It’s been clear for a while, really since suffering their second eight-game losing streak of the season in late December and early January, that the playoffs weren’t going to be in the cards for the Montreal Canadiens this season.
Tuesday’s trade that sent Marco Scandella to the St. Louis Blues officially announced their status as sellers. The only question left is how big the selloff is going to be.
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The bright side is that it appears to be a seller’s market. Already we’ve seen teams like the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings receive impressive returns for players like Blake Coleman and Tyler Toffoli, and the Canadiens received more for Scandella than they gave up to acquire him from the Buffalo Sabres in early January.
Habs fans have been intrigued by the reports that GM Marc Bergevin has been in Denver this week and was at the Colorado Avalanche’s games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday and the New York Islanders on Wednesday.
#Avs GM Joe Sakic addressed the media before the game. He was asked about Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin being her for two games in a row.
He said, "Marc's daughter goes to CU" and just left at that with a grin.
— Ryan S. Clark (@ryan_s_clark) February 20, 2020
One player Bergevin reportedly has his eye on is defenceman Ryan Graves.
Hearing the Habs are hot after Graves. Man, I would NOT deal him if I’m Joe Sakic @ColHockeyNow
— Adrian Dater (@adater) February 20, 2020
The Avs, meanwhile, apparently have interest in winger Ilya Kovalchuk.
According to Pierre Lebrun, #Habs Ilya Kovalchuk is on the Avalanche’s list of players they’re interested in.
Selon Pierre Lebrun, #CH Ilya Kovalchuk est sur la liste de l’Avalanche des joueurs qui l’intéressent.
— Etienne Ferland (@EtienneFerland) February 19, 2020
Any trade for Graves, though, would likely be a bigger deal that would see someone like Tomas Tatar or Jeff Petry head to Denver. They’re under contract for next season, and by all accounts, Bergevin wants the Habs to compete next year and has very high asking prices for both players.
What to do with Kovalchuk
However, the Kovalchuk situation is still an interesting one to keep an eye on. He’s cooled off after his hot start in Montreal, recording just three points in his last 10 games and going scoreless in his last five.
Still, he’s had flashes of brilliance with the Habs, and at league minimum with no contractual commitment beyond this season, he’s an intriguing option for teams looking to add offence at the deadline.
In fact, in addition to the Avalanche, there are reportedly at least four other teams with interest in the Russian sniper.
Do you really think the Canadiens will do worse than a second-round pick if they decide to trade Ilya Kovalchuk? I’d be beyond shocked, especially since I know of at least five teams with varying degrees of interest in a acquiring him.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) February 18, 2020
The Habs have been impressed with both Kovalchuk’s play and leadership and have reportedly been weighing the possibility of keeping him and trying to bring him back next season.
By Monday, Bergevin needs a clear idea of whether that’s something Kovalchuk would be interested in. He turns 37 in April and has been clear his top priority is to win a Stanley Cup before he retires. Does he think the Habs are close enough to contending for one that it makes sense for a player his age to stick around?
Deadline moves should dictate offseason plans
With the Habs heading towards a third straight postseason miss, this is a crucial deadline for Bergevin.
His plan for the Canadiens to be competitive next year can’t just be to hope for better health, better luck and better results. Especially given the current state of the Eastern Conference, where it’s taking a point total in the high nineties just to make the playoffs.
If he’s not going take advantage of a seller’s market and chooses to hang on to players like Tatar, Petry and maybe even Kovalchuk, then he’d better be planning on aggressively trying to improve the team in the offseason. Tatar and Petry can be unrestricted free agents after next season, and if the Canadiens again aren’t in the playoff race next year, he’s not going to get nearly as much for them then as he could now.
Of course, if the Habs are on their way to yet another spring without postseason hockey next year, you wonder if Bergevin may still even be around to call the shots at next year’s deadline.