Editor’s Note: This article was written by Chtib, Co-Host of the Chtib and Zhang Show
The NHL trade deadline is fast approaching the April 12 target date and many teams are still trying to figure out what needs would best suit their squads for a playoff push/run. Then of course, we always have our sellers each year. One team that should already know their needs are the Montreal Canadians.
After losing Ben Chiarot to a fractured hand, the Habs D-man will be sidelined for minimum 6-8 weeks. If that didn’t already scare you, the Canucks and Flames breathing on the back of the Hab’s neck should. The recent play of Thatcher Demko has him looking like Bubble Demko and has propelled the Canucks to an 8-2 record in their last ten games and only two points out of a playoff spot. The Calgary Flames fired their head coach Geoff Ward and replaced him with veteran cup winner Darryl Sutter. The Flames have played significantly better under him going 4-1 since he joined the team.
In a small sample size of 5 games, here are the Montreal Canadians D-men’s Plus/Minus ( +/- ) without Chiarot in the lineup:
Mete: 0 (2games)
Ouellet: -2 (3 games)
Again, a small sample size, however still reason for concern. If Marc Bergervin thinks he can rotate Victor Mete and Xavier Ouellet in and out the lineup for 6 weeks then we might as well accept the idea of missing the playoffs this year. Ouellet seems completely lost at times and hasn’t played enough games yet to build chemistry with the rookie Romanov…if there is ever going to be any!?
Victor Mete’s quick and fast skating ability allows for clean exits of the defensive zone and allows him to join the rush through the neutral zone as a 4th forward. However if he gets checked by any player over 6 feet in his own end, then it could result in a 5on5 powerplay by simply cycling the puck down low to Mete’s side.
To add, Mete was a scoring defenseman in the OHL with the London Knights scoring 105 points in 176 career games (Source: Eliteprospects.com). That offensive game looks non-existent in the NHL, if you are a small defenseman in the NHL you better believe teams are looking for points in exchange for playing time. However, in Mete’s situation he is the next best thing on the Habs Defensive depth chart, which right now is clearly a problem.
O Captain! My Captain! A lot of Habs fans might disagree with this take, but something you should know about me is I keep it 100 with this team. Shea Weber has somehow become a defensive liability and I fear it may continue until Chiarot returns. Remember Chiarot is out for 6-8 weeks. It may seem like age is quickly catching up with Weber or could something else be affecting the captain’s play.
Could Shea Weber be playing through an injury?
It is definitely reasonable to assume so. Weber was fantastic in the bubble vs the Pittsburgh Penguins last season and that transferred over to the start of this season. Now at the midway point Weber has seemingly lost his touch. He looks like he can no longer handle the puck nor make a stretch pass and he is easily being out maneuvered by faster players. Weber doesn’t look like his usual hard checking, boxing out self in front of the net, the best quality of his game over his career is now average.
We know his offensive game has taken a slight dip but for his defensive game to suddenly drop off as well? The D-core now looks less intimidating than it did at the start of the season. History has taught us that even when injured, Shea will never tell us, but is he injured or could it be the loss of Ben Chiarot? I really hope it’s the latter.
The addition of Joel Edmunsdon who leads the league in +/- next to Weber hasn’t really seemed to replace the loss of Chiarot. Weber and Edmundson both play the same type of hockey on the back end, both are big checking defenseman who don’t move the puck quite like Chiarot. It seems Habs fans will have to wait longer to see Romanov consistently play alongside Weber.
This is why Marc Bergervin needs to make a trade for a top 4 defenseman before the trade deadline, to assure a playoff berth and in Bergervin’s case assure himself another season as the GM of the Montreal Canadians. There seems to be no top 4 defenseman available in the North Division and why would they be? No one wants to aid their divisional opponent in winning a Stanley cup. Thus, Bergevin has to look to the South in acquiring a D.
The best option without a doubt is Mattias Ekholm of the Nashville Predators. A Left-handed defenseman who can easily slot into the left of Weber. I like to think of him as the Walmart version of Roman Josi (that might sound bad), but I bet a lot of the defensemen in the league would love to be known as that. Reason I call him that is because he shares the same offensive style as Josi; an ability to drive the play or even jump up as a fourth forward because he is also a very underrated skater. Of course doesn’t put up the same numbers, hence the analogy.
What kind of game does he play in his own zone you ask? Well of course with his size he’s strong in front of his own net, great at boxing out opponents and plays hard in the corners, as well as puck handling ability. In all, to simplify things he’s a way better Ben Chiarot
Per Elliot Friedman, Nashville’s asking price seems very similar to the one the Kings received for Jake Muzzin from the Leafs, A first round pick and two prospects. Now I’m not going to make up mock trades, however if I were to make one I’d give them a first, third, Byron and Gianni Fairbrother (20 yrs. old, D-man, 77th overall 2019).
Marc Bergevin has gone on record saying he has zero flexibility nor desire to trade a roster player, but don’t be so naive. Is it so hard to replace a checking winger who doesn’t score? Sorry not sorry Paul Byron. Ekholm carries a cap hit of 3.75 million and Paul Byron’s contract is set at 3.4 million, would the Montreal Canadians be losing a trade that involves losing Byron and getting a guy like Ekholm. (Source: Capfriendly.com)
Marc Bergevin has never traded a first-round pick as GM of the Montreal Canadians but now is the time with this year’s NHL draft being considerably weaker than last year’s. With scouts not being able to do their job because prospects haven’t been playing, could GMs be picking blindly in this upcoming draft? I’d like to think so.
These are all reasons why Bergevin should part ways with his first-round pick, there is no other GM in the North Division with the draft capital like Bergevin’s. Also, the worst possible scenario could very much happen this trade deadline with the Winnipeg Jets acquiring Ekholm. Kevin Cheveldayoff has been inquiring about the D-man and why not? The Jets are a top 4 defenseman away from becoming a Stanley Cup contender, oh and in case you forgot the Winnipeg Jets play in the North Division.
With players like Danault, Tatar and Armia becoming UFA’s at season ends, as well as star players like Weber and Price not getting any younger. It is time for Bergevin to make a move this deadline to push this team over the edge. It’s time to stop being pretenders and become contenders!
As Always don’t forget to check out The Chtib & Zhang show and the rest of the Hot sauce Sports family!