Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens dominate the Edmonton Oilers

One of the biggest weaknesses for the Montreal Canadiens for many years has been the inability to win in Alberta and British Columbia.

Normally, that is not something that destroys a season when there are only three games out of 82 in Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary. However, this season, any difficulty in those two provinces is likely to equal missing the playoffs.

When you play 14 games in those markets, you better figure out how to get some wins there. The Edmonton Oilers were the opponent in the second game of the season with Montreal in an impressive 5-1 win.

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  • Right from the opening minute it was clear that the Canadiens were prepared for this. Josh Anderson absolutely blew past the defender and would have likely scored if not for a terrific check from Ryan Nugent-Hoskins to alter the shot. It was another clean moment to see how excellent the trade will be for Marc Bergevin. They needed this size. They needed this speed. Whatever Max Domi brings, it is not this. Anderson has been a revelation among about five revelations in the first two games. There were times, especially in the first period, when the line of Anderson, Nick Suzuki and Jonathan Drouin looked unstoppable. They had pressure for the entire 50 seconds of a shift two times in the first.
  • Another revelation in game two was Jake Evans. He played four years at Notre Dame. He then had two seasons in Laval in the American Hockey League. After being drafted in the seventh round, Notre Dame was supposed to be the last team he played for, then Laval was supposed to be his final home. Now, Evans isn’t just in the NHL, he’s excelling in the NHL. Evans was one of the best forwards on the night. His shorthanded goal was superb. He was flying down the left side to earn a shot on goal from in tight, then he pounced on his own rebound to roof it for the tally. Evans was shockingly good on the fourth line that did not look overmatched against some very fine hockey players on the other side. In fact, when you have a fourth line that has Evans, Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron – who are all good players – that says so much about how good this team can be. They may not have stars, but when four lines are all relentlessly coming at you with speed, that’s a handful even if the first line doesn’t have a top 25 player in the league.

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  • Jesperi Kotkaniemi was much better in game two than he was in game one. It seemed as if he was a little behind the play at times in the opener in Toronto, but in Edmonton, Kotkaniemi was in the action. He battled well. He skated well. He made a ton of intelligent decisions in the game. He set up Tyler Toffoli a couple of times as well, but the new winger didn’t have his stick blade working in this one for whatever reason. Toffoli’s best chance was a partial breakaway that rolled off the heal of his stick barely getting a shot away. That was a rush that Kotkaniemi was just waiting to get the pass back. If he did, it could have been a nice moment for Kotkaniemi. All you want to see from the young Finn is that he is in the play, and the line gets chances. Mission accomplished in this one. No goals yet, but the dynamics are all there for the goals to come.
  •  Alexander Romanov didn’t stand out as much as night one, but he was quietly everything you could ever hope for. Some nights you get noticed with long stretch passes or big hits, and some nights you just go about your business making nothing but perfect decisions all game. He looks like a veteran. That’s the best thing you can say about him. He has the puck and you just know that things are going to go well. That he will do the right thing and the Habs will be fine. Just a remarkably intelligent player already. He seems to be able to slow this down to his liking in his mind, and that just shouldn’t happen in your second NHL game, but we are all watching it. He’s going to move up the depth chart quickly playing like this.
  • The top Corsi for the Canadiens on the night was Brendan Gallagher, whose best moment was a sweet saucer pass to Tomas Tatar to free him on a breakaway. Tatar went five-hole for his third goal of the season to lead the team. Tatar is in a contract year and he’s making an early case for a nice raise.

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  • The Canadiens were dominating the first period in the lead 1-0 when Connor McDavid showed the world what Joel Edmundson can’t do. It was a race from the Oilers’ blue line 130 feet and by the time it was finished, Edmundson had lost the two strides he was ahead and two more. Truthfully, McDavid is going to win that race against the entire league, but maybe by only two strides and not four. Thankfully, for the Habs Carey Price was up to the task making the breakaway save. There are going to be times that Edmundson just simply is not fast enough for this. He had a much stronger game than opening night, but that doesn’t mean the coaching staff isn’t going to have to protect him. Edmundson is simply going to have to be slotted in at the right times to let him be his best self. That means Edmundson is used when the face-off is in the Habs zone. He won’t have to skate the length of the ice in this situation, but get in front of the net and use his strength. He needs to be the defenceman slotted in killing penalties, defending in corners and in front of Price and Jake Allen. When the face-off begins in the offensive zone, then he’s not the choice. When the play is free-flowing back and forth, crease to crease, he is not the choice. The Canadiens are playing lightning hockey and this bolt doesn’t strike.
  • A very light goat to Tyler Toffoli for not shooting on his chances. He had two clean looks in this one, but he’s not comfortable with his teammates yet, so he’s not doing what is his instinct as an NHL player which is to shoot the puck. The entire line kept saying “no, you shoot it” all night. That is just a little early lack of comfort with a new teammate. Everyone wants so much for the other guy to have success that they forget to have an ego about their own success.  Kotkaniemi needs to shoot more. Toffoli needs to shoot more. They were passing up shots all night trying difficult in-tight play instead of just shooting the puck and charging the net for the rebound. The key is they were around the goal, so this lack of understanding will pass as they gain knowledge of each other’s game and gain the chemistry that will inevitably come.

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It’s been three solid days of speculation that Pierre-Luc Dubois will be traded to the Montreal Canadiens. The Blue Jackets centre has asked for a trade out of Columbus. We don’t know the motivation for his wish. It could be that he doesn’t like the city of Columbus, but that’s unlikely. It’s illogical for a player to dictate his city choice before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Historically, a player knows that it is wise to simply keep his mouth shut until he is a free agent and then he highly praises the city that he didn’t like while rapidly getting the hell out of there.

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The reason that a player cannot tolerate even one more day with a team is much more emotional. It’s a fierce feeling. It has to be overwhelming because a player knows that there is a stigma attached to the demand, but he has to make it because he simply cannot take another year, or another month, or even another moment, it’s so untenable. That brings us to his head coach, John Tortorella, who verbally attacks Dubois at the players’ bench repeatedly. While Dubois has not said this publicly, and it is unlikely that he ever will say it, logic points to this as the reason. It’s emotional. It’s untenable. In Dubois’ mind it has to end.

Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter that much to Montreal Canadiens fans who are excited that they could acquire a local hero. The rumour is that Dubois has said that Montreal is his first choice as a destination and that Nick Suzuki is the return. Firstly, players don’t usually get to dictate a trade, and secondly, they certainly don’t get to dictate the location they would like to go. So just because Dubois wants to get traded, it does not mean that it will happen, especially to his preferred city.

That hasn’t stopped the fan base of the Habs from thinking that it is a done deal and they’re already quite distressed that the young gun Nick Suzuki would be the return. Du calme. There is an anatomy of a trade and for it to make sense the parts have to fit.

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The parts in Dubois for Suzuki don’t fit.

What a GM fears most in a trade is that the ceiling of the player he deals away is reached. He looks bad three years later, if he’s traded away a superstar. Your job security would be in question. You won’t get judged harshly for trades you don’t make, so the default position is to not make a deal, if you are not sure. The truth is, GM Marc Bergevin would not deal Suzuki because his ceiling is simply too high. Suzuki could one day be a point-per-game player in this league. That’s a higher ceiling than Dubois, who, at his age has shown his ceiling of not a point-per-game. No GM wants on his record trading 85 points for 60 points. It would be shocking if Suzuki were traded with his emergence already being clear. So just the Jackets liking Suzuki means little.

Who then is possible? The natural exchange is a centre for a centre which brings Jesperi Kotkaniemi into the mix as a possible exchange. Here’s the rub with this deal though: The ceiling favours the Blue Jackets in this trade. Their player is established already as a bona fide strong NHL centre while the Habs’ player was in the minors last year and his worth is not established. It is the Blue Jackets who would not likely make this deal. The caution should also be in Bergevin’s camp for another reason that should be considered in the anatomy of a trade – don’t give away years in a trade in the salary cap world. Years are important because a GM can keep his salary structure intact longer with a young player, so when there are three years between two players and you are acquiring a player who can leave the team much sooner, it’s another reason to be cautious that you could look bad.

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Suzuki for Dubois seems completely impossible as it is a clear Bergevin mistake. Kotkaniemi for Dubois seems impossible too as it is a clear disparity of talent mistake in Columbus, and a salary cap mistake in Montreal. Kotkaniemi is more possible, but only just.

However, if Bergevin can know that Dubois would sign long term as soon as he arrives in Montreal with a cap number that he can justify, that would make the deal possible. That takes away the danger Bergevin would feel that he could soon lose his newly acquired player. There is precedent here already when Bergevin did give up three years of salary cap control on Mikhael Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin, but remember in this case, it was the same day that Drouin signed long term. If Bergevin has a Dubois contract somewhat known, then his fear is gone. The deal becomes possible from Montreal’s point of view but Columbus would need another prospect to justify the talent disparity between Dubois and Kotkaniemi.

One could see Dubois for Kotkaniemi and a second rounder or Dubois for Kotkaniemi and Jordan Harris. Bergevin again would be simply looking to not trade away a player who had huge upside that would make him look bad, so no, Cole Caufield can not be in the mix. Caufield may not work out at all, but he may get 35 goals, so that high ceiling makes for far too much upside danger for Bergevin. Jordan Harris will be a serviceable NHLer like Brett Kulak, but he won’t ever be a first pair defender to embarrass a GM who trades him away. An example of this thinking is when Bergevin wanted Thomas Vanek for a playoff run, he knew he had to give up a strong prospect, but he chose one whose upside in Sebastian Collberg was never going to make him look bad. Never let a guy with a high ceiling leave. Never.

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How about Alexander Romanov then? Again, it’s the same anatomy as Suzuki. Romanov has a ceiling of first pair defender, so definitely not a feasible trade. A first pair defender is extremely valuable as they can potentially play half a game. So most assuredly not Romanov. A first pair defender may be the most valuable asset in all of hockey.

The next part of the anatomy of a trade that gets overblown way too much is cap concerns, as it is almost irrelevant. If Bergevin wants Dubois and there’s a trade to be had, don’t think for even one second that Bergevin can’t make the cap work. Julien Brisebois has shown in Tampa Bay there is always a way. Bergevin would simply trade away an overpriced player like Paul Byron. Look at what Nashville did to have the money for Matt Duchene as they traded away PK Subban in a complete salary dump. It’s always possible to get under the cap, so anyone mentioning it as stopping a move doesn’t understand the anatomy of a trade.

So will this actually happen? The short answer is 99 percent not. It’s stunning how much talk there is about trades. Hundreds of Twitter handles leave fans salivating for what almost always doesn’t happen. The most respected reporters make a living hunting down trade possibilities and marking their excellence by being first to reveal the trade 90 seconds ahead of their rivals. But 99 percent of the time, the trade doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t matter to fans – they need the buzz. The serotonin from a trade, or possible trade, is the strongest chemical in all of sports.

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It is a rare day that the Call Of The Wilde writes about a trade possibility, but after 72 hours of non-stop twitter speculation it made sense to put it all in perspective.

Try to sleep well and in peace, because as much thought that there is about possible trades, we tend to not ever put the actual math in perspective. For every 1000 Habs trade scenarios speculated, 999 don’t come true. Don’t let the serotonin get too out of control over a one-in-1000 event.

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