Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens denied a crucial win — again — in Penguins matchup

The Montreal Canadiens needed to go 5-2 in their last seven before the trading deadline on Feb. 24. They lost their first two, so it’s looking more and more like General Manager Marc Bergevin will be a seller.

However, the goal was five wins and two losses, and it doesn’t matter what order that they come in. If the Canadiens run off five straight wins, then they would not sell, but would still be in the fight.

Playing the Penguins in Pittsburgh was yet another must-win in a month of must-wins. However, it was the Pens who came out on top, 4-1.

Wilde Horses 

In just about every game these days, one of the only horses is Nick Suzuki, who had his 37th point of the season taken from him when Brendan Gallagher was credited with a deflection in front of the net, taking the goal away from shooter Tomas Tatar.

Suzuki is third in rookie scoring, behind only Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes by about five points. He will likely need to win the scoring race for rookies to get into the nominations for the Calder Trophy. If he is third, then the final nominee will likely be the goalie in Columbus, Elvis Merzlikins, who is putting up impressive numbers.

There’s no doubt, really, that Cale Makar is going to be the winner, though you will get a passionate argument in Vancouver. It would be a small win in an otherwise frustrating season for the Habs, if Suzuki could at least draw a nomination. He has probably been the best Canadiens forward for the last month.

I’m not sure that is a good thing, though, because really, a 20-year-old rookie should not be your best forward.

If Suzuki isn’t the best forward, then Tomas Tatar is as he continues to rack up the points. This will be the best season in Tatar’s career, if he keeps up his present pace.

The most points Tatar ever had in his career is 58, and that was last season. This year, Tatar has 53 points with 22 to play. Barring an injury, he will eclipse his best point total easily. That makes it interesting to see what GM Marc Bergevin will do with Tatar at the trading deadline. There’s no question that the Habs should be sellers, considering they likely need to go 18-4 to make the playoffs. There is also no question that Bergevin can get a first-round draft choice and a solid prospect for Tatar.

However, Bergevin may be interested in saving his job for next season, because without Tatar next year, the Canadiens will miss the playoffs again for a fifth year out of six. But it will be challenging enough with Tatar, too, as there is no new player that will join the roster that can change the present situation. The prospects are coming, but not next season.

It sounds like damned if you do trade him, and probably damned if you don’t. It’s just a matter of whether you have the guts to realize that next season is also likely going to be a struggle.

For the last two years, the Habs have iced essentially the same team. The high watermark was 96 points last season. This season, it is looking like 86 points as the final total. The difference to produce the lower total this year is they were unable to stay healthy and Carey Price had a bad spell in November. Next season, even if they keep Tatar and Jeff Petry for that matter, who is arriving on the scene to think the team is suddenly worth 105 points? No one.

With the same roster, the Canadiens are still a team to total between 86 and 96 points, so you might as well trade these players for high-value assets like first-rounders and top prospects, and keep loading up for when all of the prospects arrive the following season.

If you hold onto Petry and Tatar, next season you don’t get-first rounders and top prospects like you can now when they have six weeks left in their contracts. You will instead get second rounders.

Wilde Goats 

There are many, many goats to mention in this one.

Ben Chiarot had a tough night. Brett Kulak had a rough night. Max Domi had a rough night. Jonathan Drouin is clearly not ready to compete confidently after his wrist surgery. He’s so tentative about everything; he looks like a player who is afraid to get injured again.

There were so many players who just weren’t there. Beyond the names mentioned, it just feels like piling on at this point during this three-loss week.

Suffice it to say it was not a good night. Let’s just leave it at that, rather than make the Wilde Goats sound like an attendance roll call at elementary school.

Wilde Cards 

Usually rumours that move through the hockey world are baseless, sometimes even ridiculous. Mostly, to mention them is to waste time and space.

The odd time, though, the rumour is from a highly-respected journalist who makes so much sense that to not report on it would be the injustice.

The rumour coming out of Minnesota from The Athletic’s Michael Russo is so logical that it must be explored in detail here. Wild GM Bill Guerin has said that he will continue to trade to improve his lineup. Clearly, the Wild have a problem down the middle of the ice while having strength on the blue line that they have made even stronger this week.

Firstly, to why they need a centre to fight for a playoff spot now, and improve their line-up next season. The top two centres on Minnesota are Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu. Staal is 35 years old. He has 17 goals and only 41 points this season. Their second centre is also a senior citizen by forward standards in today’s NHL, as Mikko Koivu is 36.

Koivu’s numbers are falling off the planet, with two goals this entire year and only 15 points. The Wild have moved Luke Kunin into the centre role to change it up with Koivu being so bad, and the Wild are desperate for centres.

At the same time, they can afford to move a defender as they are stacked.

Their blue line has Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Greg Pateryn and Brad Hunt. Keep in mind that there is an expansion draft coming as well, and they can only protect three defenders for the Seattle draft. Add to that the fact that they just traded for an outstanding prospect, Calen Addision, who is also a defender. Guerin needs to make this move to acquire a centre with someone.

Enter the Montreal Canadiens.

For the first time in two decades, the Habs are rich down the middle — too rich. They have Phillip Danault, Nick Suzuki, Max Domi, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling, Jake Evans, and for now, Nate Thompson. The club can move one or even two of their centres.

The logic here, considering that both Bergevin and Guerin are shopping, cannot be ignored. In Montreal, Domi prefers to play centre but the Habs prefer that he doesn’t. Ryan Poehling prefers to play centre but the Habs prefer that he plays the wing, as well. Poehling also played college at Saint Cloud State in rural Minnesota, and returning there is a natural move for him.

The Habs’ need for talent on defence is well-known. The pieces that are apparently being dangled are right-handed Matt Dumba and left-handed Jonas Brodin. Dumba is more an offensive defender who is 25 years of age and has some term left in his deal. Brodin is 26 and the more defensive of the two. The Habs have been looking for a left-handed partner for Weber since he came to Montreal.

However, the down side is Brodin is approaching free agency the following year. There are other suitors that are also interested in the Wild rearguards, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be the Habs that they deal with. However, you have to expect that the Wild will make a move to improve their roster down the middle. A 35- and a 36-year-old as the one-two down at centre is a recipe for disaster.

The trading deadline is Feb. 24. This could be the most interesting deadline in a long time.

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