Let’s qualify this: There are no guarantees any of the following players are available, and none that the Montreal Canadiens are pursuing them through trade.
But our editor asked for a list of players the Canadiens might consider in order to fill the most pressing need on their roster, and in the spirit of fun, we’re obliging him. Because even if it’s unlikely anyone we name ends up in Montreal, the Canadiens have the assets to land a big fish.
We’re thinking Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, Alexander Romanov, Mattias Norlinder, Carey Price and Shea Weber are untouchable.
But no one else is.
Not that we’re suggesting the Canadiens will trade Jeff Petry or Brendan Gallagher, but they need scoring and size — a player who brings both of those things — and they have to be willing to move some premium assets to acquire it.
So, we’re not expecting the rumours about Max Domi and Phillip Danault to suddenly subside. The Canadiens also have some flexibility to move off their blue line, with Victor Mete and Brett Kulak the most likely candidates — even if Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin told TVA Sports last week he’s inclined to hold because you can never have enough NHL-capable defencemen.
For the right player, we don’t think a potential 30-plus goal scorer, Cole Caufield, would be off the table. They also have several other quality prospects who could complete a package, and then there’s the picks.
They are the most valuable commodity in dealing with some cap-strapped teams, and the Canadiens have nine of them in the first three rounds of the next two drafts.
Let’s dive in.
1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Bio: 30, six-foot-one, 194 pounds
Contract status: Signed for four more seasons at $8.5M AAV, full no-move clause
2019-20 stats: 57 GP, 29 G, 37 A, 66 P
You won’t find his name cycling through the rumour mill, but that full-no movement clause in his contract has to be the only reason for that at this point.
How can you watch what the Lightning have done in these playoffs and not think many of their cap issues could be solved by moving the one player who hasn’t been able to take part in any of it?
They’d be losing their captain, but also a player who missed the last seven games of the regular season with a core injury and all of the playoffs with a lower-body injury.
Meanwhile, the Lightning have close to $69 million committed to just 15 players for next season, and they have star-caliber players in Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev to sign. Erik Cernak, 23, averaged 19 minutes a game this season — and over 20 this post-season — and he isn’t going to come cheap, either.
And Kevin Shattenkirk, Jan Ruuta, Luke Schenn and Zach Bogosian are all pending unrestricted free agents, which means the Lightning are either going to have to spend to keep one or two of them or spend to replace them.
Maybe Montreal isn’t a destination of choice for Stamkos, but the Canadiens could be a logical trade partner for the Lightning. Even if they are a divisional rival — though it’s possible they won’t be one in 2020-21 — they are one of the few teams in the league who could absorb Stamkos’ full contract without having to trade money back in the deal.
They might have to move a player or two afterwards, but that’s got nothing to do with the Lightning.