There hasn’t been much going on in terms of transactions this season, but just hours after the NHL’s Christmas holiday freeze was lifted, the Oilers and Canadiens struck a deal, sending forward Zack Kassian to Edmonton and goaltender Ben Scrivens to Montreal. Both Kassian and Scrivens cleared waivers earlier on in the season, so the deal represents an opportunity for each player to get their respective careers back on track in a new environment.
The Habs half of this deal makes a lot of sense.
Last year’s Most Valuable Player, Carey Price, has only played 12 games this season thanks to a lower-body injury that sidelined him from action in late October, and then again in late November. In his limited appearances, Price had been excellent, posting a 0.934 save percentage and 6.74 goals saved above average. Rookie backup goaltender Mike Condon was solid in relief for a little while, posting a 93.1 save percentage while winning eight of 12 games after Price got injured through early December.
Unfortunately for the Habs, Condon’s hot start was a mirage, and as a result, they’ve lost six consecutive games (nine of their last ten), and they’ve found themselves in third place in the Atlantic Division, just four points removed from not being in a playoff spot. In fact, the last time Condon won a game was Dec.1, and since then, his even strength save percentage has dipped to 88.82.
So pretty much anybody would be an upgrade in net for the Habs right now, even Scrivens, who posted a horrific 0.890 save percentage and -38.39 goals saved above average last season with the Oilers. That said, even though Scrivens was really bad last season, Edmonton isn’t exactly the greatest environment for goaltenders to succeed. The Oilers are consistently at the bottom of the league in shots and scoring chances against per game, so you can’t really expect Scrivens to shoulder all of the blame for his poor numbers. Before playing in Edmonton, Scrivens had a 0.931 save percentage in 19 games in L.A. and a 0.910 save percentage in 32 games in Toronto, so there’s certainly a history of moderate success in more forgiving environments.
Even if Scrivens is a bust in Montreal, he’s a free agent at the end of the season, so it isn’t like this is any kind of long-term commitment. And all they had to give up was Kassian, who was suspended without pay while in Stage 2 of the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program earlier this season and was then immediately placed on waivers upon reinstatement.
That makes the Oilers side of this deal a little bit more confusing.
Obviously he brings quite a bit of baggage to Edmonton, and he also has a history of animosity with the team. Of course, while there is a fair amount of risk here, like Scrivens, Kassian’s deal comes to an end on July 1, so it’s pretty easy for the Oilers to walk away if they want to. Last year, Kassian scored 10 goals in 42 games with Vancouver, and the year before that, he scored 14 goals in 73 games, so there’s something to like there. At worst, he provides some intimidation at the bottom of the lineup for opposing teams who may be inclined to take a run at 18-year old Connor McDavid.