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Canadiens Mailbag: Habs Trade Deadline, Xhekaj’s Impact, Harris



Montreal Canadiens GM Kent Hughes

With the season winding down and the NHL’s Trade Deadline looming, it’s time for another edition of the Montreal Canadiens Mailbag.

In this edition, we discuss the potential trades leading up to the deadline, perception versus value, Arber Xhekaj’s impact, and why we have to stop throwing Jordan Harris into every trade proposal.

Oh, and I got to discuss one of my favourite players of all time, Lyle Odelein, who happens to be the pride of Quill Lake, Saskatchewan.

I’d like to thank everyone who provided a question for this mailbag. I couldn’t get to all the queries, but we did cover the most popular topics. If you’d like to have your question answered in the next mailbag, don’t forget to drop it in a comment below the article.

Now let’s get to those Habs fan questions!

It didn’t work out in the long run, but I always thought the deadline deal that brought Tomas Vanek to the Habs during the 2013-14 season was a very smart trade by former general manager Marc Bergevin.

The Canadiens sent prospect Sebastian Collberg and a second-round pick (Johnathan MacLeod) to the New York Islanders in exchange for Vanek and a fifth-round pick (Nikolas Koberstein).

Neither pick amounted to much, and Sebastian Collberg never ended up playing an NHL game, but the brilliance in the deal was that Vanek was rumoured to have a very elevated price tag. He was among the few talented forwards available on the trade market, which meant that several teams were interested in his services, especially since he was set to become an unrestricted agent once the season was over, limiting any long-term impact on the NHL’s salary cap.

The Canadiens swooped in at the last minute to acquire a player who would not only move the needle but would also fill a need by providing a relatively consistent source of offence.

Vanek would go on to score six goals and nine assists in 18 regular season games, in addition to scoring five goals and five assists as the Canadiens made their way to the Eastern Conference Final.

Without Carey Price to secure the crease, the Canadiens were eventually eliminated by the team’s current head coach, Martin St-Louis, who had recently been moved to the New York Rangers after forcing the Lightning to trade him prior to the deadline.

But regardless of the result, it was a worthwhile gamble by the Canadiens.

Of course, we can also discuss the deal that sent the ghost of Thomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Phillip Danault and a second-round pick (Alexander Romanov).

Much like the trade that saw Craig Rivet head to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Josh Gorges and a first-round pick (Max Pacioretty), it’s still paying off seeing as Kirby Dach, the player the Canadiens eventually acquired in exchange for Romanov, should play a big part in the team’s rebuild.

However, I don’t think anyone would judge either trade as underrated.

Arber Xhekaj is certainly a rare breed.

Very few NHLers have the ability to produce strong underlying numbers while also providing an important physical presence.

The NHL is evolving and there’s simply no room for terrible enforcers who only look to other enforcers to justify their paycheques.

That’s why Xhekaj has so much value.

Sure, once in a while, he’ll steal a player’s soul at centre ice, and that’s incredibly entertaining. We can’t forget that fans who spend their hard-earned money to make a pilgrimage to the Bell Centre deserve, at the very least, a modicum of excitement.

But beyond his granite fists, Xhekaj is a very useful player. He has one of the heaviest shots in the NHL and his underlying numbers are quite encouraging.

We tend to see people push back on the idea that Xhekaj has value because he mostly plays on the third pairing, which is sheltered. But someone has to play on the third pairing, and Xhekaj has outplayed anyone in the lineup that has been given that same, insulated usage.

I’d argue that the media has been unreasonably harsh when it comes to analyzing Xhekaj’s play, too. He seems to be the only player who has to answer an endless stream of questions when he takes a single penalty, despite having less experience than most players in the lineup.

There’s also the matter of the unfounded narrative that Xhekaj needed to improve his defensive play, which is why the team sent him to the AHL.

It was far from true.

In fact, Xhekaj led all Habs players in defensive impact by a significant margin when he was sent to the Laval Rocket.

But you’re not here to hear me rant about the lack of praise given to Xhekaj for his solid play.

I said it from the very get-go, and my opinion has not changed, Xhekaj still reminds me of one of my favourite players of all time: Lyle Odelein.

For those of you too young to have watched Odelein in action, you may have taken a quick look at his hockeydb page and judged my comparison to be an insult.

But it is not.

I’d argue that Xhekaj is a better skater and has more offensive talent than Odelein. I also doubt he’d pick up a fish, rub it in his glove, and then proceed to facewash an opponent, as Canadiens lore suggests Odelein did back in the day.

But like Xhekaj, Odelein never hesitated to defend his teammates, he scored a very reasonable number of goals given his usage, and was an important part of a team that needed to establish an identity in the NHL before taking the next step in the playoffs.

Simply put, Odelein is a guy you wanted on your side when you went to war, and the same can be said about Xhekaj.



I have a hard time picturing a team wanting to acquire a player like Tanner Pearson, especially when we consider he only has four goals and six assists in 39 games and his possession numbers are far from good. He also has an unfortunate history when it comes to injuries, which will further mitigate his value.

There’s always a chance a team with plenty of cap space will want to improve their depth, but if the Canadiens do manage to move Pearson, I would not expect the return to hold much value.

Such is life when you enter into reclamation projects. The Canadiens have been fortunate in that respect, but not every reclamation project works out.

Statistically speaking, few do.

David Reinbacher will end up playing for the Laval Rocket, but as of now, I can’t give an accurate answer as to when.

It’s a little more complicated than most situations involving prospects.

There are three scenarios in play.

The first would involve avoiding the National League (NL) playout entirely. To do so, they’d have to win out the rest of the season while a team ahead of them in the standings (Rapperswil) implodes.

It’s incredibly unlikely given that EHC Kloten’s lineup would probably lose a seven-game series against the team that featured in ‘Mystery Alaska’.

And I don’t mean how they were portrayed in the movie. I mean if Kloten faced a team full of actors that don’t actually know how to skate, there are decent odds they’d lose. Anyhow, If Kloten pulls off a miracle, Reinbacher will be available on March 5.

The other two scenarios involve Reinbacher arriving either toward the end of March or early April. Click on the link below to read an in-depth breakdown of the situation.

MUST READ: Canadiens Prospect David Reinbacher’s Eventual Arrival In North America

As for Hutson, I will ask for a little patience. We’ll have an article describing his options published by the end of the week.

At this point of the rebuild, I’d like to see what Kaiden Guhle can do in the No.1 defenceman role while also featuring on a team that has a decent amount of defensive depth throughout the rest of the lineup.

Yes, Guhle did play as the No.1 defenceman for a while when Mike Matheson was injured. Not only did he play as a No.1, but he did so while having exactly no previous professional hockey experience.

And he did it while playing with David Savard.

Neither player was ready for the assignment, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue Savard helped Guhle in that situation. That’s why I pay very little mind to the numbers that resulted from that Franken-pairing.

It’s easy to forget Guhle is just 22 years old since he plays with the confidence of a 10-year veteran and he will never back down from a challenge.

That being said, he has been given some of the roughest assignments since entering the league, including playing on his offside.

With a little more experience under his belt and a defensive partner who is well-suited to play on a top pairing, I’d argue there are good odds we will see very positive results from the former Edmonton Oil King.

And beyond Guhle, there’s a litany of left-handed defencemen who are hoping to earn more minutes in the near future. Players like Lane Hutson, Adam Engstrom, Jordan Harris, Arber Xhekaj, and Jayden Struble.

If the Canadiens do end up trading Matheson I’d avoid spending important assets shoring up the top pairing given the team’s wealth of depth in that position.

I’m going to assume Howie is talking about Brendan Gallagher.

The odds of moving Gallagher are quite low. ‘Non-zero’ is probably the best way of putting it.

On that note, I do like that Howie referenced his better play of late. The perception among Canadiens fans is that Gallagher has lost all value, but it’s far from the truth.

He’s actually playing much better than most would suggest.

I’ll write an in-depth article about Gallagher’s play once the trade deadline passes, but for now, know that he’s one of the few forwards who allows the Habs to control over 50 percent of the shots and goals when he’s on the ice.

For the record, if Howie was referencing Joel Armia, I’d provide the exact same answer. He’s much better than most assume, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for a deal between now and the deadline.

The most likely trade partners for the Habs will be teams looking to shore up their goaltending depth.

Teams like the Colorado Avalanche, the New Jersey Devils, the Carolina Hurricanes, and even the Edmonton Oilers are still in play.

Frankly, I’m a little shocked teams haven’t already made a move for a Habs goaltender, though the word on the street is that Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes is asking for more than you’d typically pay for a goalie, which could be holding up the potential deals.

And there’s also the fact that the three-goalie situation has finally come home to roost, with all three goaltenders having suffered a significant downtick in their results since January 1.

I don’t expect the Habs to be all that busy on trade deadline day. If they’re going to move a goalie or a veteran skater, I expect it to happen in the ramp-up to the deadline rather than the deadline itself.

Hughes has never hesitated to pull the trigger on a deal he likes, regardless of the timing.

But when it comes to significant trades, you’re wise to reference the NHL Draft.

Expect the Canadiens to once again use their draft capital to acquire a player or two that can make an immediate positive impact in the lineup, as they did when they acquired Alex Newhook and Kirby Dach.

Even though players do not believe in tanking, there’s also a point of diminishing returns when it comes to giving your all in a season that is already lost.

And we usually hit that point in the last 10 or so games of the season, when players who are not participating in the playoffs book their trips down south.

On that note, the Habs have actually put together some of their strongest performances of the season in recent games, despite losing five in a row.

If the goaltending can get back on track, a late-season surge is not out of the question.

But for now, the Habs are losing games in which they provide an honest effort. This means they’re improving their 2024 NHL Draft Lottery odds while also taking the next step as a team, the perfect situation for a rebuilding organization.

MUST READ: Canadiens Rebuild Provides Silver-Lining in Difficult Stretch Of The Season

We’ve seen Jordan Harris’ name in trade rumours since the first day he entered the league.

I’m not sure why everyone is in such a rush to move him. As David mentions in the tweet, Harris is on a reasonable contract and is much younger than some of his defensive counterparts.

On top of it, he produces very encouraging numbers.

Harris is the only defenceman other than Xhekaj who has managed to control more than 50 percent of the team’s expected goals while he’s on the ice this season.

The 2023-24 campaign started on the wrong foot, and a pair of injuries slowed him down, but Harris is now back to playing very good hockey for the Canadiens.

In my opinion, he should not be considered a throw-in for a trade, even if the Habs do have a lot of defensive depth.

I get the sense many of the trade proposals assume that Harris does not have a long-term role on the team, but again, I’d point to his results as a reason why he certainly holds value in the Canadiens lineup.

No, he’s not flashy. And no, he doesn’t stand out as a dominant presence.

But he helps the Habs win whenever he’s on the ice, which is quite rare when discussing the team’s current blueliners.