Montreal Canadiens' 5 Biggest Needs Ahead of the Trade Deadline
The team is sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division, eight points ahead of the ninth-place teams in the Eastern Conference. All they need to do is play relatively well down the stretch to make the playoffs. The current roster has the tools to finish as the sixth, seventh or eighth seed.
But if the team really wants to take a step forward and make a playoff push, management needs to make a few moves. The Montreal Canadiens, as they are right now, aren't good enough to get anywhere near the Stanley Cup.
In all likelihood, general manager Marc Bergevin won't do much over the next week. He has preached patience during his tenure and refuses to blow up the young foundation to win now.
The pieces are in place for the future, but they're not quite ready to win yet. And until they are, Bergevin seems content with just making the playoffs.
But that doesn't mean we can't discuss what the Habs should do before March 5. Here are the Montreal Canadiens' five biggest needs ahead of the trade deadline.
A Scoring Winger
In their first game back after the Olympic break, the Montreal Canadiens turned in one of their worst offensive performances of the season.
They managed just 20 total shots on goal, eight of which came in the final period. Their Fenwick percentage for the night was a pathetic 42.5. They were lucky to score their only goal with 29 seconds left and send the game to overtime to at least salvage a point.
If anything, this game has at least reaffirmed the need for a scoring winger in Montreal. The top line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher is set, but Tomas Plekanec needs help on the second unit—Daniel Briere and Brian Gionta aren't cutting it.
Having Alex Galchenyuk back in the lineup is nice and should help the third line contribute some offense but, overall, it won't be enough. Bergevin needs to make a trade for a top-six forward who will help on offense immediately.
It is highly unlikely Bergevin will move any significant assets to get someone like Thomas Vanek or Matt Moulson, but a guy like Jaromir Jagr could be a possibility.
The Canadiens need to start scoring more if they hope to make a playoff run and outside help seems to be the only way that is going to happen.
Get a Return on Brian Gionta
This is surely Gionta's last season as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. It is also very unlikely that Montreal re-signs him.
Yes, he's the captain and an important leader on the team, but he's also a 5'7" winger who makes $5 million and barely registers a point every two games.
The Canadiens have enough overpaid players who stand less than six feet. They will move on from their captain next season.
Gionta will of course be an unrestricted free agent, meaning the Habs will get nothing in return when he walks away. So, why not ship him out before the March 5 deadline and get something of value back?
Trading away Gionta will not affect the team's chances of making any kind of playoff run this season. Sure, he has a good game every now and then, like scoring the tying goal with 29 seconds left against Detroit on Wednesday, but these kinds of games are few and far between for Gionta.
Besides, Briere can play pretty much the exact same role (though Gionta might be slightly better defensively).
It's tough to say what kind of market there would be for Gionta, but the Habs could hope for a second-round pick—a third might be more realistic.
Regardless, Bergevin should take any asset he could get for Gionta before he walks away. Whatever asset he gets could then be used to help acquire a winger who actually scores.
Make a Decision on Andrei Markov
The Canadiens need to make a quick decision on what to do with Andrei Markov, and the options are simple: re-sign him or trade him.
TSN 690's Tony Marinaro shed some light on the situation:
#HABS GM Marc Bergevin has offered Andrei Markov a 1 year deal at just over $6M. Markov wants 3 year deal. Bergevin wants 2go 1yr at a time.— Tony Marinaro (@TonyMarinaro) February 24, 2014
Six million is a fair offer in terms of monetary value, but if you're Markov, why settle for just one year? As Bleacher Report's Jonathan Willis points out, the market for free-agent defensemen this summer is going to be very weak. Markov could actually be the cream of the crop.
Markov is surely looking ahead and thinking that he'll easily get the three-year contract he covets if he just waits until the summer.
Markov is still playing at a very high level. He'd look good on the back end of any team looking to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup. Bergevin would be able to get a sizable return if he does decide to move Markov before March 5.
One thing Bergevin cannot do is to hold on to Markov only to watch him sign elsewhere in the summer. Not getting anything in return for his No. 2 defenseman would be a huge mistake.
And so, decisions must be made. Either give Markov the contract he wants, or trade him now and get something back.
Good News on the Health of Carey Price
Montreal Canadiens fans knew Carey Price wouldn't be playing in either of the team's back-to-back games after the Olympic break. They just didn't know it would be because he is hurt.
Price joined his teammates for a morning skate Wednesday but then left practice within a few minutes with what is being called a lower-body injury, according to the Canadiens' Twitter account:
"During the Olympics, Carey aggravated a lower-body injury. He will not play the next two games and he's day-to-day" - Michel Therrien— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) February 26, 2014
An article from CBC.ca quotes Sidney Crosby as saying the injury didn't happen in Sochi, but sometime before. It goes on to mention that while Crosby knew about the injury, coach Mike Babcock did not.
Price apparently hid the injury from the coaching staff and played through it, making his Olympic performance all the more impressive.
Regardless of what happened in Sochi, the Canadiens are currently without their star goaltender, and that's going to be a huge problem if Price is to miss any more than the two games coach Michel Therrien said he would miss.
Price is the team's MVP and its only real chance at making any kind of run this season. The Canadiens need good news on his health, and they need it soon.
Granted, this is not the most important need, but a little defensive depth wouldn't hurt before the trade deadline.
Montreal is currently dressing Markov, P.K. Subban, Josh Gorges, Alexei Emelin, Douglas Murray and Jarred Tinordi. Montreal seems content to ride the first five, while the position Tinordi currently occupies is a bit of a revolving door.
Tinordi, recalled after the Olympic break, played Wednesday for the first time since October. He played 13:29 and finished even with two hits and a blocked shot. He looked solid and has surely earned another couple of games with Montreal.
Prior to the Olympic break, it was Nathan Beaulieu getting a regular turn in Montreal. While his stats in 11 games aren't exactly eye popping (0G, 1A, plus-3), he did look good moving the puck and didn't make any big mistakes in his own end. He proved he is ready to stay in the NHL.
Both Tinordi and Beaulieu look like they can hold down the sixth defenseman spot but what if one of the other five were to get hurt? Then Therrien would have two options.
He could decide to roll with both Beaulieu and Tinordi, which would probably be the best idea from a talent point of view. But considering Therrien's reluctance to use young players in any kind of important situation, it likely won't happen.
He could also reinsert Francis Bouillon into the lineup, or even Davis Drewiske once he's cleared. But those aren't guys you want on the back end heading into the playoffs.
Trading for a depth defenseman, someone who could easily jump into the top six, would certainly improve the Montreal Canadiens. It might not be the most pressing issue on hand, but it would help the club and its chances for success this season.