure.
I understand the logic behind the trade. Use surplus depth to fill a need, that’s a basic team-building element and Kent Hughes did just that. That’s fine. If Dach indeed has a higher ceiling than the profile above (say, 20 goals and 30 assists), they win this trade hands-down as a quality, controllable 2C has more value than a player of Romanov’s profile. But I’m not overly confident that will happen and that before long, Montreal’s long-standing hunt for an offensive centre will resume.
Peter Longo: It is undeniable that this trade immediately makes the Habs a worse team.
The Habs gave up Romanov who is a hard-hitting, mobile second-pairing left defenceman. In return, they received Dach, currently fitting into as a 3rd line centre who is a big, smart, and skates well. Both players have thus far provided limited offence.
But given the fact that the Habs don’t have any proven NHL defencemen to fill Romanov’s spot, and had no need for another 3rd line centre, it is pretty obvious the Habs are a worse team after the trade.
Moreso, if both players have already reached their top potential, there is no question this trade is a failure for the Habs. No GM in his right mind would make this trade.
But here’s the thing: the Habs aren’t trying to be competitive right now and both players have not reached their full potential. Hughes is gambling on Dach making massive improvements and becoming a quality second-line centre. At the same time, Hughes is gambling on current prospects to fill Romanov’s spot (eventually). And he’s gambling against Romanov making any improvements to his game. Given all this, it’ll be a few years before we can truly evaluate the trade.
That’s a lot of gambling from Hughes and there’s no way I’m putting my money on this trade working out for the Canadiens.
I watched Dach play in the WHL, and while he was good, I was shocked when he was selected third overall. I’m not surprised he has struggled to live up to those lofty expectations. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think he’ll ever be a quality top-six centre.
Conversely, in only two years, Romanov has already taken massive steps in development and has established himself as an NHL defenceman with the ability to put fear into opponents with devastating bodychecks. There is no way he is done developing given how quickly he improved in his first two years.
As for the Habs prospects developing, it’s a crap shoot. Some will and some won’t, and it will take a few years to figure out which is which. Given the number of prospects, I suspect they’ll eventually develop a reasonable defence core. But it’ll take time and until then the Habs won’t be competitive.
Everyone but the Habs got what they wanted – Chicago got the pick and the Islanders got the proven NHL defender. The Habs got a struggling third-line centre and are hoping he can live up to his draft billing and that current prospects can become NHL players. Any way you slice it, the Habs are taking all the risk on this one. Too much risk in my opinion and I’m not holding my breath that it will work out the way Hughes wants.
Perhaps the final nail is the completely illogical but important (to any true hockey fan) superstitious aspect to this trade. Once again, the Habs are turning to a third-overall pick to try and find a centre. Whether it’s Galchenyuk, Drouin, Kotkaniemi, and now Dach, the Habs seem to focus on this pick for that purpose. So far none of them have worked out and I think it’s the universe telling Montreal to avoid this pick. But maybe the fourth time is the charm?
Ken MacLeod: Getting Dach was a calculated gamble by Hughes that could pay off in a big way if Dach, just 21, can get back on the development path that saw him taken third overall in 2019. It’s no secret that a serious wrist injury suffered at the 2021 World Juniors and some questionable decisions by the Hawks over the past couple of seasons may have played a part in holding back his development. It’s up to Hughes to have the Canadiens devote the necessary time, energy, and resources to ensure that Dach is given every chance to find his best game and become Montreal’s second-line centre behind Nick Suzuki. It took two trades to complete the deal — Romanov, 22, and pick #98 went to the New York Islanders for the 13th pick overall, which was then bundled with the Habs’ #66 pick for Dach. You have to give to get, but Hughes was dealing from a position of strength. The Canadiens’ prospect pool is very deep in quality lefthanded defence, so a potential top-four defender like Romanov could be sacrificed to acquire a young player with the potential to fill the gaping second-line centre hole.
Paul MacLeod: The Dach Acquisition! Well, Hughes really made a splash on the first day of his first draft as GM of the Montreal Canadiens. Let’s break down the emotional rollercoaster by the numbers:
- Shock. I was slightly shocked and a little disappointed when they selected Slafkovsky first overall.
- Hope and Faith: I thought, ” They must have a plan for another centre”.
- Disappointment: When the trades were announced: another shock. Romanov gone! Oh my God! The Habs have just traded another good young defenceman!
- Hope: They must be getting Wright! Wow! This is amazing!
- Anger, Disbelief, Shock, Anger, Nausea: Kirby Dach! They gave up Romanov and a pick to get the 13th overall pick and traded it and another pick for Dach! Why! Why! Isn’t he a bust? Dach has never come close to living up to his selection at third overall. Oh my God! Side note, my son, also a rabid Habs fan, summed up the mood when he said:” If gas wasn’t so expensive, I would set my jersey on fire!”
- Rationalization and bargaining: Hughes and Gorton must know what they are doing. Please, please let me be wrong about Kirby Dach! I must be wrong!
- Acceptance: Hughes and Gorton have a plan. They obviously are willing to swing for the fences and don’t care about public opinion. They got a centre they wanted and a potentially great power forward. Many pundits seem to believe that Dach still has great upside. Their second day of the draft was excellent! Lane Hutson, YES! This could be great! St. Louis will surely be able to boost Dach and help him meet his potential.
Please God, let me be wrong about Kirby Dach. I am so thankful I’m not a Blackhawks fan.
Norm Szcyrek: I like the trade for Dach for a few reasons. He’s a centre with size, which fits a huge need for the Habs. He still is very young and has the potential to improve his game overall. With the way coach St. Louis has reached other young Canadiens to improve their play, Dach has an excellent chance at doing the same. Dach was a highly rated prospect in his draft year. The Blackhawks took him at number three, in a draft where he could have been selected in the top ten. It’s also common for big forwards to take more time to develop at the NHL level. Kirby was a bit of a surprise to start in the NHL at 18, and I feel a few injuries have curtailed his growth. This move could be a steal for Montreal.
Losing Romanov is a bit of a blow since his aggressive style made him a fan favourite. But I did not see much growth in him after the coaching change. To me, his ceiling is a bottom-half defenceman and the Habs have more depth at that position now. They could afford it. Romanov should enjoy living in Long Island which has a significant Russian community.
David Woodward: The acquisition of Dach cost the Canadiens one of their most promising young defencemen in Romanov and two picks (numbers 66 and 98 in the 2022 NHL Draft). That is a heavy price to pay. However, the Canadiens have a number of left-handed defencemen in the pipeline, some of whom (such as Jordan Harris and Kaiden Guhle) may be in the lineup to open the 2022-23 season. Also, there are a number of left-handed defencemen in the Habs’ prospect pipeline who may end up with the team in the next few years (Jayden Struble, Mattias Norlinder, Arber Xhekaj, and Hutson, although the latter is likely a longer-term project).
The Canadiens also entered the draft with 14 picks this draft and currently hold 10 picks in the 2023 Draft. With the limit of 50 on the number of NHL contracts, it was only prudent to trade some of those picks to address the team’s weaknesses.
After passing on Wright and Logan Cooley and selecting Slafkovsky first overall, it was imperative for the Canadiens to address their lack of depth and talent at centre. In Dach, the Canadiens acquire a big centre (6’4”, 197 lbs.) who was the third overall pick in the 2019 draft. The first three years of Dach’s career have been beset by some unfortunate injuries, with the last year also played under the shadow of the tire fire in Chicago that arose due to the Kyle Beach scandal. The Canadiens represent a fresh start for a talented and promising young player who, if he succeeds in Montreal, will address a specific and long-standing organizational need, a weakness made all the more urgent by Marc Bergevin’s puzzling decision not to re-sign Danault.
You have to give in order to get. The Canadiens’ plethora of picks and young left-handed defence prospects allows them to acquire Dach, a potential second-line centre, likely without a significant long-term downgrade to the left side of the back end. To be sure, Romanov is a talented player but the team’s weakness at centre had to be resolved. This scribbler hates to lose Romanov but the deal makes sense for the Canadiens.