All the stars are aligning for the Montreal Canadiens, as the Ryan O’Reilly trade has put them in a good position going into the NHL Trade Deadline.
By the halfway point of the season, four bonafide top-six centres were likely to be available on the NHL trade market.
Bo Horvat, Jonathan Toews, Ryan O’Reilly and Sean Monahan were seen as the four likeliest centres to go in this year’s pending free-agent class; and two are already off the board.
With Horvat already gone to the Islanders and O’Reilly now a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, only Toews and Monahan remain.
Both Horvat and O’Reilly were traded for 2023 1st-round picks and additions of other picks or prospects, setting the tone for what the top-end price point would look like for a top-six centre.
But timing is so important when it comes to the NHL Trade Deadline.
The Montreal Canadiens recently had Sean Monahan return from his injury purgatory this week, going from skating before practice last week, to practicing with the team this week.
It does seem like the 28-year-old veteran is close to returning, despite still practicing in a non-contact jersey on Saturday.
Getting into a handful of games over the next two weeks will help convince general managers that Monahan could help them down the stretch; and the timing couldn’t be better.
With the two big fish off the board, and Jonathan Toews now seemingly being put on Injured Reserve by the Chicago Blackhawks due to a lingering illness, the pickings have suddenly become slim for buyers in the market for a top-six centre.
Despite having his worst statistical season in quite some time, O’Reilly, along with Noel Acciari, returned quite the package from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The St. Louis Blues received a 2023 1st round-pick, a 2024 2nd-round pick, Ottawa’s 2023 3rd-round pick, Adam Gaudette and Mikhail Abramov for O’Reilly and Acciari.
Of note, St-Louis retained 50% of O’Reilly’s $7.5M salary, and the Minnesota Wild then retained an additional 50% (25% of the $7.5M salary) in exchange for a 2025 4th-round pick.
It’s a pretty substantial haul for the former Stanley Cup winner and the dependable Noel Acciari.
This return, along with the return that was received for Bo Horvat, can now help one to decipher what Monahan, who would likely be on the low end at this point, could command if he does return with a full bill of health.
Measuring The Market
It’s very unlikely that Monahan could net anywhere near that return, despite having a statistically better season than O’Reilly.
Monahan has had the better statistical season, putting up 17 points in 25 games, compared to O’Reilly’s 19 points in 40 games.
He’s even posted slightly better underlying numbers, with the Canadiens controlling 53% of shots while he’s on the ice, against the 49% controlled shot rate the Blues had with O’Reilly.
Monahan has also bested O’Reilly in the faceoff circle as well, posting a sparkling 55.1% efficacy rate compared to O’Reilly’s 54.1%
Despite all that, Monahan’s injury history is what likely holds him back from netting that high of a return.
Having missed the large part of the previous two season with hip issues, and missing substantial time this season with a lower-body injury is bound to raise some concerns.
Could a healthy and productive Monahan net a 2023 1st-round pick? It’s looking less likely, but, that could change if he could play some games next week.
Monahan was initially linked to the Colorado Avalanche in the past, a team that continues to look for a top-six centre to help balance out their team.
There are a few other clubs across the league looking to shore up their centre depth as well.
Time is of the essence for the Montreal Canadiens and general manager Kent Hughes, but timing is now looking to be firmly on their side heading toward March 3.