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Montreal Canadiens

Canadiens Trade Defenceman Ahead Of Free Agency

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Montreal Canadiens defenceman Johnathan Kovacevic

The Montreal Canadiens have traded defenceman Johnathan Kovacevic, just a day before free agency opens.

The defenceman was originally claimed on waivers from the Winnipeg Jets, serving as a fantastic depth option for a young blue line that had very little professional experience. The right-handed defencemen ended up producing great numbers alongside Jordan Harris in his first season, but had a hard time finding a permanent role in 2023-24 due to the defensive logjam.

Kovacevic also provided a calming presence in the locker room, maintaining a jovial attitude regardless of the difficulties involved in playing for a rebuilding team.

It’s also worth noting the Canadiens have an abundance of talent on the back-end, with several prospects knocking on the door of a blue line that’s already one of the youngest in the league. Logan Mailloux, David Reinbacher, and Justin Barron are all eying an increased role on the right side, while Lane Hutson, Adam Engstrom, and Jayden Struble are set to provide reinforcements on the left.

The Canadiens will receive a fourth-round pick (2026) return from the New Jersey Devils, a respectable, if not unspectacular return for the 26-year-old defenceman.

This is the second trade that the Canadiens have made with the Devils in recent months, as they also sent veteran goaltender Jake Allen to New Jersey at the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline.

Regardless of the return, seeing as the Montreal Canadiens used no assets to acquire Kovacevic in the first place, not to mention the two years of excellent service he provided to the team, it’s fair to say that the waiver pickup ended up being a stroke of genius that was originally born out of desperation, which is always a nice surprise in the salary-cap landscape.

We would like to thank Kovacevic for his hard work in Montreal and wish him well as he looks to take the next step in his NHL career.

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Tyrone

Man, this is the worst trade HuGo have made since taking over. Kovacevic is a 6’5” beast, right shot Dman. He’s exactly the type of guy we’ll need in the playoffs and would be a perfect 3rd pairing guy. He and Xhekaj would have made an amazing duo when we’re ready to go to war in a couple of years. Statistically, a 4th round pick (and likely a later one too) has like a 20% chance of ever panning out. It’s basically nothing. I understand we need to clear bodies (and welcome it) but the return for Kovacevic is horrible. Plus, he’s not the guy I’d be getting rid of. We can’t have all “mobile” Dmen. We need guys with snarl too. The fact that Kovacevic was a free asset off waivers is irrelevant for me in assessing the value of trading him. Draft picks are also free. It doesn’t tie into the worth of the asset when we move them. I’m really disappointed in this move for multiple reasons.

Tyrone

Obviously, he’s not the one I would have chosen to move, however I felt he should have been worth WAY more than a 4th rounder. I think at minimum a 2nd rounder for sure.

Randy

C’mon man. He was a 7th or 8th D on the Habs last season. You think there’s a team out there willing to give up a 2nd (the same return Calgary got for Tanev at the deadline)?

Last edited 20 days ago by Randy
Tyrone

Obviously not, or that’s what we would have gotten. But that’s what he was worth to me. We shouldn’t have traded him away before Savard or Barron.

gig young

How about ninth with Mailloux and Hutson here now.

ADT

A third would have been a worthy return, but a fourth is better than losing him on waivers.

Tyrone

But trading away Savard or Barron first would also be better. And why would we lose him on waivers? We wouldn’t be sending him to Laval. Guhle, Xhekaj, Harris, Matheson, Barron and Kovacevic and Savard are 7D. Struble, Mailloux, Hutson are all waiver exempt and should be in Laval.

ADT

I think he would have ended up on waivers, as at least one of the last three you mentioned will be up and down from Laval (and maybe Rheinbacher as well).

Tyrone

Only if there were injuries. They wouldn’t call up somebody otherwise. No sense losing an asset for no reason.

morrisk

This is much about nothing. They’re going to have too many defenseman this season. This guy can’t score any points. I understand your point about wanting some grit and some snarl. But in today’s nhl, you got to produce at least something. That’s why they shipped him out. He was the one who needed to go, not someone else. The return was totally fair.

You should have made this kind of a fuss when we traded Toffoli for almost nothing, instead of Anderson. Same thing when we brought Petry back and then got rid of him for a bag of peanuts.

Last edited 19 days ago by morrisk
Tyrone

I did complain about the Toffoli trade and the Petry trade. 😁

We have plenty of Dmen to generate points. Certainly more than guys with snarl. A 4th rounder is useless, but the big issue for me beyond the return is the fact we got rid of the wrong RD. Savard would have brought back a better return and we certainly don’t need him.

morrisk

And perhaps Savard will go at some point this season, before the TDL. As may Matheson. For better returns than Kovac. But right now, these two are needed as “insurance policies” on both sides, to make sure none of the young ones don’t slip up and get sent back to the minors. These two are the vets that are needed now. Kovac was not needed now.

Funny, both Savard and Anderson were 4th round picks. YOU NEVER KNOW.

Tyrone

I agree that you never know when drafting a guy but I’m just going with percentages. We can all find a decent list of players drafted from each round, but there’s at least 5x the guys from that round that don’t work out.

gig young

He did have more points than Xhekaj and never played on the powerplay.

gig young

There are too many players passing him on the right side – which is better getting a fourth round pick or losing him on waivers. Reinbacher, Mailloux, Barron, Savard all are I believe better than him.

morrisk

100% correct.

Greg

Just because we got 2 years out of a waiver claim doesn’t mean we should be happy with the return, in fact it makes it worse. Two years of steady, reliable right shot defence at under a million on a rebuilding team. I believe he led all players with a plus 9 last year, and he wasn’t buried on the 3rd pair every game. If you buy that Corsi–5 on 5 +/- when translated into an actual hockey stat rather than some wad’s irrelevant last name–tells anything real about driving play, then we traded one of our better play drivers for a bag of pucks, essentially. A kid can go through high school before that prospect will be ready, if he ever is ready. For a “coveted” right shooting defenceman that will be playing NHL hockey the whole time, barring injury.

This is what happens when you have so many quality defencemen–you get schooled on the trade. This was a weak return.

mikeysl

lol
everyone screaming we have to move out defencemen… just not THAT one.. or THAT one.. crazy.
I like Kovy and I think he could have been given more ice …earned … that barron. But the upside is what counts.

I hope he has a great career …seems like a good dude.
I hope he gets more ice in Jersey..

Ghg55

How on earth are there negative reactions to this? So many reasons why that doesn’t make sense.

1. He was easily our most expendable defender. He’s literally a waiver claim that plays at the bottom of OUR lineup and… we’re not good lol. Savard (who I also expect to be traded) provides far more experience and leadership, but will also take time to make a trade for as teams need their cap structure settled around this time to see if they can take the bigger hit. Matheson is currently rly our number 1/2 D (depending on how high you are on guhle) and all the rest are MUCH younger, with MUCH more upside and under team control, in most cases, for much longer.

2. We needed to make room. Barron, reinbacher, Mailloux, and some of the LD who can play RD need ice time. Enough said.

3. “Fourth round picks don’t have value!” Pretty sure we saw some trades with later picks used to move up slots and grab players that that fell and had great upside at the draft just a couple days ago…. Also, don’t discount the value it has in trades for players.

4. We can’t just keep everyone with any type of value. Tampa literally let STEVEN STAMKOS walk for nothing. Tons of teams have had to lose MUCH better and more valuable players than kovacevic and gone on to win. Go look at moves the Hawks dynasty had to make. The kings, penguins etc. Sometimes roster space and cap space and things that aren’t picks or specific players have more value. Sometimes you’re doing well enough that although you have something good, you have to lose it for a chance at something great. The kids need to play and grow. If giving this guy up helps reinbach, Barron, or Mailloux get the reps they need to reach their ceilings, not only is a 4th a good return, giving him up for free would’ve made sense.

Don’t look at this like “we could’ve got more” but rather “the rebuild is going well enough that we have to lose players like this to make room for the huge number of NHL-caliber defenders we have”.

Plus… he’s literally a 5-7D. Getting anything is good

Eddy

Am I correct when I say that Savard is now the only experienced right handed defensemen?. And there seems to be an excess of left handed defensemen.