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Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens’ road trip excitement stalls with 3-2 loss to Flyers

After a thrilling overtime win over the Sabres in Buffalo on Monday night, it was a quick jump to Philadelphia to complete the two-game road trip.

The Flyers are playing improved hockey with five wins in their last six games, beating the Montreal Canadiens 3-2.

Wilde Horses 

Some lineup changes coming from above were implemented for this one according to Head Coach Martin St. Louis. When asked why the lineup was altered after the win in Buffalo, the head coach said “Ask Kent.” GM Kent Hughes wanted to see Sean Farrell and Cayden Primeau.

Perhaps the GM needs to evaluate these two before the season ends, just in case there is some type of roster decision to be made before entry draft day this summer. Hughes hasn’t seen Primeau start a game against NHL shooters this season, and, of course, he hasn’t seen what Farrell can do at the NHL level. However, it did not seem as if St. Louis was happy with the edict handed to him.

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On to the evaluations, starting with Farrell. He finished an outstanding season with Harvard as one of the top scorers in college hockey. Farrell even received a Hobey Baker Award nomination as top player in the country. He signed a three-year entry level deal with Montreal on Sunday.

Farrell had a strong first game. Firstly, a coach wants to see that Farrell is defensively aware. That’s not easy when the brain is working so incredibly fast, and the nerves can’t decide whether to fight or flight, but Farrell seemed to slow his heart rate just fine.

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Farrell had a strong sense of the ice in his first game. He was reading the play extremely well and processing the movement of the game and his positioning in it with ease. He appears to be a smart player just as he was in college and before that with the Chicago Steel of the USHL.

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As far as his skating went, this fourth rounder looked very smooth on his blades. He had no issue at all keeping up with the NHL pace of play. That’s big, as the NHL is a much faster league and Farrell certainly was not behind his mates.

Being small, one of the issues for Farrell that his coaches will be looking for is how good will Farrell be at winning puck battles. Size is not always indicative, but mostly is of how a player will do at winning pucks.

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A terrific example in the Canadiens past is Brendan Gallagher who is small, but wins most of his battles. Contrast that with Mike McCarron who was a giant but had a terrible time ever winning pucks. He simply did not have the balance, while Gallagher had a low centre of gravity and a ‘won’t-lose’ attitude.

Farrell was hit and miss on this front. He did not win them all, but he did not lose them all, either. Initially, it does not look like it will be an issue for Farrell. He may be small, but he is smart and positions himself well fighting for the puck.  He should fair alright.

It has to be said that this was just one game to view. Assessments will change significantly in the next 100 games.

The other player who got his first start all season in a Montreal uniform was Cayden Primeau. He is a past winner of the Mike Richter Award as the top goalie in all of NCAA hockey, but so far it still has not come together for Primeau at the NHL level.

That’s not to say that it won’t. Goalies are a weird breed. It can take a significant amount of time to get comfortable in the NHL. Primeau is still only 23. Samuel Montembeault didn’t get comfortable at all in the NHL until he was 25.

Primeau looked much better in this contest than he often has in a Canadiens jersey. He was much quieter and settled in the net. There were no wasted movements. He was tracking the puck well. Primeau stopped two breakaways and allowed only two goals on 26 shots.

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The fans should not give up on Primeau. Goalies take time. His story is not yet written. Patience is a GMs best personality trait when it comes to evaluating goalies.

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The only complaint would be that this was a very dull game. After the excitement of the Buffalo contest, this one was a big letdown. Only in the last minute when Rafael Harvey-Pinard scored yet another goal to make it 3-2 did the contest have any spark at all.

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Speculation is running high that Pierre-Luc Dubois will be a Canadiens centre shortly. Sportsnet is reporting that there have been discussions between the Jets and Canadiens. Hughes needs some assurances, though, before he would be ready to make a deal.

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The most important is that there is a contract in spirit in place, before the trade is made. If not, then Dubois has the upper hand by a considerable margin. The Canadiens would have banked on Dubois with a huge non-refundable deposit, except on this item, you can’t take the product back to the store if the price is too high. It would be an untenable situation.

Only if Hughes and Dubois agreed on terms and cost before would the trade make sense for Montreal, or they, too, could find Dubois walks from Montreal just as he is planning to walk on the Winnipeg Jets. With a handshake contract in place, Hughes can now consider what he will give to the Jets to acquire Dubois.

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Remember Hughes can simply wait a year, and give nothing up to the Jets. This sounds like a better plan, obviously, but in the world of business, when you can acquire an asset, you don’t wait to see what surprises can ruin the deal.

The Jets are just trying to save face in this fiasco, because for them, that is exactly what this is. It is a fiasco. They acquired Dubois by trading away Patrick Laine. It was a massive gamble for the club to give up on the young scoring superstar Finn.

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When Dubois tests free agency, the Jets will have nothing to show for Laine who did sign a long-term deal in Columbus. They only want to be able to sell something acceptable to their fan base — some sort of return for a player who wants no part of them.

Ask, then, what that acceptable return could be for the Jets. The answer is the best prospect that they can get. With that in mind, Hughes will rate his prospects and contemplate what he can give up without hurting his rebuilding process.

Hughes holds all the cards. However, if he did consider placating the Jets, players like Filip Mesar or Owen Beck would be smart examples. With those two, Hughes wouldn’t be giving up a player he considers a potential top-six forward or a top-four forward.

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This means Logan Mailloux or Lane Hutson cannot be available on defence. Both those players could be top-four defenders in the league. Hughes will not give up these players. He also cannot give up a player like Sean Farrell or Joshua Roy who have a high ceiling and could well be top-six forwards.

Beck tops out as a third-line centre. This is a player who could logically move. To lose Beck is to lose a talented prospect, but not so talented that there is an expectation that he becomes an 80-point player in the NHL.

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To recap, then, Hughes can wait until Dubois becomes an unrestricted free agent, so the only reason to make the deal is to already know that he has a contract in spirit with Dubois, and only has to give up a player with a clearly defined ceiling that is not a possible ‘star’.

If Hughes doesn’t get all of this guaranteed, then all he has to do is wait. If Dubois wants to come to Montreal truly, then it will almost assuredly happen. Facilitate for the Jets only if you can see next to no downside; otherwise, too bad Winnipeg.

Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on after each Canadiens game.

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