In the summer of 2017, thanks to his team’s surplus of defenders and dearth of goal-scorers, Marco Scandella was the topic of numerous trade rumours. One of the loudest involved the Montreal Canadiens, and had general manager Marc Bergevin sending Alex Galchenyuk to the self-proclaimed State of Hockey. At that time, Scandella was firmly entrenched in the Minnesota Wild’s top four, while Galchenyuk had just been relegated to a bottom-six winger role in the playoffs and was thought to be possibly replaceable by the acquisition of Jonathan Drouin.
Long story short, Galchenyuk was too high a price to pay for Bergevin, and Scandella soon found himself a Buffalo Sabres defenceman, exchanged along with Jason Pominville for Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis. But it seems that Scandella had never left Bergevin’s radar. Two-and-a-half seasons later, with Scandella’s value (and play) having plummeted, the Canadiens’ general manager has come knocking once again.
The Scandella acquisition fits Bergevin’s modus operandi to a T. The player fills a positional need for the Canadiens, the asking price is extremely low (especially relative to what it used to be), and Scandella is slated to become an unrestricted free agent at year’s end.
Are the Canadiens actually improving by acquiring their former beau? From an organizational depth standpoint, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Marc Bergevin has exchanged Mikey Reilly, a player who was Claude Julien’s fourth option (if that) on the left side, for Scandella, a player who will likely suit up for the bleu-blanc-rouge on a regular basis. The GM has also managed to shed Reilly’s contract for 2020-21, worth an AAV of $1.5 million. Acquiring a potential asset for a non-asset, and freeing up salary cap space to boot? That’s a definite win for the Canadiens’ manager.
As for whether Bergevin has improved his team on the ice … that’s a little trickier. There are clear and difficult-to-dispute reasons for Scandella’s plummeting value. During his Buffalo tenure, the defender saw his utilization drop from the top four to the bottom pairing to the occasional scratch. When he did get playing time, it meant bypassing youngsters who had outperformed the veteran on the ice. Ultimately, sister site Die By The Blade gave the player a D grade for his 2018-19 campaign, summing it up by asking one succinct question for the 2019-20 campaign: Would Scandella break the top six?
At the same time, Scandella has experienced a renaissance this season. While still the Sabres’ sixth defenceman by ice-time, the Montreal native already has nearly as many points (nine) as he recorded the season prior (13) in half the games. His Corsi-for percentage relative to his teammates (CF% rel) has jumped nearly 10%, his relative goals-for and scoring-chances-for percentages are each up nearly 15%, and his high-danger chance number has improved by nearly 20%.
The problem for the Canadiens, is that much of Scandella’s rebound can be attributed to his pairing with Henri Jokiharju, and Scandella can’t sneak Jokiharju to Montreal in his luggage. However, it has to be noted that this isn’t the case of a talented youngster propping up a veteran past his best-before date. Scandella and Jokiharju legitimately have chemistry, and both suffer equally when away from the other. Another positive note for the Canadiens is that their newest acquisition is still better than his old team’s average possession metrics, even without his Finnish partner-in-crime.
In Marco Scandella, the Canadiens are not acquiring the player that they coveted in 2017. Instead of a top-four defender, Scandella is more likely a bottom-pairing player who can fill in on the second pairing on a part-time basis.
There have been glimmers of hope that Scandella can regain the lost form that first attracted the Canadiens. In the worst-case scenario, assuming Scandella does not undeservedly take valuable ice time away from the likes of Victor Mete and Brett Kulak, Bergevin has paid a 4th round draft pick to clear $1.5 million off the cap. In the best-case scenario, the Canadiens have acquired a solid member of their blue-line corps, and one who might be willing to re-sign with the team at a hometown discount, for a song.