The Canadiens hit their bye week and All-Star break on a high note.
No, they did not get a win in Pittsburgh on Saturday, losing 3-2 in overtime, but as NHL contenders continue mulling over their plans ahead of the March 8 trade deadline, the Canadiens’ case as a seller got a little stronger.
Jake Allen had a solid performance with 30 saves, which doesn’t hurt his trade value. But most importantly, Sean Monahan continued to cook. His assist on Juraj Slafkovský’s power-play goal was very Monahan, a crafty, veteran play to re-direct a pass to Slafkovský on the flank, and then a good bounce to get the goal.
200% planifié ainsi voyons
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) January 28, 2024
That assist gave Monahan 14 points in 13 games in 2024, which leads the Canadiens and sits in a tie for 22nd in the NHL since Jan. 1. The players Monahan is tied with? Auston Matthews, Brad Marchand, Clayton Keller, Roope Hintz, Blake Coleman, Sidney Crosby, Jason Robertson, Joel Eriksson Ek, Brock Boeser, Matt Duchene and Victor Hedman. Not a bad list.
He has 35 points in 49 games this season, and as far as his trade value goes, that second number is probably more important than the first. Monahan has missed a number of practices lately to get treatment, but he hasn’t missed any games and is playing at a high level regardless of whatever is bothering him right now.
His 82-game pace is just shy of 60 points on a team that doesn’t score a whole lot. He is winning 55 percent of his faceoffs, has 16 points on the power play and can kill penalties. In short, Monahan has proven he could be a very useful piece to a contending team. But just how useful? Worth spending a first-round pick useful?
Looking at every first-round pick that was traded between the 2021 and 2025 drafts, it seems the bar for that kind of spending for a single rental at the deadline has gotten quite high. The trend last season in deadline trades involving a first-round pick was to either use them to acquire a player with term or a restricted free agent, or to use them to acquire a package of two useful rentals. Think Vladislav Gavrikov and Joonas Korpisalo, or Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari, or Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway, or Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola. The only rentals to fetch a first-round pick by themselves last season were Bo Horvat and Tyler Bertuzzi, and you can bet the New York Islanders had a decent idea of their ability to re-sign Horvat.
There were two players traded at the deadline in 2022 that are interesting comparables to Monahan. Claude Giroux was on pace for 60 points when he was traded by the Philadelphia Flyers to the Florida Panthers, and he not only got the Flyers a first-round pick, but also Owen Tippett, whom the Flyers just signed to an eight-year, $49.6 million contract. Then there is Andrew Copp, who had 35 points in 56 games with the Winnipeg Jets when he was traded at the 2022 deadline to the New York Rangers for a conditional first, a conditional second and Morgan Barron, who is currently a useful player for the Jets.
Those are two excellent hauls for players that compare well to Monahan, but it seemed last season it was generally the sellers who had to sweeten the pot to get something even close to a similar return.
Monahan’s performance seems to have also given steam to the people who feel the Canadiens should re-sign him and keep him around to help see the rebuild through. Monahan is 29, and Copp had just turned 28 when he signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Detroit Red Wings in 2022. He got five years at $5.625 million a year from Detroit coming off a career-high 53-point season. He’s produced 66 points in 130 games with the Red Wings. Monahan is a bit older, yes, but he is far more accomplished than Copp as well. Copp had 202 points in 483 career games when he signed that contract. Monahan has 514 points in 730 career games, albeit with durability concerns that could drive his price down somewhat.
That contract Copp signed being an indicator of what Monahan might get on the free agent market is not all that far-fetched. J.T. Compher, a similar player also signed by Detroit as a UFA last summer, got five years at $5.1 million a year. Monahan might get more money on less term, but it seems like a decent ballpark for him as an unrestricted free agent if he keeps this up.
Should the Canadiens be committing that kind of money and term to Monahan? Maybe, but the notion that a late first-round pick or a second-round pick would be useless to the Canadiens, or at least less useful than Monahan, needs to be addressed as well. Because those picks are valuable trade chips, and while the Canadiens have a lot of picks over the next two drafts, they are not swimming in picks in the first two rounds. In fact, in 2024, they have their own first-round pick and the Colorado Avalanche’s second-round pick. In 2022, the Arizona Coyotes traded the Nos. 27, 34 and 45 picks to the San Jose Sharks for the No. 11 pick, which they used to draft Conor Geekie. The Canadiens themselves used the Nos. 31 and 37 picks to acquire Alex Newhook last year. Those are just two examples of how late firsts and seconds can be useful in ways that go beyond drafting players in those spots.
The way Monahan is playing and the fact he has been able to stay in the lineup is a gift to both the Canadiens and Monahan. The best way for Monahan to up his value as an unrestricted free agent would be to play well on a competitive team deep into the playoffs, and the best way for the Canadiens to accelerate their rebuild would be to continue acquiring future assets and creatively turning them into assets that will be more relevant in the present. Like they did with Kirby Dach, and like they did with Newhook.
Monahan is providing them with an excellent opportunity to do something like that again.
A downward trend for Brendan Gallagher
The five-game suspension handed to Brendan Gallagher for a head-hunting hit on Islanders defenceman Adam Pelech last Thursday was entirely deserved, even if it represented something Gallagher had never done before and was out of character for the style of player he has been in the NHL for a long time.
But that is not the trend we are referring to here. It was a costly penalty that compromised the Canadiens’ ability to win a game, and that has most definitely been a trend this season, and it’s worrisome.
We looked at every one of Gallagher’s 16 penalties this season, with three of them being offsetting minors, meaning no power play for the opposing team. Of the 13 remaining penalties, 11 have come when the game was either tied or one goal separated the two teams, and six of those 11 came in the third period. The hit on Pelech doesn’t even count in that calculation because the Canadiens were up by two goals when he took it, but it was in the third period and since it was a major, it allowed the Islanders to tie the game.
Martin St. Louis often talks about the difference between a trend and a one-off, and this has been a trend this season, to the point where it is worth wondering if Gallagher can still be trusted to play late in close games because this has happened so frequently this season.
How’s this for a trend? This penalty came on Oct. 26 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the game was tied 3-3 and there were 55 seconds left in regulation time.
Gallagher’s attempting to prevent a goal by Adam Fantilli late in a tie game, so it could be seen as a necessary penalty. The Canadiens killed the penalty and wound up winning the game in overtime, but you would think some sort of lesson would have been learned there.
This was on Nov. 16 at home against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Canadiens were tied 4-4 with less than three minutes left in regulation, and it’s difficult not to see some similarities with that penalty against Columbus.
That was a double-minor for high-sticking, and Vegas scored twice on the power play, eventually winning 6-5.
Then there was this on Jan. 13 against the Edmonton Oilers, game tied 1-1, less than two minutes left in regulation.
Each of those penalties, to varying degrees, is an example of Gallagher being late to react defensively and having to resort to a desperate stick-lift from behind that goes wrong. On the penalty on Fantilli, you can see Gallagher’s initial reaction to needing to get back on defence was not all that urgent, and on the final two, there was no need to take the penalty because there was defensive support behind him. If that’s not a trend, I don’t know what is.
St. Louis regularly keeps players on the bench late in games when the result is still in doubt, usually members of his fourth line. But it might be time to think twice before putting Gallagher on the ice in these high-leverage situations once he returns from his suspension. It’s just happened too often this season that he’s compromised his team’s ability to win late in the game.
Juraj Slafkovský’s composure shines
When Juraj Slafkovský was taken off the line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield in the third period of last Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators, it could have been seen as a coach trying to generate some sort of spark on a team that was not generating enough offensively. That period went so well, however, that St. Louis has kept Slafkovský on a line with Sean Monahan and Joel Armia while trying, yet again, to play Josh Anderson with Suzuki and Caufield.
This is clearly not a matter of Slafkovský being demoted, but it is interesting to see just how well the Monahan line has played with him on left wing while Suzuki and Caufield have largely suffered at five-on-five with him gone.
Slafkovský is becoming more and more confident with each passing game, and his ability to adapt to a new line and not see the re-arrangement was some sort of punishment shows a certain maturity from him as well.
That confidence naturally translates to composure on the ice, and there was perhaps no better example of Slafkovský’s composure this season than this sequence in overtime Saturday night in Pittsburgh.
That’s Sidney Crosby pressuring Slafkovský as the last man back in his own zone, and Slafkovský coolly wheeling away from him and heading up ice. Then, as he hits the Pittsburgh blue line, that’s Kris Letang he’s staring down, and he doesn’t hesitate to aggressively go at him and produce an excellent chance to score and win the game.
“That’s what I’m working for my whole life,” Slafkovský told reporters in Pittsburgh after the game. “I want to be the difference maker. I want to be the man.”
He sure is taking steps in that direction.
Some positive results for David Reinbacher
Canadiens prospect David Reinbacher was named to the Swiss National League’s team of the week on Monday. Each week they recognize the three best forwards, two best defencemen and the best goalie in the league. Reinbacher’s EHC Kloten is on a four-game winning streak after sweeping the Zurich derby last weekend over league power ZSC Lions, then beating EV Zug on Friday and HC Ajoie on Saturday. Reinbacher had two assists and 19:25 of ice time against Zug, who is third in the NL standings, and added an assist with 17:37 of ice time against last-place Ajoie.
Kloten will attempt to extend its winning streak Tuesday against Genève-Servette, who are seventh in the league standings.
The Chipotle award that wasn’t all it was cracked up to be
Suzuki will be heading to All-Star weekend in Toronto at the end of the week, which makes it a good time to update everyone on the big prize he won at last year’s event in South Florida. Suzuki won the Pitch & Puck event, which had Suzuki, Clayton Keller, Jason Robertson and Johnny Gaudreau play a hole of golf by shooting pucks off a shooting pad until they got to the green, and then they had to sink a putt with a ball, but using a hockey stick.
Suzuki birdied the hole to win the event, and when the ball went in, the announcer stated, “Winner, winner, Chipotle dinner.”
Yes, the winner of the event got free Chipotle for a year. Of course, there is no Chipotle in Québec, so Suzuki winning it was pretty funny, especially since he spends most of his summer in Montreal as well.
One year later, how much Chipotle did Suzuki actually get to eat?
“I gave a bunch away,” Suzuki said the evening he was named an All-Star, “so I didn’t use it much.”
Gave a bunch away? What? If you thought getting free Chipotle for a year meant getting some special pass you could flash at any Chipotle any time you want and order anything you want, you would be wrong. It’s not quite that. Not even close, really.
“It was just gift cards,” Suzuki revealed. “They actually gave me 52, so one a week, which is not really what the prize was.
“Just 52 cards for a meal.”
A year’s worth of free Chipotle sounds great. Until you read the fine print.
(Top photo of Sean Monahan, Cole Caufield and Juraj Slafkovský: Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)