Last season, pretty much everything fell into place for the Habs and GM Kent Hughes who was able to extract strong value in several moves. This year, things went sideways quickly on that front and unfortunately, there wasn’t much they could do about it.
There was some hope, misguided as it may have been, that Sean Monahan was going to bring back a first-round pick had he stayed healthy. Even if he was, the fact that there were much better centres that moved which would have lowered his market into a lower tier (a second with full retention was likely as good as it was going to get if he was fully healthy). Yes, more first-rounders went than expected but the players that landed one are better or have longer track records of success; Monahan wasn’t in that group.
Of course, it’s all an exercise of ‘what if?’ now as Monahan was injured in December. Yes, the Habs let him play through it but it was a question of pain tolerance. His playing those games out West didn’t result in him missing three months, the injury was already existing. The best-case scenario is that if he was playing now, it was going to linger which would probably have devalued him even more. I think the likelier scenario is that he’d have been injured anyway; such is the likely outcome when you acquire an oft-injured player. Otherwise, Calgary wouldn’t have had to give up a first-round pick to offload the contract in the summer.
But even so, it seemed like there was a small chance that he’d move for a late-round pick with some games played conditions that could elevate it. However, the memo the league distributed to teams basically told them that they were going to ‘heavily scrutinize’ any trade that saw them trade for someone that might not be able to return before the end of the regular season. In other words, don’t do it unless you have the cap space to activate him before Game 82. Nail, meet coffin on the chances of Monahan moving.
What could the Habs have done differently here? There was no trade market for him in early December even though he was playing well; teams didn’t have cap room to play with at the time not to mention that the actual cash outlay in retention would have been significantly higher. As fans, we might not think that matters but it is a factor. They could have held him out when his injury first came up but I still believe he’d have been injured or playing through injury at this point anyway. That would have lowered his value to more of a mid-round pick and that’s the best-case scenario. That would have been better than nothing, sure, but I don’t think the odds of that happening were all that high.
Then there’s Joel Edmundson. I know there was hope that he could bring back a first-round pick but with his back trouble, I don’t think there was even a second-rounder on the table for him. Three lengthy absences in two seasons due to recurring back injuries is a value killer. Even though he’s on a reasonable contract for $3.5 million for next season, there isn’t much value in acquiring that type of contract if you’re worried that he’s going to miss a bunch of time.
What could have been done differently here? It’s not like he was healthy at the start of the season even; he missed the first month for the second year in a row with it. Sometimes, a player’s value devalues for reasons that are entirely out of a team’s control. This is one of those.
If Edmundson stays healthy for the stretch run and gets through the first half of next season injury-free, then there’s a chance that his trade value will start to improve again. Will it be to the level of a first-round pick? I don’t think so but then again, I didn’t think they could get a first-rounder for Ben Chiarot a year ago. It’ll all depend on market factors that we simply won’t know until February 2024.
There was some hope when the Habs picked up Evgenii Dadonov that they’d be able to flip him for a mid-round pick. Hoping for more would have been foolhardy considering Vegas had originally tried to trade him with an incentive before he blocked that trade to Anaheim. If he had negative value then, he wasn’t going to be a top rental now. They wound up with Denis Gurianov which is someone that was probably worth a mid-round pick on his own. Not a bad outcome, nor a great one.
As for the other rentals, Paul Byron hasn’t played yet; again, that’s out of Montreal’s control entirely. Jonathan Drouin went more than a year without scoring which was the worst-case scenario. There might have been a way to get a seventh-round pick with 50% retention but having that retention slot available to use in the spring might be more worthwhile. The slots they used on Dadonov and Nick Bonino won’t open back up until July 1st which runs them through the draft and the pre-free agent trade period.
Coming into the season, I thought Jake Evans was a strong candidate to move at the deadline but injuries killed that idea. Mike Hoffman is more of a player-for-player swap and those occur more often in the offseason than now when more teams are willing to move regulars off their roster. Christian Dvorak could be a trade chip but again, I think that’s a summer move if he winds up going.
I recognize this is coming off as a ‘defend the GM’ article but that’s not really my intention here. I just don’t think a quiet deadline is Hughes’ fault. With injuries, their best trade chips weren’t viable trade chips and you just can’t force a team to pay top value at a suboptimal time earlier in the year. For me, the deadline played out pretty much exactly as expected when so much beyond their control went basically as badly as possible.
But other than the possibility of a mid-round pick for Monahan if he was able to play right now, they haven’t completely lost out either as most of those other assets can still be moved within the next year or so. Accordingly, it’s not a true ‘loss’ or a wasted opportunity. Instead, this deadline is a deferral to what they hope will be a more optimal trade market over the next 12 months. At that point, if they haven’t moved the likes of Edmundson and Hoffman, then it can be called a missed opportunity. We’re just not at that point yet.