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What’s next for Canadiens’ rebuild?


The NHL trade market is beginning to creak open, with Monday’s Tyler Toffoli trade changing the landscape in the Pacific Division. Could it spur other deals in the days ahead?

As the Calgary Flames make their big move, a number of other players remain on the long list of trade candidates. We still expect the Colorado Avalanche to be a team to watch and they are firmly tied to Claude Giroux — nothing new in the rumour mill.

A number of teams will be in the market, though, whether to make a big move or something more around the edges. In fact the Montreal Canadiens, who were on the selling side of Monday’s trade with the Flames, still have a few other trade candidates they could move out.

That’s where we’ll start today’s Rumour Roundup. By trading a scorer with term like Toffoli away, Habs management seems to be indicating this will be closer to a rebuild than a retool. So, not only do they have rentals they could toss into the market, but the Canadiens could surprise in other ways as well.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE CANADIENS?

The rebuild has begun in Montreal, starting with Monday’s trade of Toffoli to the Flames — the Canadiens got a top-10 protected 2022 first-rounder, 2023 fifth-rounder, prospect Emil Heinemann (Florida second-rounder in 2020) and Tyler Pitlick (completing a Pitlick monopoly) in return.

The Habs now stand with 12 picks this summer in a draft they’re set to host (as long as capacity limits allow), two of which are first-rounders. But we’re still over a month away from the March 21 trade deadline and the front office tandem of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes will surely move more from the current group.

Ben Chiarot, injured over the weekend, is out for at least a week, but probably not much more than that according to Sportsnet’s Eric Engels. This is a short-term injury and Chiarot will assuredly go somewhere else before long. There isn’t a more popular asset at the deadline than rental defencemen, and rumoured teams interested in Chiarot have included the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, Carolina Hurricanes, the New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and even the Flames again.

The interest could go deeper than even that, setting up for a return that will position the Canadiens even better at the draft.

“It’s definitely going to be at least a first-round pick,” Engels said over the weekend. “There are as many as 12 teams interested in this player.”

The comparable often cited for Chiarot is David Savard, who the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired at last year’s deadline. That was a three-team trade to keep Savard’s remaining cap hit even lower, so the Lightning moved first-, third- and fourth-rounders.

But, as we saw with the Toffoli trade, the Canadiens are open for business and not necessarily for rentals only. Jeff Petry, at 34 years old, doesn’t appear to fit into Montreal’s window anymore and could be dealt — though whether that’s easier done in the off-season remains to be seen.

Petry’s situation is complicated by the fact he makes $6.25 million against the cap for another three years past this one and is having quite the down year. The 13th-highest scoring defenceman from 2017-18 through 2020-21 and a gem of a pickup by former GM Marc Bergevin, Petry has just two goals and seven points in 41 games. Age-related decline or a result of the playing through the mire Montreal finds itself caught in this season? That question will be for an interested team to sort out, but the Habs will be looking to sell Petry at his former value, or close to it.

“I think the Canadiens are doing what they can to gauge his value and potentially move him before the trade deadline,” Engels said. “Everyone is talking about the Dallas Stars, they’re losing John Klingberg — it seems like he’s going to be traded — you’re able to bring in a right-handed defenceman of Petry’s stature that helps.”

The Stars are eighth in the West by points percentage, but out of a wild card spot by three points and wrestling with how to approach the deadline. Klingberg, a pending UFA, seems highly likely to move by March 21, but he makes $2 million less than Petry, so simply swapping them in separate deals wouldn’t work for the capped-out Stars. This is a league-wide issue generally — 16 teams are in LTIR and effectively unable to take on more cap.

One way to maybe get there would be for the Canadiens to retain salary in trade, though again, it’s key to remember that dead cap space would be on their books for another three years. This is why it might be easier to move Petry in the summer, when the market is bigger and teams can go 10 per cent over the cap. This is what the Canadiens front office has to be weighing right now.

“You look at Dallas, maybe Detroit, some other teams interested in this player — they would prefer to have a Jeff Petry who’s making $5 million bucks,” Engels continued. “Are the Canadiens willing to retain money to get him out the door and get a decent return for him? I’m not sure that’s the case right now. It might change between now and the deadline, but they’re telling teams you’re taking Petry as he is if you want him.”

And since rebuilding requires clearing cap space — whether for future signings, or general flexibility — there is even some wonder if a player like Josh Anderson could be moved. Like Toffoli, Anderson was signed to a termed deal in October of 2020, though his runs another five seasons beyond this one. A bull of a power forward, Anderson’s game type is coveted come playoff or crunch time, though his term and $5.5 million AAV may be too much to swallow for most teams — and besides, the Canadiens may prefer to just hold on to him for the time being anyway. After all, you still need NHL players on your roster, and would prefer those who make you hard to play against.

“The Montreal Canadiens want Josh Anderson on their team,” Engels said. “The Canadiens haven’t had a player like him going back to John LeClair. If you want Josh Anderson on your team — and the Canadiens are obviously listening on all their players — they want to know what the value is perceived in the marketplace versus the value to their team, but given the team that Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton want to build here Anderson figures to be a part of it. If you want him, it’s going to cost a ton.”

WHAT HERTL THINKS OF RE-SIGNING vs. LEAVING SAN JOSE

After a few years of being right near the bottom of the league, the San Jose Sharks are at least still in the running this season, though a path to the playoffs likely only comes through the wild card. They’ll have to get over five teams to get there, so it’ll be a tough climb regardless.

So a big decision for the team will be what to do with 28-year-old Tomas Hertl, a pending UFA who also has to consider where he’s at in his career, what the market will be for a player like him, and where the Sharks are tracking to be as competitors in the league. Last week, San Jose acting GM Joe Will was steadfast that he’s only interested in negotiating with the player, not trading him, and indicated his belief that Hertl wanted to remain a Shark.

Hertl spoke over the weekend and while he certainly seemed open to staying with the Sharks, the door seemed to be open for some other direction.

“I’ve always wanted to stay,” Hertl said, via SJ Hockey Now’s Sheng Peng. “It’s great when you play for one team in your whole career and you can say I was like with the Sharks forever. Not many guys in the NHL just stay with [one] organization and give the fans, the city everything.”

He then added: “Some guys say sometimes it’s nice to get with other teams. You switch it up, you can even get better, get new things.”

The Sharks are at an interesting time, with some expensive veteran contracts mixed with some younger potential coming through. Mario Ferraro, an RFA next summer, has garnered a lot of attention for his devleopment on the blue line and 19-year-old William Eklund flashed early in the year before returning to Sweden. Barring a terrific second half, it does seem more likely than not that this is still a non-playoff team in 2022, though.

Hertl, San Jose’s top goal getter and a solid, productive, top-six centre, will be in line for a big payday in dollars and term if he goes to market. Still in the middle of his prime, Hertl will be seeking the maximum seven years if he goes to market, but the Sharks, for now, will be able to offer an eighth. Given the market and his age, Hertl could command an AAV of $8 million or more.

“I’m not like saying anything 100 per cent because nothing is ever 100 per cent,” Hertl said, according to Peng. “I just say this is my team now when I’m playing and I’m doing all I can. We’ll see what happens in four weeks or the rest of the year. I want to just focus on playing.”

HOW VEGAS DEALT WITH THE CAP FOR JACK EICHEL’S RETURN

Great news in Vegas this week as Jack Eichel will make his debut Wednesday in a huge status game against the Avalanche. In the three months since he was acquired from Buffalo, everyone has been wondering how the Golden Knights would fit Eichel’s $10 million AAV into a fully healthy lineup.

As his health improved and his return became imminent, it was clear that Vegas was going to need to free up roughly $5 million at this point in the season for Eichel. Among the possibilities it has been rumoured that perhaps Reilly Smith would be the player to get moved and the Rangers were floated as a potential landing spot. The idea of moving William Karlsson had been floated in rumours as well. Whatever Vegas was going to do, it seemed they were going to have to trade someone for under market value to make it all work.

However, a back injury to Mark Stone landed him on LTIR this week and that, along with another minor transaction, would be enough to activate both Eichel and Alec Martinez, per Cap Friendly.

Now, if Stone doesn’t return before the playoffs, this will be a Nikita Kucherov-like move and the Golden Knights can run cap compliant for the rest of the regular season. They would then be able to activate Stone, if healthy, in the post-season, where teams may go over the threshold.

If Stone becomes healthy before the end of the regular season, however, then a corresponding move would need to be made and the Golden Knights would be in a pickle again.

As for where Eichel could slot into a Stone-less lineup, Jesse Granger at The Athletic wrote that it appears the centre will go straight to the top of the lineup and play between Max Pacioretty and Evgenii Dadonov.

WHAT DOES GIORDANO WANT TO DO?

Less than one full season after naming Mark Giordano their first captain in team history, the Seattle Kraken are staring down the high possibility that they’ll have to trade him by March 21.

Had the Kraken stayed in the playoff race, Giordano would have had a big hand in that. He logs over 20 minutes a night, plays all situations, is productive and a good presence in the room. In a perfect world, the Kraken would probably still like to re-sign him and try to run things back in 2022-23 in search of a little better luck — especially in net. But the reality of the situation is that the expansion franchise will have solid lottery odds near the bottom of the league standings, with a 38-year-old defenceman who doesn’t have many Stanley Cup runs left in him.

“You definitely realize time is ticking when you get to my age,” Giordano told The Athletic. “You only have so many more cracks at winning the Cup. That’s my goal from here on out in my career. It’s not about anything else but that. We’ll see how it all plays out.”

Giordano is in the last year of his contract and could hit the free agent market in the summer. He’ll turn 39 in October.

As a rental this season, Giordano will be one of the higher value targets available and could bring back the Kraken at least a first-round pick, if not more in a competitive market. According to Cap Friendly, Giordano has partial no-trade protection and can submit a list of 19 teams to which he’d accept a trade. Kraken GM Ron Francis has said he’ll sit down to talk to Giordano about what he wants to do next.

“There’s a lot of things that come into play,” Giordano told The Athletic. “I can’t say, ‘Oh, I want to be out. I want to request a trade’ or anything like that because I don’t. I truly love coming to the rink every day and I enjoy the team. But I also understand sometimes, there is a business side to this sport. I’m honestly going to cross that bridge right when it comes to it. I’m not going to make my mind up until I have a good honest conversation with Ronny.”



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