Five Fantasies to Fix the Habs – The Lehkonen Fantasy

Segue Issue 22-02

January 17, 2022

This is the second article in a series called Five Fantasies to Fix the Habs. We’ll look at one fantasy at a time, and last week we started with Ben Chiarot. That article (and many others) can be found at habather.wordpress.com.

Just a reminder that I’m calling them fantasies for a reason. I’m neither a GM nor an agent, so player valuation is not my forte. I will rely on suggestions made by analysts and pundits to pin down the value of various players. Then I’ll make a fantasy proposal that I think will contribute to fixing the Habs.

In creating these fantasies I’m considering two things. First, what are the biggest needs for the Habs? In my view they should be targeting a centre prospect with top-6 potential, a right-handed defenceman with top-4 potential, or a pure goal scorer. Second, which teams need what the Habs are offering the most, and would have the assets to make the best offer?

Next up: Artturi Lehkonen.

The valuation…

On January 5th, Sportsnet’s Eric Engels published his mailbag, and he responded to my question. I confess this series was already in my mind when I asked, “Is Lehkonen moved at the deadline? If so, what’s a realistic return?”

In response to the first question, Eric noted that the question would be harder to answer if the Habs were not already paying so much for third- and fourth-line players. He doesn’t name them in his article, but I’m guessing he is referring to Joel Armia, signed for three more years beyond this at $3.4M, and Paul Byron, who is signed for the same AAV for season after this one.

Eric noted the “shame” of it all since the Canadiens drafted and developed Lehkonen, and he brings many things to the table that the Habs need. Those things are also known by other teams, and there will likely be fair offers for Lehkonen, in which case “hanging on to him makes little sense.”

I agree with Eric. I love Lehkonen, and Jeff Gorton may be wishing it was number 62 with the long-term deal ahead of others that Bergevin signed. But under the circumstances and considering how old Lehkonen will be when the Habs are truly competitive again, it makes sense to me to make him available for the right deal. The addition of Rem Pitlick via the waiver wire only strengthens my view on this.

Eric’s valuation was that Lehkonen could fetch “at least a second-round pick” and possibly an additional fourth- or fifth-round draft choice.

Eric’s mailbags are always fun, and I’d recommend you read this one here.

https://www.sportsnet.ca/nhl/article/canadiens-mailbag-realistic-carey-price-trade-deadline/

Engels is not the only guy talking about Artturi Lehkonen. On January 13th, Arthur Staple of The Athletic published a piece about options to fix the forward group of the New York Rangers. He said that GM Chris Drury has been in touch with Jeff Gorton regarding Lehkonen and clarified his belief that the talks have been preliminary. Staple noted, “He won’t be cheap because he isn’t a rental.”

In response to this news, Marco D’Amico who has a regular segment on TSN690’s Weekend Game Plan show, among other gigs, quipped on twitter, “A Kravtsov for Lehkonen swap anyone?” He was referring to Vitali Kravtsov, picked 9th overall by the Rangers in the 2018 draft, and currently playing in Russia. Sign me up for that deal, and I won’t steal Marco’s idea for my fantasies.

Another Ranger got me thinking about Lehkonen’s value – Barclay Goodrow. Lehkonen is 26 years old, which is Goodrow’s exact age at the time he was acquired by the Tampa Bay Lightning at the trade deadline in the 2019-20 season.

Lehkonen is in his sixth complete season in the NHL, while Goodrow was in his third complete NHL season at the time of the trade. Goodrow’s pinnacle season at the time was seven goals and ten assists for 17 points. In the trade year he scored eight goals and 18 assists, split between Tampa Bay and San Jose. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Lehkonen has had better numbers over a larger sample size than Goodrow had at the time of the trade, while Goodrow is bigger and can play all three forward positions. Goodrow’s AAV was $995K and had an extra year on the deal before becoming UFA, while Lehkonen’s hit is $2.3M and he’s an RFA at the end of the season. The Habs can certainly retain this year to make the hit a little closer. Both guys play a similar role for their teams, with Lehkonen having a slightly better scoring touch.

Barclay Goodrow was obtained by the Tampa Bay Lightning for a first round pick and Anthony Greco, an undrafted player who was an AHL call-up kind of player.

I would argue that for a team who thinks they are close, and need a particular kind of depth player, Arturri Lehkonen can fetch a late first round pick and a spare part or late pick.

Let’s add a twist…

What was the best trade of Marc Bergevin’s tenure with the Habs? At the 2015-16 trade deadline, the Montreal Canadiens traded Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann to the Chicago Blackhawks for Phillip Danault, who had been picked 26th overall in the 2011 draft, and a second-round pick, that would become Alexander Romanov.  

The Montreal Canadiens have several pending free agents that can be made available to interested teams. The acquiring team can have any of Perreault, Paquette, Wideman, Kulak or Montembeault, based on their own needs, to swing a deal. Heck, add Pitlick (RFA) to the list if it makes the deal work.

For fantasy purposes, let’s assume the deal will be Lehkonen and a pending UFA for a first round pick, or player previously chosen in the first round, and a pick that depends on the quality of the other asset.

The fantasy…

For this fantasy, I’m looking at two teams that might be thinking about going for it.

The Florida Panthers are having a fantastic season, and likely know they will need depth to get past the Tampa Bay Lightning in the East. They are solid at centre and have a very good prospect pool, including some centre prospects. They may take a page from the opponent’s playbook and give up an asset to land that complementary piece that is built for the playoffs. Hello Art!

Two options are proposed for the Panthers to obtain Lehkonen +.

The second team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, are caught in a quandary. In fact, I picked them because they kind of resemble that Chicago team that traded Danault – probably not strong enough to win another cup, but also not wanting to throw in the towel while core star veterans still have it in them to win. Don’t bet against Sid, they say. Their prospect pool is not deep due to years of going for it under Rutherford. Can they sustain another?

Two options are proposed for the Pens to obtain Lehkonen +.

The wake-up call…

Who says no? Of course, I’d prefer Lundell from Florida and Poulin from Pittsburgh, but I don’t see either of these GMs paying the kind of price Stan Bowman did in 2015-16. From these more realistic options, I see Florida as a better trade partner, and for the Panthers, the Heponiemi deal would likely be more palatable.

Is there a better fantasy partner? Feel free to drop your ideas in the comments and we can chat!

Published by Lori Bennett

Hockey is my hobby. I love a respectful hockey chat or debate, but it stops being fun if we're jerks.

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