Even though the NHL Trade Deadline isn’t until March 21, there has been plenty of NHL trade chatter since the calendar turned to 2022. One name that is coming up more often than not on the NHL trade rumor circuit is Montreal Canadiens forward Artturi Lehkonen.
In the last two weeks, there have been numerous reports that the list of suitors for Lehkonen on the NHL trade market is growing. That of course has coincided with the Canadiens finally hiring a new general manager in Kent Hughes last Tuesday. Hughes immediately joined the Canadiens for the last three games of their recent seven-game road trip and will likely begin his player evaluation and interviews in earnest during his team’s upcoming eight-game homestand. In the three games Hughes watched Lehkonen up-close, the Habs winger had a goal and an assist playing on the top line with Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli.
On The Jeff Marek Show Friday and on his podcast again Sunday, Frank Seravalli said that the New York Rangers and at least three other teams have had NHL trade talks with the Canadiens before and after Hughes was hired.
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It should be noted that in an interview on TSN 690 this past Friday, Hughes said that Gorton was already engaged in NHL trade talks before he hired Hughes and that since Hughes was hired, he too has had teams call him to inquire about who might be available.
“I think Jeff had teams reach out, I’ve had a couple of teams reach out,” Hughes told TSN 690 on Friday. “We’re sharing information, and the reality too in the National Hockey League right now is that there are so many teams, especially the teams that are competing here that are at the top of the standings, with COVID and everything else, most of them have cap issues. So, there haven’t been a lot of substantial trades to this date and I think just the cap flexibility that comes with waiting a little bit longer for a lot of these teams taking on a lot of salaries is relevant. The timing of it all is to be determined. We need to, and me specifically, need to get to know all these players a lot better before we venture down that path.”
Obviously, the Rangers-Habs NHL Trade talks make sense given Gorton was the GM there before he came to the Canadiens.
After a miserable 2021 season, Lehkonen has been a much-better two-way and dependable player for head coach Dominique Ducharme.
“You can play him wherever you want,” Ducharme said after Lehkonen scored in the 3-2 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday night. “You can play on the left or right, who can put him in different roles and he will always keep his identity and his style of play. He had two or three good chances in the first period and I was happy that he got rewarded in the second, first off because it was a big goal for our team, but also because when a player is always engaged like he is, to see that rewarded is well deserved.”
Lehkonen is playing out a one-year contract that carries a $2.3 million cap hit and is eligible for arbitration. Given the Canadiens only have six potential unrestricted free agents on their roster and then 12 restricted free agents – nine, including Lehkonen – eligible for arbitration, it would make tons of sense for Hughes and Gorton to explore every NHL trade option involving Lehkonen right now.