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Montreal Canadiens State Of the Rebuild – Grading NHL Trades

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Montreal Canadiens, Artturi Lehkonen

Now that the Montreal Canadiens have completed their second complete rebuild season, it’s time to take a closer look at where the organization stands in terms of its long-term plans.

The ‘State Of The Rebuild’ series will evaluate several categories, including current NHL talent, prospect value, draft capital, trades, coaching, contracts, and management.

Today we will examine the important trades made by Kent Hughes since he took over as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens.

State Of The Montreal Canadiens Rebuild Series – Published

Montreal Canadiens Trades

Kent Hughes has made 27 since pulling off his first trade as general manager of the team, a minor deal that saw the Habs acquire Andrew Hammond in exchange for Brandon Baddock.

Two days later he made his first major move, sending forward Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Tyler Pitlick, Emil Heineman, a 2022- first-round pick (Filip Mesar), a 2023 fifth-round pick (Yevgeni Volohkin) and a conditional fourth-round pick (conditions not met).

While some have argued this was a poor return on Toffoli, we can look to the recent trade deadline move that sent Toffoli (50% retained) to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a 2025 second-round pick and 2024 third-round pick. The trade from the Devils to the Jets was a little different, in that Toffoli is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer

Even though Toffoli has a history of scoring on whichever team he plays for, general managers don’t seem willing to pony up high-end assets to acquire him. However, when he was moved from the Habs to the Flames he still had term left on his very reasonable contract, which would suggest Hughes did not hit a home run in his first significant trade. On that note, the Habs still acquired two assets that could play a role in the team’s rebuild in Heineman and Mesar, while Volohkin was recently named the best goaltender in the MHL.

Individual Trade Grade: This is a ‘sum of the parts’ trade for the Canadiens, and those rarely work out. There’s still a chance Mesar can match the impact Toffoli made in the lineup, but the odds are against him given his current projection.

5/10 (with the potential to improve should Mesar thrive)

 

Hughes’ second significant trade was nearly perfect. Ben Chiarot (50% retained) was traded to the Florida Panthers for Ty Smilanic, a 2024 fourth-round pick (Cedrick Guindon), and a 2024 first-round pick (Mikhail Gulyayev).

Chiarot would go on to play 20 regular season and 10 playoff games for the Panthers before signing a long-term contract with the Detroit Red Wings the following summer.

Individual Trade Grade:  It remains to be seen if the Habs will Guindon, whereas Smilanic was never expected to amount to much in terms of NHL value, but any time you can trade a defenceman who puts up some of the worst underlying numbers in the NHL for a first-round pick, you’ve done well. The Habs eventually traded the pick to the Avalanche in the Alex Newhook trade. More on that later.

9/10

 

The Canadiens then proceeded to move stalwart forward Artturi Lehkonen (50% retained) to the Colorado Avalanche for Justin Barron and a 2024 second-round pick (Col. No.58).

This may be Hughes’ worst trade during his short time as the Montreal Canadiens general manager. Lehkonen would go on to become a crucial part of one of the best lineups in the NHL. He didn’t just score the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Avalanche, he also filled important gaps in the lineup once injuries started to pile up.

It’s a good reminder that usage is incredibly important when analyzing players. Lehkonen was seen as a third-line player with the Canadiens because he was tasked with difficult defensive assignments and was not given an opportunity to play significant minutes on the powerplay, whereas the Avalanche saw him as a complete player with untapped offensive potential.

Lehkonen continues to play a crucial role for the Avalanche, a team considered one of the favourites to win the Stanley Cup this season.

The good news is that the book has not yet closed on Barron’s NHL potential. Even though he only played 48 games, Barron scored seven goals for the Canadiens this year, finishing four goals behind Mike Matheson, who did not miss a game this season. This means Barron spent half the season in Laval and still managed to outproduce every other right-handed defenceman in goals scored. His defensive acumen needs to improve, but he does bring a relatively important source of offence to the table for the Habs.

The second-round pick (2024) will also eventually influence our reaction to the trade.

Individual Trade Grade: Some will suggest Lehkonen could have never reached the same level had he stayed in Montreal, but the Canadiens sure could use a player of his ilk in the lineup as they attempt to take the next step in their rebuild. Barron has potential, but it’s unlikely he matches the positive impact made by Lehkonen.

2/10 (with the potential to improve should Barron become a regular NHL player)

 

The next trade was a home run combined with a hail-mary touchdown and a game-winning three-point bucket.

Brett Kulak (50% retained) was traded to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for William Lagesson, a 2022 second-round pick, and a 2024 seventh-round pick.

The second-round pick ended up being none other than phenom Lane Hutson.

Individual Trade Grade: Edmonton is probably fine with this deal, even if they know they gave up an opportunity to draft Hutson. Kulak has done a great job stabilizing what is otherwise a questionable blueline for the Oilers.

The Canadiens are also thrilled with the deal, as it allowed them to put their hands on the most talented prospect to go through their system in the last 20 years or so.

This trade was the epitome of a win-win scenario, though given Hutson’s potential you could easily argue this is one of the most important trades made by the team since Hughes took over.

10/10

 

The biggest trade to take place with Hughes at the helm involved a pair of deals that eventually landed Kirby Dach.

The Habs sent Alexander Romanov and a 2022 fourth-round pick (No.98 Isaiah Goerge) to the New York Islanders for a 2022 first-round pick (No.13). They added a 2022 third-round pick (No.66 Gavin Hayes) to the mix and moved the first-rounder to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Dach. The Blackhawks picked talented prospect Frank Nazar with the 13th overall pick in 2022.

First off, Romanov was a very entertaining player, but his underlying numbers were uglier than a poutine made with shredded cheese. Trading him for the 13th overall pick was a masterclass by Hughes.

Acquiring Dach was encouraging, as he represents one of the few players in the lineup who can improve his linemates while maintaining strong production and possession numbers. But as we noted in a previous edition of the State Of The Rebuild series, Dach’s injuries are certainly a cause for concern.

Dach has missed almost half of the 410 games in which he could have participated during his time in the NHL. He’s also missed almost 65 percent of the available games since joining the Canadiens.

His numbers during the few games in which he remained healthy have been excellent, mind you. The Habs can afford to be patient in his case. And yet, while Dach is a very talented player who could play a big role in the team’s future, his penchant for being involved in plays that lead to season-ending injuries significantly mitigates his overall value.

Individual Trade Grade: If Dach can stay healthy next season, the concern about his health will fall to the wayside, but for now it’s only fair to say his injury history is a red flag, especially considering how important he could be in the rebuild. Nazar has also emerged as a top prospect, putting a little more pressure on Dach to contribute on a nightly basis.

6.5/10 (with the potential to improve if Dach can stay healthy).

 

Tune in tomorrow when we examine the high-profile trades made by the Canadiens this season, not to mention the conclusion and final grade for all the trades made by Kent Hughes and Co.


Do you agree or disagree with the grades given to the trades in this article? If so, let us know what you think in the comments!

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John

our return for Toffoli was bigger than any return he’s ever fetched (including the price the Nucks paid for him in his prime)… I’d say the return was excellent for an aging player that is a poor skater. Just because we haven’t seen much from the return yet doesn’t mean we lost the trade… Mesar is promising and that Russian goalie looks legit.
Lekky was never going to get the same opportunity or line mates in Montreal and he was also due a raise when we were still tight against the cap… Barron might not have panned out yet and we haven’t even used the 2nd rounder yet either, but it was still a solid return for us… just because it was a homerun for the Avs doesn’t mean it was a bad deal, it should still become a win-win when it settles… Sakic is even on record saying as much as he likes Lekky, he overpaid to get him, but he’s glad he did.
Romanov and a few picks for Dach was brilliant, don’t let the injuries to Dach taint how awesome that trade is for our future…

Ghg55

Exactly. People finding flaws in these trades are misguided at best. The avs have 2 of the top 5 players in the nhl, and 3 of the top 10-12. Lehky was never sniffing anywhere close to the kind of production he is now on this habs team. But we’re supposed to judge the trade based on his hypothetical production if only a bottom feeding team had used him better? We realize that any one of Maxkinnon, Makar, and rantanen would be the best player this team has had in almost 30 years right (outside of price)? Acting like “well lehky could’ve done this or close to it with better deployment” is so unbelievably absurd. We are NOTHING like the avs. You can’t judge a trade based on what an established player suddenly does when they move from a bottom feeder to the champs with 3 likely hall of famers, if not more. It’s not like he was 18 with a ton of development runway so they bet on his future. Even if lehky were 30% better than he his, he’d probably still produce LESS on this team because the gaps in the roster.

Ghg55

Just to clarify, my first line sounds like I think they’re perfect. I don’t. But the fact we got the most Toffoli has ever gotten in a trade and he also isn’t like some 40g dynamo means the trade is probably a 7.5-8, and lehky, again, wasn’t doing this with us. That’s probably another 7 at worst. Especially since that pick can be used for a great player still (this management group finds a great value past the first round)

Chuck C

And to validate your point even more, look at Drouin’s production with the Avs

John Smith

“Reaching” and “multi billion dollar industry”

Pierre B.

I agree and I think it’s unfair to grade a trade by taking into account who the Canadiens drafted with draft picks obtained. Both Beck and Hutson were available. Would the trade have been better if the Canadiens would have drafted one of them with the pick obtained in the said trade instead? It seems so by reading the article. Other very promising prospects were also available including Kulish who was drafted just two ranks later.

Last edited 12 days ago by Pierre B.
Bev Seney

Letkone turns 29 in the off season. That makes him 31-32 by the time the habs are ready to compete. Barron is a young defenceman with good offensive talent. We all know defensemen take longer to mature. HD he aged a full 82 game schedule he probably would have score more goals than Matheson, probably not as many points. But cannot see him being that much worse defensively than Matheson’s -27. Some advantages to being a RD as well. I rate the trade as a 5/10 for now and maybe better if Barron matures and the #2 pick becomes a NHL PLAYER.

John Smith

My dad would often say, “Don’t applaud the marathoner until the race is over.” 

Look how long it took Mike Matheson to begin teaching his potential. He had to play for three teams in the process. Defensemen take a super long time to develop. They are not like forwards. 

I always felt that the CBA should recognize this reality when it comes to both waivers and free agency. Teams pay millions in developmental costs only to lose their nearly ripened products. 

The league’s rules on these matters should add 3 extra years for goalies and 2 for defensemen. 

As far as trades go, fans should look at them in terms of totality. If you make more good trades than bad ones, then all is well. Think of this like the Casino industry. The house wins 51% of the time. This 2% difference maintains a billion dollar industry.

tony

Poor and contraditory analysis. The Toffoli deal was a great return as his usefulness in Montreal was coming to an end. Lehkonen trade was also a winner. He was due for a raise and we would not have resigned him. He is on a championship team and is playing a different role than with the habs so we are happy for his successbut to negate his retirnis foolish. We got a defenseman with loades of pottential that is at the very least an asset that could bring us another very good player. Cant judge these trades as a winn or loose but by the totality of the results. We got younger,faster and better,

Terry

No, the habs didnt got better because they traded Lekohnen. The habs got better because being free agent, Lekhonen would NOT have resigned in MTL, since we didnt had the salary cap to sign him and we wouldve gain nothing at the end of the year if he signed elsewhere.

Getting a prospect and a draft pick for a player who will most likely not stay with the team IS a huge improvement.

Lekhonen was on pace for a 41 pts year when we traded him ( his best season in career). So we trade a 40pts player who was a free agent at the end of the year for a young defense prospect and a draft pick. That’s not a loss, and it’s far from a bad trade.

Pierre B.

Judging the trades only based on how they impact the team in the short and medium term does not acknowledge the ultimate objective of the top management at the time. Getting rid of players who were good then to acquire assets that increase the probability of having a good team much later makes sense in the context of a rebuild. Not every draft pick will yield a good result, but statistically each one contributes. One should not deny that the rebuilding strategy includes a tanking component. Just being mediocre does not allow the team to draft top talents; for that, a team needs to be bad. In this context, getting rid of Lehkonen and Toffoli might have been a prerequisite to draft someone like Slafkovsky.

I doubt that if Chicago hadn’t rid themselves of players like DeBrincat, Dach, etc.; they might not have landed Bedard and the 2024 #2 overall.

Greg

I don’t necessarily agree with the number rankings, but Hughes did lose several trades by how they look so far. I did not see the first Monahan deal mentioned which is a bit surprising, but maybe the plan is to package it as one trade?
Also, what about Petry and Poehling for Matheson? A trade that cost Penguins a playoff spot, imo, and allowed for the further damage which was the Karlsson trade. Funny fact is that Matheson outscored Karlsson this season. Meanwhile, Matheson has set career highs both years as a Hab. Maybe he only could do this as a Hab, but we’ll take it.