Welcome to Oilersnation’s Deadline Targets series. Over the next few weeks heading into the trade deadline, I’ll be walking through the teams expected to unload at the deadline and the players who could be fits on the Oilers for their playoff push. Today, we have the Montreal Canadiens.
One of the most interesting teams heading into the trade deadline is the Montreal Canadiens.
The team had aspirations of making the playoffs this season but two different eight-game losing streaks have left them buried in the playoff race in the deep Eastern Conference. The team is loaded with solid depth players who are set to become free agents this summer and next, so, on the surface, it makes quite a bit of sense for them to sell.
But, on the other hand, the Habs are a team knocking on the door of the playoffs, and dealing away players who are under control beyond this season would be conceding that goal. In a market like Montreal that hasn’t seen a playoff series win since 2015, that isn’t going to be received well.
With that in mind, we should expect the Habs to be a hybrid team at the trade deadline. They could sell some players, especially those who become free agents this summer, but they’ll also likely be looking for NHL-ready players who can help them rebound next season.
Can they be a match with the Oilers? At a glance, it certainly seems like it.
Montreal’s roster is ultimately filled with good-not-great players. They have four strong lines that can push a competitive pace all game but they don’t really have any stars on their roster. Right now, the Oilers don’t need to be adding stars. They need to be adding quality depth.
Depending on how Tyler Benson looks during his cup of coffee, Ken Holland has a couple of areas on the roster to address ahead of the deadline in order to improve the Oilers for their playoff push. The most glaring need is a better third-line centre and the lesser need is another winger for the top-six. Again, that could be filled by Benson.
The top rental Montreal has on their roster is Ilya Kovalchuk who has completely revitalized himself since parting ways with the Los Angeles Kings. Kovalchuk, for the first time since returning from the KHL, has looked like Kovalchuk. He has five goals and 10 points in 13 games and has been a major spark offensively for the Canadiens.
When he became a free agent just over a month ago, there was skepticism as to whether he was worth the risk in Edmonton because of his horrendous showing in Los Angeles. Given the way things have gone in Montreal, is that still the case? Kovalchuk could be an incredible weapon alongside Connor McDavid. But with each passing good game he has, the asking price for him as a rental is going to increase.
If Holland wants to stay clear of rental players, the Habs have a boat-load of quality forwards who are signed for one more season that could help the Oilers this season and next.
Tomas Tatar is a name we already know the Oilers have shown some interest in. Tatar has been great for the Habs since coming back from Vegas as part of the Max Pacioretty deal as he currently leads Montreal in scoring with 20 goals and 50 points in 55 games. This is also a player that Holland knows well as he drafted and developed Tatar while back in Detroit.
This would obviously be a nice addition but it wouldn’t be easy to swing. Not only would Montreal’s asking price for one of their best forwards be sky-high, but Tatar also carries a $4,800,000 cap hit next season, making him difficult to fit into the picture financially.
Two more forwards who would fill holes on the Oilers are Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. Like Tatar, both have one year left on their contracts after this one before they can become free agents worth $3,083,333 and $3,750,000 respectively. And, of course, like Tatar, acquiring them wouldn’t be easy. Danault is one of the most underrated centres in the game as he produces at a decent clip offensively and he borders on elite defensively. Gallagher, a local product, is a pesky winger who would add more speed and energy to Edmonton’s top-six.
Another thing worth noting is that Montreal seems like an ideal landing spot for estranged winger Jesse Puljujarvi. Montreal has a few other young Finns in Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia, and Artturi Lehkonen, providing Puljujarvi with an ideal environment to rebound as a player. You’re obviously not getting any of those three aforementioned players in a one-for-one swap for Puljujarvi, but he could be part of a larger deal.