With his name swirling in NHL trade rumours over the last month, and Artturi Lehkonen coming off a two-goal game and another solid two-way performance, the Canadiens must capitalize on Lehkonen’s trade value before the March 21 NHL Trade Deadline.
Lehkonen has been one of Montreal’s most consistent two-way players for years now, and teams like the New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, and Vegas Golden Knights have taken a significant interest in his services. The belief is that Lehkonen could return an interesting package for the Canadiens, should they decide to move him, with insiders like Frank Seravalli comparing his value to that of Blake Coleman’s at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline.
Moving a fan favourite like Lehkonen is not such a slam dunk though. There’s certainly an argument to be made for retaining Lehkonen, who’s slated to be a restricted free agent this summer, one year removed from full unrestricted free agency status next summer. His leadership, defensive play, and clutch scoring in the playoffs support the argument to keep him, and the new Canadiens hockey ops brass of executive vice president Jeff Gorton and general manager Kent Hughes are surely weighing their options as you read this. Is he part of the concept and culture they, and head coach Martin St. Louis have already begun to build on and off the ice?
That answer will likely emerge before March 21.
Contract Status Plays Large Role On NHL Trade Market
One major component in a potential Lehkonen trade would be his potential salary demands, as the hard-nosed Finn is having himself a career year thus far with 22 points in 50 games and on a 36-point pace. Lehkonen would be in his right to demand a similar contract to those signed by Paul Byron and Joel Armia- a four-year deal at $3.4M annually, but both of those players have yet to live up to that salary. Lehkonen could likely even ask for more, likely in the range of $3.5M to $4M if the recent contract signed by Barclay Goodrow ($3.64M AAV for six years) is any indication.
There’s reason to ponder on whether or not Lehkonen would be worth that kind of money playing bottom-6 minutes, especially as the Canadiens gear up to be major players during free agency this summer. Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes will likely look to lighten the financial load on the Habs’ books leading up to the summer, and the cost of retaining Lehkonen, given the significant interest teams are showing in trying to trade for him, might price him out of Hughes’ comfort zone.
NHL Trade Deadline Can Make Room For Youth
The Canadiens also boast an impressive amount of bottom-six type players, such as Byron, Armia, Laurent Dauphin, Ryan Poehling, Jake Evans, Michael Pezzetta, and Christian Dvorak. They also have a few prospects that will be looking to take some of those bottom-six roster spots over the next year in Raphaël Harvey-Pinard, Jesse Ylönen, and Jan Mysak, which further complicates the decision.
The Canadiens log-jam on the wings is likely the only thing keeping a player like Ylönen in the AHL, as he looked mighty impressive in a top-9 role for the Habs during his most recent call-up. He may not have the same defensive excellence that Lehkonen does, but his game is very well rounded and he could be a better offensive asset with the minutes Lehkonen is currently given. A player like Ylönen also fits into the speed and skill identity that Hughes is envisioning for his roster, making him a shoo-in call-up if ever a player like Lehkonen is moved.
An absolute laser from Jesse Ylonen for his first NHL goal. 💥 pic.twitter.com/TKRtGyciet
— NHL (@NHL) December 15, 2021
What Is Lehkonen’s Value On NHL Trade Market
In no way should the Canadiens move Lehkonen at the NHL Trade Deadline for anything short of a haul, which, in the context of a heart-and-soul bottom-six player, should be similar to what Goodrow or Coleman fetched in 2020: A 1st round pick (and another asset if possible). It doesn’t make sense to trade Lehkonen for a package of low-end futures like a 2nd round pick + a B prospect, as Lehkonen holds more value than that to the team on a regular basis. However, if the parameters of a deal similar to that of Coleman’s, which saw him return a 1st round pick and former 1st rounder Nolan Foote for the New Jersey Devils, is on the table, the Canadiens must pounce.
If the Canadiens do have teams willing to offer NHL-ready prospects or high picks for Lekhonen, they must entertain that interest and act on it if the offer is there. This is the peak of Lehkonen’s value across the NHL, and, after missing out on the opportunity to cash in on the value of Tomas Tatar at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the hope is the Canadiens won’t let a valuable player slip away for nothing yet again.