Former Habs Check Up: Brett Kulak

Eggs Bennett 22-12

June 6, 2022

We’re deep into the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, with the Montreal Canadiens nowhere in sight. Habs fans continue to root for some former Habs who were moved at the trade deadline. In this series, I’m checking in on those players. You can find articles about Tyler Toffoli, Ben Chiarot and Artturi Lehkonen at habather.ca. Let’s turn our attention to the final player moved at the deadline – Brett Kulak.

How it started…   

Brett Kulak joined the Montreal Canadiens in what looked like a spare parts deal. On October 1, 2018, the Habs acquired Kulak from the Calgary Flames for Rinat Valiev and Matt Taormina. Valiev had been acquired from Toronto as part of the Tomas Plekanec deadline deal. Taormina had been added in free agency in 2017 on a two-year, two-way contract. Both players were fringe NHLers at their best, and AHLers in a more honest assessment, who were not part of the Habs plans moving forward.

Kulak had considerably more NHL experience, having played 71 games for the Flames in the previous season, and splitting three seasons before between the NHL and AHL. Kulak would go on to play 215 regular season games for the Habs, as well as 23 playoff games. His production was always modest, but he was a solid depth defenceman who stepped into a top-4 role when needed without hurting the team. For fans, it’s interesting to consider the Plekanec-Kulak connection.

For those of us who saw Kulak’s potential, it often felt like he would never get a legitimate chance to truly prove himself in Montreal. Most notably, after a strong 2019-20 season and playoffs where Kulak’s play on a pair with Jeff Petry was excellent, Joel Edmundson was acquired to play with Petry, dropping Kulak in the depth chart.

Kulak was a pending unrestricted free agent in the year that a leadership group arrived in Montreal that could truly appreciate his worth. Unfortunately, his UFA status did not mesh with the realities of a team needing a rebuild. On March 22nd, with the clock ticking toward the deadline, Kulak was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for defenceman William Lagesson, a conditional second-round pick in 2022, and a seventh-round pick in 2024. The Habs retained 50% on Kulak’s contract to make the salary cap work.

How it’s going…

The Habs sold at the deadline, and fans should settle in for a couple of years of drafting high. Moving a UFA at the trade deadline for picks was the obvious plan of action for a rebuilding team. William Lagesson is a 26-year-old late-and-modestly-blooming defenceman who has split time between Edmonton, their AHL affiliate, and Sweden. Drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, Lagesson has played just 60 NHL games. It is unlikely he will be retained by the Canadiens with the number of left-handed defencemen they have in their system. It’s more likely that he was taken in the deal to help the Oilers with their cap situation, and to give Montreal a player to help finish the season. 

The picks are where it’s at for the Habs, and specifically the conditional second-round pick in 2022. If the Oilers reach the Stanley Cup Final, and Duncan Keith plays top four minutes in the first three rounds, their 2022 second round pick goes to the Chicago Blackhawks as part of the Keith trade. In that scenario, the Habs would receive Edmonton’s 2023 second round pick instead. Ultimately, HuGo will have an extra pick to play with this summer or get an additional pick in a deep 2023 draft. With Colorado leading their conference final series 3-0, it looks like the pick is coming this year.

In Edmonton, Kulak has settled in as a third pair partner for Tyson Barrie and has been part of their second penalty kill unit with Duncan Keith. Averaging just over 17 minutes a game, he has five assists in 15 playoff games and is a plus player while playing a solid game in his own end, being physical, and limiting chances. Oilers fans should be very pleased with the production Kulak is providing for the small price they paid.

Was it worth it?

This was a good deal for both teams. The Habs obtained a good pick for a pending UFA in a selling year. If the Habs truly loved what Kulak brought, he’s currently due to be a free agent in a few weeks, and they can throw their hat in the ring. Engaged in a rebuild, with a lot of LHD assets including Joel Edmundson and Alexander Romanov whose spots are secure, adding a left-shot veteran defenceman is not really a priority. But certainly, if HuGo is considering bringing back one of the UFAs they dealt at the deadline, I’d pick Kulak over Ben Chiarot every day of the week and twice on Sundays.  

Edmonton is currently battling Colorado for a berth in the Stanley Cup Final. They have no regrets about what they spent at the deadline to add a solid defenceman who has delivered. If Ken Holland has a clue, Brett Kulak won’t make it to free agency.

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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