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Canadiens Mailbag: Off-season trade with Avalanche could materialize

Welcome to the third-ever edition of the #AskEE Montreal Canadiens Mailbag, from which I’ve plucked out questions to answer about a Mikhail Sergachev offer sheet, Ryan Poehling’s place in the depth chart, Alexander Romanov’s place this/next season, playoffs/play-in scenarios versus draft lottery positioning, Tomas Tatar and Max Domi and unconsummated trades with the Colorado Avalanche.

If your question went unanswered, know that I still greatly appreciate your participation and encourage you to try again for the next instalment, which will appear on sportsnet.ca in short order.

Wow. This is a whopper of a question right off the hop, one that lays out an extremely compelling scenario for a variety of reasons — not the least of which is that the Canadiens have been looking for a defenceman of Mikhail Sergachev’s profile ever since they traded Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Jonathan Drouin back in 2017.

But I think if Tampa could lock Sergachev in for somewhere between $4.2 million and $6.4 million (as you’re suggesting they can by matching this offer), they’d do it in a heartbeat. The 21-year-old lefty, who was drafted ninth overall by the Canadiens in 2016, really came into his own this season and is very much trending towards becoming a legit No. 2 on an elite team.

Granted, the elite team he’s currently with already has over $76 million committed to just 15 players next season and has to get him, breakout centre Anthony Cirelli and top-right defenceman Erik Cernak signed to new deals. With the upper limit of the cap unlikely to exceed the current $81.5-million threshold in 2020-21, the Lightning have some serious mathematical gymnastics to do to be compliant.

Even if Lightning general manager Julien Brisebois is a noted genius in the cap-management department, and even if he has done an exceptional job getting players to accept less than what they’re worth (here’s looking at you, Brayden Point), he’s going to have to shed a contract — or two — to make it all fit. And it only complicates matters that a number of the players he might see as trade candidates have no-trade clauses.

A single compliance buyout afforded to all teams helps but, even if one is accorded, Brisebois would also have to ship out one of Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde or Tyler Johnson to free up the money to keep Cirelli, Sergachev and Cernak.

Hence your question…

Coming back to it, I think if the Canadiens really wanted Sergachev, they’d have to make an offer in a higher bracket — something in the neighbourhood of $8 million — and be willing to give up a first-, second- and third-round pick to do it. I don’t see that happening.

But I would think the Canadiens will be sniffing around on whoever the Lightning might look to move to make room for Sergachev and their other restricted free agents.

Someone else asked about the Canadiens being in a position to pull off a Joel Armia-type heist by leveraging their cap space to help a team like the Lightning, and I think they’re well-positioned to do exactly that. Perhaps such a move doesn’t net them a top-tier defenceman like Sergachev, but it could very well land them one of the impact forwards named above.

This is a good question that the Canadiens don’t necessarily need the answer to immediately.

The fact Poehling proved he can play wing over the latter half of the season — which was anything but a given when he looked entirely out of place there from Nov. 5-12 — opened up a quicker path to him becoming an NHL regular. His six-foot-two, 205-pound frame and his hockey sense help him play wing, and if he’s willing to bring a physical dimension that will also help.

The reality is that there is more depth up the middle at current and Poehling’s versatility is an asset. If he proves to grow as an effective winger, perhaps that’s where he fits best over the long-term.

But if a spot opens up down the middle, there’s no reason Poehling can’t adequately fill it based on all his experience playing centre.

The only thing that should matter to the Canadiens is that the 21-year-old continue on his path towards becoming an impactful NHL player. If he does that, he helps them regardless of what position he plays.

Hi Garrett. My family and I are doing very well. Thanks for asking.

I thought it was interesting that someone immediately replied “Laval for sure” to your question and that you replied that’s what you’d prefer. I think most of this sentiment is rooted in some (rational) fear that the Canadiens won’t manage Romanov’s development appropriately and that they’ll give him too much too soon.

Without seeing Romanov play an NHL exhibition game, let alone a regular-season or playoff game, it’s fairly difficult to project where exactly he’ll fit immediately.

But I’m confident — based on what I’ve seen from him at the other levels and on what scouts and executives have told me about him — that he’ll at least be capable of starting on Montreal’s third pairing. And I’d say that he’d be capable of doing that come July (never mind October), if the NHL’s 2019-20 season resumes then, and if the rules allow for him to play.

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I understand Canadiens fans are quite concerned about this player being overhyped, and I know they’re concerned about him being rushed, but Romanov has two years of KHL experience under his belt and plays a pro-style game that lends to his immediate graduation to the NHL.

Management believes he’s ready, he believes he’s ready, and he’s going to be given a chance to prove he’s ready.

I don’t think the Canadiens will hesitate to put Romanov in Laval if he fails that test.

But I’m not expecting him to fail it. I’m expecting him to pass with flying colours.

Simple question, not-so-simple answer: I’m not entirely sure what the long-term future holds for either player.

The global pandemic has thrown so many more variables into the mix for pending free agents, whether their contracts expire this off-season or next. If Domi (RFA in 2020) was trending towards a one-year deal before COVID-19 hit, it’s hard to imagine him being on anything longer than that now. And Tatar (UFA in 2021) was on his way towards securing the type of contract that would price him out of Montreal, but now you have to wonder if that type of deal — a four- or five-year deal worth over $6 million per — will be available to a player like him.

Tatar will be 30 by the time his contract ends and it’s practically unimaginable the salary cap will go up by then.

I’ll say this: I like the chances of both Domi and Tatar being with the Canadiens through the 2020-21 season.

My sense is that the players would gladly take a chance at a Stanley Cup — no matter how farfetched it is they can win it this season — if they’re afforded the opportunity to play for it by way of some extended playoff format.

But if the idea is to just return and play what amounts to 11 meaningless games remaining on the regular-season schedule, I don’t think the players have much of an appetite for that. Especially since it would mean sacrificing time that could be spent preparing for next season, or potentially spending months away from family.

I think Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault made clear points on those issues. I think they were fair points, too.

Understanding this is a similar question to the last one, I’ll keep this answer brief.

I think management would prefer a lottery pick, or at least a pick in the top 10 of the draft.

As for the players, they’ll take the playoffs over anything.

And if the Canadiens manage to win the Cup as the 24th-ranked team in the NHL, it should have an asterisk next to it — and not for the reason that they had no business being in the playoffs but more so because it would be one of the most improbable championship runs in the history of sport.

I love this question, Lori.

Even if we took Avalanche GM Joe Sakic’s word that Bergevin’s extended stay in Denver, in the lead-up to the Feb. 24 trade deadline, was purely related to his daughter attending Colorado University, I’m fairly certain Canadiens assistant GM Scott Mellanby (who was also there) doesn’t have any kids attending school in the state.

Which is to say, something was brewing there and it wasn’t just the coffee in young Bergevin’s dorm room.

I can’t pin down what was specifically discussed — I tried to at the time and have tried since and nothing’s come back to me beyond the type of speculation I could come up with myself. What I would say, however, is that some seeds were likely planted and we could see something materialize between these teams at some point this off-season. There are multiple scenarios that make them good trading partners.

What do you think?

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Written by Sportsnet

#Ask31 with former NHL player P.J. Stock

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