• Elite Hockey Experience
 

Montreal Rebuild Well Underway

2019-08-09

People in Montreal have been referring to Canadiens General Manager Andre Deblois by a new nickname these days, l’homme demolition… the Demolition Man.  The sobriquet is quite apt given the absolute deconstruction of the Habs’ roster over his first 10 weeks in office, as it seems as though Deblois has traded away half his roster. 

 To say that he has traded away half his roster would be a lie, as he has in fact traded away more than that.  Of the 20 players to have played at least 41 games for the Canadiens last year, only 9 remain on the Montreal roster today, and, the way he sees it, the fans should not be surprised. 

 “We finished in 29th place overall last season, despite having quite a fair bit of veterans on the roster,” stated Deblois, “after a season like that one, changes need to be made, and not just in the GM’s office.”

 Compounding the disappointment for the lost season was the fact that, in an ill-advised trade at the time, which looks even worse now given added perspective, Deblois’ predecessor had traded away Montreal’s first round pick this season, a pick which ended being the 5th overall pick.

 Faced with a veteran-laden team coming off a disappointing year, with very little left in the prospect cupboard to seek improvements, the Demolition Man could only see one way forward.  Come to terms with the reality that the franchise could not ice a competitive team, steer into the oncoming, inevitable mediocrity and sell all assets that still had value.  For the first time ever, the winningest, most storied franchise in NHL history would enter a Burn-It-Down rebuild.

 Across 10 trades in as many weeks, the likes of Drew Doughty, Mikeal Granlund, Max Pacioretty, Nate Schmidt and many other veterans have moved on from the Habs.  Even top prospect Andrei Svechnikov, whom one would have assumed would have been safe given the intent to go with a youth movement, was traded out of town.

For the first time since his introductory press conference, Deblois has spoken out publicly over some of the moves he has engineered for his club.

 

On the Drew Doughty trade

Drew Doughty to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Ryan Kesler, Karl Alzner, Michael Rasmussen, Serron Noel and Toronto 2019 2nd round pick (Egor Afanasayev)

Trading away Drew Doughty was always the number 1 priority.  Given his outrageously high salary (another of the tire fires left behind by the previous GM) finding a suitable trade partner was difficult.  In the end, it was decided that the Habs would seek out a partner who would look to dump a few bad contracts in the trade so as to not sacrifice the quality of the return.

 In the historic division rival Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal found a fitting partner.  “Taking on Kelser and Alzner permitted Toronto to more easily stomach Doughty’s salary, as he would only increase Toronto’s financial commitments by 3.6 million for both years remaining on Doughty’s deal,” stated Deblois. “I can’t stress how much that ridiculous contract was an obstacle to moving him. Doughty only has two years left on his deal and, even if a team were to use their Franchise Player Tag on him, the cost to re-sign him would be enormous, so we essentially had to trade him as a two-year rental.”

 Beyond the camp dumps they took on, Montreal added two behemoth forward prospects with 6’6” Michael Rasmussen and 6’5” Serron Noel being the key pieces in the deal.  Former 9th overall pack Rasmussen is coming off a full NHL season at 19 years old with the Red Wings, an organization known for not rushing its prospects, in which he put up a respectable 18 points in his rookie spent mostly in the bottom 6.  Noel, who has yet to turn 19, continued to develop into an imposing power forward, leading his team in scoring and ranking fourth in the OHL in points among U19 players. 

 The Habs also acquired the 45th overall pick in this year’s draft, used to draft the runt of litter, Egor Afanasyev out of the USHL, who is only 6’4”.

 

On the Andrei Svechnikov trade

Andrei Svechnikov to the New York Rangers for Florida 2019 1st round pick (Kirby Dach), Edmonton 2019 1st round pick (Philip Broberg) and Sonny Milano

Many were shocked at the fact that Deblois traded Svechnikov when he was the only name that had been mentioned as being explicitly untouchable and it did not make much sense to move the recent 2nd overall pick.

 “I had no intention whatsoever to move Andrei Svechnikov, and I said as much to any GM who inquired as to his ‘price’” stated Deblois. “But then, someone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  Even if your house is not for sale, if someone walks up to you with a million bucks cash, you start packing your shit.”

 Deblois would go on to point out that ultimately, unlike other recent 2nd overall picks Kaapo Kakko, Patrik Laine and Jack Eichel, Svechnikov, while still a very good prospect, was not a near-generational talent.  “We see Andrei Svechnikov more along the lines of Nolan Patrick and Sam Reinhart than those other recent 2nd overall picks.  He’s a young player who will no doubt be an excellent producer for a long time, but not a franchise player.”

 Ultimately, Deblois decided to have faith in his scouts that he could turn one very good young player in to two (and a half) by drafting at 6th and 16th overall (and adding Sonny Milano) in trading Svech to the Rangers.  Those picks turned into Kirby Dach and Philippe Broberg. 

 Only time will tell if the combined production of Dach, Broberg (and Milano) can make up for the loss of Svechnikov, but Habs management is optimistic about their chances.

 

On the Mikeal Granlund trade

Mikeal Granlund, Markus Granlund and  Winnipeg 2019 4th round pick (Joey Duszack) to the New York Rangers for Elvis Merzlikins, Marcus Davidsson and Pittsburgh 2019 1st round pick (Peyton Krebs) 

In what no less an authority than the President of the United States, celebrated deal maker Donald Trump, would call “the worst deal in history”, just 8 months after having been traded for Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Ivan Morozov, Devin Shore, Montreal’s 2020 2nd round pick (bound to be an early pick given the rebuild) and the picks that would be used to draft Trevor Zegras and Samuel Fagemo, Mikeal Granlund was packaged with brother Markus and Winnipeg’s fourth round pick for Elvis Merzlikins, Marcus Davidsson and the pick that would become Peyton Krebs (via a separate deal with Boston).

 When asked for comment on this trade and the surrounding circumstances, GM Deblois went off on five-minute tirade, finding new, imaginative ways to curse his predecessor, none of which are fit to print.

 We can extrapolate that, like in the Doughty deal, Granlund is a player with two years left on his deal who is unlikely to be Franchise Tagged (in Doughty’s case it was due to the high salary, in Granlund because he is just not good enough to warrant it), so the longer Deblois held on to Granlund, the more he would lose value.

 In the end, the Habs managed to draft a young center with great potential in the middle of the first round, acquire a recent 2nd round pick who could develop into a bottom 6 two-way forward and a potential starting goaltender in Merzlikins who has played well internationally and in Europe but has yet to face an NHL, or even AHL shot.

 

On the Max Pacioretty trade

Max Pacioretty and Evan Cormier to the Chicago Blackhawks for Isaac Ratcliffe and Arizona 2020 2nd round pick.

The last major piece to be moved, Max Pac is Windy City bound as he was dealt to the Blackhawks, along with Evan Cormier for Isaac Ratcliffe and Arizona’s 2nd round pick in the upcoming 2020 Entry Draft.

 In the 6`6” Ratcliffe, the Habs have acquired yet another big bodies forward, joining the likes of Rasmussen, Noel and the drafted Dach and Afanasayev (all of whom are at least 6`4”), continuing to build what should be an imposing group of forwards for the future.  “Isaac, like the other big forwards we have acquired this offseason, are perfectly suited for today’s game” pointed out Deblois.  “They may not be the big, bruising power forwards of yesteryear, but they are all much better skaters than the previous generation of power forwards were, so they can keep up with the faster pace of today’s NHL game, while still being able to use their size to protect the puck.”

 Adding an additional pick for the 2020 draft was important as well, as that draft class is looking like it will be one of the deepest in years.

 The Habs have also added the likes of Olli Juolevi, Adam Ruzicka, Otto Somppi, Eetu Luostarinen, Trent Frederic and Zach Whitecloud in their other trades so the rebuild is well and truly under way in Montreal.

 Keep an eye out for part two of our sit down interview with GM Deblois where we dive deeper into his first draft with the Habs, which saw him draft 7 players, despite only owning two picks (none in the first three rounds) upon being hired into the job.