February 19, 2023
Week 19 for the Montreal Canadiens had three games on tap. On Tuesday night, the Habs were out to prove they were in a different place than the overtly tanking Chicago Blackhawks with a 4-0 home win. The Habs were visiting the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night, and the far better team won in a 6-2 Habs loss. On Saturday night the depleted Habs were hosted by Ryan O’Reilly and the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the result was a 5-1 loss.
Here’s how I saw this week go down.
Habs fans should feel good about the growth of Justin Barron.
Barron was added at last year’s trade deadline, along with a second round pick in 2024, in the Artturi Lehkonen trade. Lehkonen was a bit of a case study in the extremes of fandom. Some fans criticized the player over his entire tenure in Montreal, and those who loved Lehkonen really loved him. I was among the latter.
You can be sure that Habs management and coaching staff also loved Lehkonen. Martin St. Louis publicly acknowledged his disappointment at losing the player. But they all knew that Lehkonen’s prime was a complete mismatch with the Habs window, and that he could fetch a return that would fit perfectly with the window.
Enter Justin Barron. He looked okay in the games he played in Montreal late last season before he was injured. Then Barron had a disappointing camp before finding his game in Laval. Now he’s finding his way with the Canadiens. This week some fans acknowledged they may have judged Barron too early. That’s growth. It might be wise to keep this in mind over the next couple of weeks as other guys are moved out.
While some fans were acknowledging that the Lehkonen-Barron trade may actually have been a good move for the Habs, others were expressing their view that Hughes absolutely should not trade Josh Anderson. How can you even say that with no clue what the return looks like? And if Lehkonen wasn’t a fit for the Habs window, where does that leave Anderson?
Sometimes a key factor in growth is having the room to grow.
When I was growing up my mother was a hobby farmer. That’s an understatement – practically all of the produce I ate before I left home came from my mother’s garden. One of the things I watched her do was transplant some of her vegetable plants that were growing too close to each other. She knew that if they grew too close together, they would compete for the same soil nutrients and sunlight, and that none of them would thrive. Mom would find a new spot for some plants so that all of them would have the space and the support to grow and the entire crop would be healthier for it.
Even the kids at the back know where I’m going with this one. Kent Hughes has to approach this deadline (and beyond) looking out for the health of the entire team, not just individuals. Where are there holes to fill? Where is there some crowding that could be thinned to create space?
While we’d all like to see lottery odds grow, we have to appreciate the growth that is happening in team culture over the course of this season.
Playing like they’re having fun. Resisting the losing culture. Defending each other. You have to acknowledge it. That’s growth.
They might have been more subtle about it than the Blackhawks or Coyotes, but if you looked closely you could see the Habs were not obtuse to the tank. After giving the team a good stripping last trade deadline, Hughes returned this season with a goaltending tandem that struggling mightily last season and a gaggle of rookies on defense. Who would have thought they’d have looked this good.
Here is the thing you can’t do in a rebuild – you can’s deliberately stunt the growth of the kids who will lead you in the next window.
Is there a chance that some Habs veterans are making their trade value grow?
Since their return from the break, several veterans have been delivering the kind of performance that would have made them great deadline trade chips if they had performed this way all year. Jonathan Drouin, Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadanov are playing like it suddenly dawned on them that they could finish the season with a contender if they get their shit together. If Hughes can deal these three at this point it would have to be regarded as screaming success.
Then there is Christian Dvorak, who has been quietly effective all year but will never have that acknowledged because of the connection to the Jesperi Kotkaniemi situation. A contending team that had no skin in that silly game would understand what Dvorak could bring to a playoff run. It wouldn’t surprise me if interest in him grows as other pieces fall into place around the league. And if Josh Anderson was a sought after commodity before, surely interest has only grown in recent weeks.
Did the Toronto Maple Leafs help grow Sean Monahan’s value?
On Friday night the Leafs made the biggest trade of the deadline window so far, acquiring Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari, two centremen, for a large package of picks and prospects. The reaction from some Habs fans was that the market for centres had been set, with Monahan on their minds.
Marty threw a little water on that with an injury update, indicating that Monahan had ´plateaued’ in his recovery… whatever that means. One thing we do know it means is that his injury situation likely presents a major challenge for Hughes to move him before March 3rd.
Then on Saturday night, when the Habs were busy losing to the Leafs and improving their draft standing, Jeff Marek decided to invest in the growth in Habs fan angst when he reported that Kent Hughes and the Montreal Canadiens were expected to have a quiet deadline.
I don’t know any more about the health of Monahan or Edmundson, or the interest in Drouin or Dadanov or Hoffman, than you do. But this one thing I know – Kent Hughes is not as quick to decide he’s impotent as the last guy. He won’t stand before the media on March 3rd and say trades are hard.
Realistically, Hughes is good but he’s not good enough to heal his biggest trade chips or making his veterans look better than they are. But he’s smart and bold, and you will knock me over with a feather if he doesn’t find a way to get creative before March 3rd and make this deadline meaningful for the rebuild in some way, shape or form.
2 thoughts on “Week 19 in One Word: Growth”
As a fan I have to say that I am enjoying the run up to trade deadline more than I did in the « trades are hard » days. We have lots to consider with all of the well reported difficulties but we also always have the hope for surprises from this management team and the knowledge that this team will find ways to improve.
Who knows what they will be able to pull off? But I feel confident the creativity will be there, and that every option will be explored to improve the team during this window. That’s the difference with this group.