The NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone. Now, all these teams go out and play the game as they say. Montreal was in the crossfire yesterday because of what had been going on, the playoff bubble, etc. Marc Bergevin is no doubt on the hot seat. It is known. Acquiring Eric Staal did little to quell the fire that has been burning amongst the media and the fans. No quotes here…just an unadulterated and honest look.
So, what did Marc Bergevin do? Let’s take a peek at what Montreal did this trade deadline season. We spotlight three of his acquisitions.
Montreal Canadiens at the Trade Deadline
Erik Gustafsson acquired for a 2022 seventh-round pick
These are picks that are truly throw-aways. Montreal still needed some defensive depth. Now, is Gustafsson really anything more? Simply, no. Was Marc Bergevin trying to catch lightning in a bottle here? Hey, it had to be asked.
2018-19 saw Gustafsson enjoy “the outlier of outliers” of a season. He had 60 points in all. Since the now Montreal defenseman has not seen the 30 point mark. The defenseman has not averaged two shots a game since either.
Defensively, Gustafsson gets caught out of position a lot, does not play anywhere near 20 minutes a night, and will have to be sheltered some. This probably was not the “puck-moving defenseman” (PMD) fans had in mind.
Yes, prices were a bit all over the place this trade deadline. However, the notion of “do something” sometimes does mean to not do something. This arguably was one of those times. The sense is that Montreal needed another puck mover and a good penalty-killing defenseman. Gustafsson definitely is not an asset on the latter. Furthermore, Gustafsson makes too many mistakes with the puck. So, a throw-away pick for essentially a throw-away and hope for the best trade.
Jon Merrill acquired for Hayden Verbeek and a 2021 fifth-round pick
This will probably irk some Montreal Canadiens fans too but Merrill is not a bad player. He just is not all that good either. Verbeek is basically AHL fodder by the way and a pick this late is just throwing a bone at this juncture.
Merrill is, was, and always will be a sheltered defenseman. It is a term one hears often. Marc Bergevin acquired two over the weekend. Now, while the former Detroit, Vegas, and New Jersey blueliner can be helpful on the penalty kill, he is just helpful.
In tougher minutes, he does get a “deer in headlights” look. It has been characteristic throughout his career. This is especially true when one forces him to move the puck up the ice. The decision-making skill set has never been there. If the game is kept simple enough for Merrill, he is a third-pairing NHL defenseman and that is it. Anything above 18 minutes a night is typically not good for the defenseman, honestly.
That may sound cold but this is reality. He is adequate to slightly above average on the penalty kill and against bottom-six forwards at even strength. Oh and offensively, just forget about it with Merrill. Do not even look at those numbers.
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Eric Staal for a 2021 third-round pick and 2021 fifth-round pick
This is one to keep the simplest. Staal did not cost all that much given what the 2021 NHL Draft class is this year. That is due to COVID. Any picks after the first round can be argued to be like the lottery. Staal was brought in as middle-six help from the center position.
The irony is that Staal has now played five games for the Montreal Canadiens. He has one point and that was the overtime game-winning goal in his debut against Edmonton. That’s it. Since then, Staal has been on the ice for six more goals than his team has scored with him on the ice. His ice time has gradually declined to that of a bottom-six player. Also, do not look at the possession numbers when it comes to team relative percentage. It’s hideous but too early to form an opinion yet.
The two games against Winnipeg revealed something that the Jets clearly exploited. Staal has lost a step or two. He was repeatedly beaten off the puck and often. The on-ice save percentage in Minnesota dipped below 90% and that was not completely an accident. At even strength, it is clear that the 36-year old is just not the player he once was. Everyone knows that.
The problem is that Staal is not even the middle-six player he once was in Minnesota. Montreal needed that and a player who could be a bit more dependable. Even the Staal from a season or two ago would have sufficed. One can argue thorough five games, Staal’s biggest contribution is winning a few extra faceoffs for Montreal and one well-timed play.