“We love Brett Kulak,” Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes said last Thursday.
It turns out the Edmonton Oilers also love the 28-year-old defenseman.
Hughes said last Thursday he wasn’t planning to trade Kulak and wasn’t calling other teams to see if there was interest in him. But the GM added he would consider offers in case he got one he couldn’t refuse.
TSN Trade Center reported a deal was done Monday, with TSN’s Bob McKenzie reporting just before 2 pm that the Canadiens will receive defenseman William Lagesson and a second-round draft pick from the Oilers in exchange for Kulak. The NHL trade deadline is at 3 p.m. Monday.
Just before 2:30 pm, the Canadiens announced they have traded forward Artturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for defenseman Justin Barron and a second-round pick at the 2024 NHL Draft. The Avalanche selected the 20-year-old Barron in the first round (25th overall) of the 2020 NHL Draft. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder has 5-15-20 totals in 45 games this season with the AHL’s Colorado Eagles. Barron, a Halifax native, played junior with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads.
Hughes had also said he wasn’t looking to trade Lehkonen, but would listen to offers from other teams. He obviously liked the one he received from Colorado.
Fifteen minutes before the 3 pm deadline, the Canadiens announced they had made another trade, sending goalie Andrew Hammond to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for forward Nate Schnarr. Hammond played in four games with the Canadiens before suffering a lower-body injury, posting a 3-0 record with a 2.40 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. The 23-year-old Schnarr had 13-13-26 totals in 43 games this season with the AHL’s Utica Comets.
Lagesson played 30 games with the Oilers this season, posting 0-4-4 totals and was plus-1 while averaging 12:20 of ice time. The 6-foot-2, 207-pounder is in the final season of a two-year, $1.45-million contract with a salary-cap hit of $725,000. The 26-year-old can become a restricted free agent this summer. In 57 career NHL games, Lagesson has 0-6-6 totals. The Oilers selected him in the fourth round (91st overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft.
The trade to the Oilers will be a homecoming for Kulak, an Edmonton native. In 56 games this season with the Canadiens, the 6-foot-1, 197-pounder had 3-10-13 totals and was minus-10 while averaging 17:58 of ice time. He’s in the final season of a three-year, US$5.5-million contract with a salary-cap hit of $1.85 million and can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
“He’s a really good player,” Canadiens defenseman Chris Wideman said about Kulak after Monday’s morning skate in Brossard. “I hadn’t known him much before I got here. He’s a really, really good player, an elite skater. I don’t think he gets enough credit for how good of a skater he is. Just as good as anybody that I’ve seen. Great guy, I’ve enjoyed being his teammate. I think he’s, I guess, better than I expected. He’s a good player … I’ve enjoyed playing with him.”
Former Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin acquired Kulak from the Calgary Flames on Oct. 1, 2018 in exchange for defensemen Matt Taormina and Rinat Valiev, who are both no longer playing pro hockey. The Canadiens selected Lehkonen in the second round (55th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft.
When asked last Thursday about the possibility of being traded, Kulak said: “I think I had a couple of days where I was starting to think about everything, all the scenarios that could play out. But I think it has settled down in my mind. Monday’s going to come and go in a blink of the eye. It will come and it will be gone quick enough. So I think I’ve kind of settled the mind down and just focusing on the games and being at my best and playing at my best.”
When asked if he had any talks with the Canadians about a contract extension, Kulak said: “We haven’t spoken about that yet. I don’t know … I think we’re going to have to wait and see what happens by Monday and go from there maybe.”
Now, Kulak is going to Edmonton.
Lehkonen had 13-16-29 totals in 58 games this season with the Canadiens and ranked third in team scoring behind Nick Suzuki (17-29-46) and Cole Caufield (13-17-30). The 26-year-old Lehkonen has a one-year, US$2.3-million contract and can become a restricted free agent this summer.
“He’s a guy that everyone loves on the team,” Canadiens defenseman Joel Edmundson said about Lehkonen Monday morning. “He’s a smart guy off the ice, but I think his game shows how smart he is on the ice. He can play up and down the lineup. He can play first line if you want — he can put the points up — or he can play fourth line and only penalty-kill. He’s a utility player, Swiss army knife. He was a big part of our run last year (to the Stanley Cup final) and I think his game the past month he’s really stepped up and shown what he’s capable of doing. So he’s been a big part of our team.”
Now, Lehkonen is part of the Avalanche.
For Hughes, it was a busy trade-deadline day — his first as GM of the team — as he continued to add building blocks for the future.
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