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Bergevin Making The Habs Great Again

He was a rookie General Manager. Highly sought, but a rookie nonetheless. And he was the choice of not only Geoff Molson, but of former Canadiens’ GM Serge Savard as well, who was hired by Molson as a special consultant to help him find the right guy. Marc Bergevin was it. Known around the league as a great hockey mind and talent evaluator, Bergevin decided to return home, knowing full well that the challenge wouldn’t be easy. The team had just finished 28th out of 30 teams, the bank of quality prospects was non-existent. He had his work cut out for him… but he knew it.

There is a lot of misinformation circulating, most spread by people who are still hot at Bergevin for trading P.K. Subban, let’s admit. So let’s start by addressing some of the “rumours” or plain made-up stories out there, and set the clocks straight, shall we?

In the summer of 2017, Bergevin wanted to re-sign Andrei Markov and they had some talks. The problem is that for the longest time, Markov insisted on a two-year contract while the Canadiens were offering him one year. Players like Niklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Joe Sakic – just to name a few – all signed 1-year deals at the end of their career but Markov seemed to think that he was above that. Had he been represented by an agent, he might have received proper guidance but he waited too long and by the time Markov changed his mind, it was too late. The Canadiens went to plan B and signed Karl Alzner (which they shouldn’t have done in retrospect). Markov’s stubbornness indeed cost the Habs… and himself to reach 1,000 games with the Canadiens.

Alexander Radulov followed the money.

And the Alexander Radulov story… the Canadiens’ GM did offer Radulov contract extension back in January, but the player wanted to wait in the summer before making up his mind. Again in June, the Canadiens offered him the same contract that Radulov ended up signing with Dallas, but he wanted to wait to July 1st, to gauge the offers, and he wanted $7M from Habs. Facing the same salary cap as any other teams, the Habs didn’t want to pay him that. When Radulov received his offer from the Stars, Bergevin offered to match that offer but Radulov chose the Dallas, likely due to the taxes, and “sold” to fans that the Canadiens’ offer came in too late, that he had accepted the one in Dallas. Having enough of the lies, Bergevin retorqued publicly, something the organization rarely does.

Transactions

In one of his most underrated achievements, Bergevin picked up Paul Byron off waivers – free! He then re-signed him at $1.1 million per season. If you want to see how valuable Byron is to the Canadiens, here’s a recent article on this blog.

Shea Weber for P.K. Subban: the only reason why this transaction seemed, for a while, to go against Bergevin and the Habs was because of Weber’s injury. Prior to that, they were nose to nose in offensive production, with Weber being more physical and much better defensively. Now that the one nicknamed Man Mountain by Mike Babcock is back healthy, the entire Habs’ team is playing better hockey. Coincidence? I think not. But I’m working on a 3-year recap so stay tuned…

Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev didn’t look so good last year according to many, but lopsided in Habs’ favour this year. With one game left to this season, Drouin is one point shy of his career high. Sergachev plays only 17:55 minutes per game, 1:31 minutes of it being on the powerplay. He has 6 goals and 32 points this season. I still believe it’s a good trade for both teams.

Tomas Tatar/Nick Suzuki/2nd for Max Pacioretty: literally a steal by Bergevin. Pacioretty now has a cap hit of $7M starting next year. Has Tatar (without a NTC) at $500k rebate (paid by Vegas) who has reached the 20-goal plateau this season for the fifth consecutive season. Suzuki is tearing up the OHL and the 2nd in 2019 is the Blue Jackets’ pick.

Max Domi is happy in Montreal

Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk: Not really wanting to put Galchenyuk down here, as much as to praise Domi, who has shattered his career-high in points by about 20 points. He has played admirably well at the centre position and leads the Habs in scoring. Highly in Habs’ favour.

Mike Reilly for a 5th? Okay, Reilly has slowed down after a very hot start to the season, but he’s played top-4 minutes most of the season. No matter how you look at it, getting that kind of return for a 5th round pick is unbelievable value. Further, it’s not the Canadiens’ 5th, it’s the Washington Capitals’.

Phillip Danault & 2nd (Alexander Romanov) for pending UFA’s Dale Weise/Tomas Fleishmann: Much like Domi, Danault has beaten his career high in points in 22 fewer games this season. The new father has been the Canadiens’ second line centre while playing against the oppositions’ top forwards. Many “experts” and “fans” were complaining last June that Trevor Timmins took a no-name, Romanov, so soon in the draft. None of them are complaining today as he’s perceived to be one of the NHL’s top prospects.

Josh Gorges for 2nd: That pick was later traded to Chicago to get Andrew Shaw.

Thomas Vanek & 5th/Sebastian Collberg & 2nd: Vanek was the biggest pending UFA that year and Garth Snow was holding back trying to get the maximum for him. He waited too long and Bergevin pounced like a mountain lion on an unexpected pray. Vanek played outstanding in regular season but disappeared in the playoffs, so Bergevin cut him loose. At that price, he was worth the shot.

Michael Ryder & 3rd (Connor Crisp)/Erik Cole: While this trade won’t go down as remarquable in history, getting Ryder back when Cole’s play was fading rapidly was a good trade. That is when young Brendan Gallagher gave up his number 73 to Ryder, and picked number 11, which he’s still wearing to this date.

Andrew Shaw / 2 x 2nd: As mentioned above, one of the 2nd round picks was acquired in the Josh Gorges trade. When you can turn a fading and banged up Gorges into a proven competitor like Shaw, that’s gold. Shaw is tied with Tatar on the Habs with 0.73 points per game.

Jeff Petry was a great pickup

Jeff Petry / 2nd & 5th: This might be one of Bergevin’s most underrated trade he’s made. Petry is a very serviceable top-4 who has done a good job under difficult circumstances filling in for Shea Weber last year. This season with one game to go, he has reached a career-high 45 points.

Joel Armia, Steve Mason, 4th, 7th / Simon Bourque: That was a strategic trade. The Canadiens had cap space, the Jets needed to clear some so Bergevin bought out Mason’s contract and got Armia and two picks for a guy that will never see the NHL. Highway robbery.

Kerby Rychel, Rinat Valiev, 2nd (Jacob Olofsson) / Tomas Plekanec, Kyle Baun: While Rychel and Valiev have not panned out, Olofsson is a very good prospect in the Canadiens’ organisation. Plus, they got Plekanec back as a UFA so he could play his 1,000th game with the team that he loves.

Jakub Jerabek (UFA) / 5th: Bergevin had signed Jerabek as a UFA so he didn’t cost him anything. The 5th round pick was the Washington Capitals’ pick, which Bergevin flipped to Minnesota to get Mike Reilly.

Nicolas Deslauriers / Zach Redmond: Deslaurier is a physical fourth liner with grit, a local product who loves being in Montreal. Redmond played three games for the Sabres since the trade.

Jordie Benn / Greg Pateryn, 4th: Benn has had his ups and his downs since being acquired by the Canadiens. He finished his first season with the Habs very strong, which earned him a new contract. Last season, he did not play well mostly due to injuries to Weber, which put everyone in a role they weren’t suited for. But he has bounced back this season playing on the third pairing and killing penalties.

2nd in 2017 (Joni Ikonen), 2nd in 2018 (traded to EDM) / Lars Eller: If people complain about Andrew Shaw costing the Habs two second round picks, they have to be happy that Bergevin received two second round picks for Eller. It’s almost like a Shaw for Eller trade. Then you add Ikonen who is one of the team’s best prospects.

Christian Folin, Dale Weise / David Schlemko, Byron Froese: Weise is thrilled to be back in the Canadiens’ organisation. Schlemko had become an dead weight and Froese is a good AHL player, nothing more. Folin has played some very good hockey alongside Benn down the stretch.

Nate Thompson, 5th round pick / 4th round pick: That’s your typical, annual Kings/Habs trade. Remember the Dwight King trade for a pick? Then the Torrey Mitchell trade getting that same pick back? Thompson has taken some pressure off Phillip Danault for defensive zone faceoffs, winning 55.1% of his faceoffs.

Jordan Weal / Michael Chaput: Another depth move, this time bringing in a quality right-handed faceoffs’ centre (57% with the Habs), Weal has also been a key contributor offensively down the stretch. Don’t be surprised if the pending UFA gets offered a contract this summer.


As you can see, Bergevin has won a vast majority of his transaction and even the one he’s been most criticized about, the Weber / Subban deal is in his favour this season.

While some will get stuck on the Alzner contract, they also forget that he is also the one who signed some of the most one-sided contracts (in the Habs’ favour) in the NHL. Who could get a 30-35 goals scorer – Pacioretty – at $4.5 million per season long term? A 20-goals scorer in Byron at $1.1 million? Perhaps shall we look at another 30-goals’ scorer –Brendan Gallagher – at $3.75 million? Domi at $3.15 million isn’t too shabby either, is it? Or what about Danault at $3.08 million? But let’s focus on Alzner, right?

Now that the Canadiens are officially out of the playoffs, there’s this (same) group of people out there calling for his head because the team missed out for the second year in a row. Yet, Geoff Molson was quite clear last summer when saying that he had accepted Bergevin’s plan, which seems to be to get younger and add an attitude of hating to lose. Molson is a smart and reasonable man. He understands that going through a reset through youth likely meant that the team would miss the playoffs. You can bet that he’s satisfied with the way his GM turned things around, even after narrowly missing the playoffs. Oh I personally would have liked for him to do more at the deadline, but his overall work since last summer has been spectacular. Even his recent depth moves have paid off.

Now he must continue in the same direction this upcoming summer as he did for the past year or so. Trevor Timmins has 10 picks to play with at the upcoming draft and Bergevin MUST find a quality left-handed top-4 defenseman at the very least. Someone in the mold of Cam Fowler or Shayne Gostisbehere, who can also play on the powerplay would be ideal. Either way, the future is very promising in Montreal folks. Go Habs Go!

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5 Big Market Teams Will Be Aggressive

Reset, retool, rebuild, reload… all terms used by NHL General Managers to qualify the state of the franchise that they manage when their team is going through some fairly major changes with their on-ice product. Each one has a slightly different connotation but in all cases, you’re looking at some sort of revamp, whether it is to trade a few veterans for quality youth, completely gut the team and start over or something in between. All of those options come with some growing pains, some dry bread seasons before, hopefully, return to being a Stanley Cup contender.

This upcoming off-season is not going to be any different from any other one but there are five teams in particular that fans and media members should keep a close eye on. Five teams that can afford to spend to the Salary Cap ceiling and usually do so, but they are nowhere close as they are going through some sort of metamorphose. Those teams promise to be big players, throwing big dollars at the top pending UFAs… or even some RFAs.

5- MONTREAL CANADIENS

Projected Cap Hit$63,380,476
Projected Cap Space$16,119,524

This is the second consecutive year that the Canadiens will be trying to make a splash on July 1st. This past summer, they were planning on offering big dollars to John Tavares until he decided that he wasn’t even going to listen to what they had to say. This summer, the number of quality UFAs is much greater and Marc Bergevin is planning on being heard from by the likes of Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene, amongst others.

4- NEW YORK RANGERS

Projected Cap Hit$61,963,609
Projected Cap Space$17,536,391

Like that’s any news, right? The New York Rangers are always a force to recon with on the UFA market as more players want to play in New York than anywhere else in the league… or so it seems. This time however, they have the cap space and just like Montreal, the Rangers are ready to throw fist-full of money to some of the key pending UFAs. Don’t count out the possibility of Jeff Gorton signing a quality RFA to an offer sheet either and something tells me that the Toronto Maple Leafs better look over their shoulder for Mitch Marner

3- CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Projected Cap Hit$59,830,128
Projected Cap Space$19,669,872

It seems like not so long ago, the Blackhawks were strapped against the cap but it doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Still, their core of players making most of the money is aging and their production, particularly on defense, is starting to diminish. Whether they decide to trade some of them away or not, the Hawks have plenty of cap space to add to an already pretty potent lineup and if I’m Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers or Jake Gardiner, I’m expecting a phone call from Stan Bowman.

2- VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Projected Cap Hit$51,439,165
Projected Cap Space$28,060,835

The Canucks have been hard to read for a few years now. They’re not going through a complete rebuild, but they’re going younger while adding puzzling veteran elements, sometimes overpaying based on the market. The likes of Loui Eriksson ($6M), Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle ($3M each) are examples of that but even then, the Canucks have tons of cap space. There seemed to be a disconnect when team owner Francesco Aquilini fired President and long term Canucks Trevor Linden citing a philosophical difference. Linden wanted to continue building through the draft while Aquilini wants to put bums in the seats by being competitive. Expect GM Jim Benning to receive clear orders to get at least one prominent player through free agency this summer.

1- PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Projected Cap Hit$46,842,499
Projected Cap Space$32,657,501

Last but not least, keep a very close eye on the Flyers. They have shown in the past that they’re not afraid to throw offers to RFAs (Ryan Kesler and Shea Weber are two) and they will be aggressive on the free agents’ market. It’s not the willingness of spending money that’s lacking and team President Paul Holmgren will receive free reign to spend from majority owner Ed Snider who, like Aquilini in Vancouver, can’t stand the long rebuild through the draft, prompting the dismissal of Ron Hextall. Chuck Fletcher is an experienced GM with pocket loads of money and there is no doubt that they will be one of the most aggressive teams on the market this summer.

KEY PENDING UFAs

Here is a list of the pending Unrestricted Free Agents for the summer of 2019. Some will re-sign with their respective teams but the number of quality UFAs is high this year in comparison to the last couple of summers. I have separated them in groups, forwards (by points), defensemen (by ice time) and goaltenders (by wins).

Which ones would you like to see with the Canadiens, or who do you believe would accept to play under the scrutiny of the Montreal market? From looking at these lists, I personally think that there are a few forwards that could help while the elusive Top-4 defenseman might have to be acquired through trade. Go Habs Go!

Data from CapFriendly.com. * Jimmy Howard signed a one-year deal with the Red Wings today

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Questionable Decisions Costing the Habs Playoffs’ Hopes

Management can put the team together, coaches can set systems and game plans but ultimately, the players are the ones who have to put it all together on the ice. They’re the ones scoring goals, defend, stop pucks. They’re the ones deciding if they’re going to put the necessary effort to make things happen or not. And when players put it all on the line for 55 games, exceeding expectations according to most “experts”, you have a team like the Montreal Canadiens battling for a playoffs’ spot at trade deadline.

This group took it upon themselves, coaches included, to go against everyone’s predictions and played an uptempo, fast game that gave opponents nightmares night in, night out. Several players had career years and the team remained relatively healthy. When, by the time team captain and undisputed leader Shea Weber came back from a year’s absence, the Canadiens were in a good position to keep battling for a playoffs’ spot and they did just that… until recently.

What happened?

The team’s anemic powerplay certainly hasn’t helped. It was actually a huge factor. Having said that, it’s been like that all year, even when the team was winning. That alone isn’t enough to explain the drop in team success. Pointing fingers to the coaching staff for the man advantage is, in my opinion, not right. That one is on the players. It’s not a strategy problem, but rather an execution issue here. Coaches aren’t the ones telling players to make high-risk passes getting intercepted. They’re not the ones saying “give it to Shea” all the time. They are certainly not the ones making the wrong decisions at the wrong time resulting in turnovers in the offensive zone and ultimately, the Canadiens’ players chasing the puck behind their own net.

As of trade deadline day of February 25th, the Canadiens were sixth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 33-23-7, comfortably in a playoffs’ position and closing in on the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins.

In the days leading to the trade deadline, every General Manager of teams battling with the Canadiens made trades to improve their team substantially. Instead of addressing needs at positions where the Canadiens needed help most, like improvement on left defense and secondary scoring, Marc Bergevin decided to add depth to his fourth line and added an outcast defenseman from the Philadelphia Flyers. By “playing it safe”, Bergevin dropped the ball and failed to reward his players for their great work.

Coaching decisions

Aside from the powerplay, Claude Julien and his assistants have done an outstanding job this season… at least until shortly after trade deadline. The first very questionable decision taken by Julien was on March 2nd against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The night before, the Canadiens had defeated the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden by the score of 4-2. Shea Weber had a reasonable 23:40 of ice time. The Penguins had also played the night before, dropping a 4-3 contest in overtime against the Buffalo Sabres.

Yet against the Pens, seeing that Mike Sullivan was sending Sidney Crosby‘s line to start the game, Julien – who had the last change being at home – decided to respond by sending the pairing of Jeff Petry and Jordie Benn. A mere 21 seconds after the initial puck drop, Benn turned the puck over at his own blue line and Crosby made him pay to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.

Claude Julien

As if this wasn’t enough for Julien to realise that for one, the Petry-Benn pairing didn’t work well last year or this year for that matter, and two, they were outmatched by Sid the Kid, he insisted in keeping them against the player voted in a recent NHL players’ survey as the best player in the league. Results? Habs lost that key game 5-1 and Crosby left Montreal after a four-points night. Never has Julien adjusted in that game and put his best shutdown defenseman against the Pens’ top line. Mind boggling decision to say the least.

The following week, the Canadiens were on their annual road trip to California facing two bottom dwellers in the L.A. Kings and the Anaheim Ducks, facing the powerhouse San Jose Sharks in between. Julien, claiming seeing fatigue from his young player, decided not to dress Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Further, he chose to start Antti Niemi against the Sharks instead of against the Kings, a decision that left many perplexed. The Canadiens ended up losing two out of three games on that road trip.

After a lackluster effort against the New York Islanders, forward Andrew Shaw, who was one of a few Canadiens who showed up from start to finish in that game, did not mince his words when asked about the difference in the game.

“They came out to win the game from the start. They wanted to win more than we did. We need to be a team playing hard. Everyone. All lines, all D, goalie; everyone has to be playing their best every night. Lines are taking nights off, players are taking nights off. They don’t have that fight.”

You see, Bergevin went and got Shaw for his leadership, big game ability and because he knows what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. Last night, Shaw continued his inspired play.


Julien continued with his questionable decisions. In a game when the Canadiens were looking for solutions on offense, his second most utilised forward was… Jordan Weal. Kotkaniemi finished the night with 7:56 of ice time, the least utilised player on both teams. Asked after the game why the rookie only played 44 seconds in the third period, Julien explained that the young centre missed a couple of defensive assignments. Geez Claude, if you’re going to sit everyone who misses defensive assignments, I hate to tell you this but you won’t be able to field a team!

As a result, the Canadiens now find themselves three points out of the last Wild Card spot held by the surging Columbus Blue Jackets, and four points back of Carolina who also have a game in hand on both the Habs and Jackets. To make matters worse, the Canadiens can’t “tie” those two teams in points as both have more regulation and overtime wins, which means that Montreal has to finish at least one point ahead.

As much as it pains me to say this folks, forget the playoffs this year and that’s very unfortunate. It could have been prevented. The players brought the team close, management and coaching have let them down. It will be an interesting end of the season as there should be a lot of frustration showing from everyone, from players to media members, and of course fans. Particularly those who were waiting in the weeds all season to pounce on Bergevin.

Recent Trades: The Proof is in The Pudding

As a NHL General Manager, sometimes you complete trades that work out for your team, sometimes they don’t. In all cases, the price paid to acquired those new acquisitions is key to determine if it was a good trade or if it wasn’t, how much you’ve lost in the deal. No, that doesn’t apply only to Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens as every team in the league goes through those assessments and every GM has good deals and not so good ones.

We’ve discussed how disappointing it was to see Bergevin fail to address the team’s biggest needs so let’s not rehash on that. But it’s not like he didn’t complete any deals. He did revamp his bottom-six and added a depth defenseman and those deals seem to be paying off… for the time being.

Here are the trades completed by the Canadiens’ GM leading up to the February 25th trade deadline:

As you can see, Bergevin traded three players who had been sent to the Laval Rockets in the AHL and has added four players to his NHL roster. For the sake of this exercise, we won’t get into what the players shipped out are doing with their new team as that’s not the purpose. The goal is to see if Bergevin has improved his team with the players used by head coach Claude Julien over the players he decided to sit in the pressbox. So here’s the breakdown:

NAMEGPGAPts+/-2019-2020 CONTRACT
Jordan Weal11246+2UFA
Nate Thompson210660UFA
Dale Weise9000-21 year – $2.35M
Christian Folin14044+11UFA
Matthew Peca383710-131 year – $1.3M
Charles Hudon32325-9RFA
Nicolas Deslauriers45213-101 year – $950,000
Mike Reilly573811+16RFA

As we can see, it looks like the trades have panned out so far. Further, Weal (56.4%) and Thompson (55.5%) have helped take some pressure off Phillip Danault (54.7%) in the faceoffs’ circles, particularly in the defensive zone. All things considered, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bergevin offer contracts to both Weal and Thompson for sure, perhaps even Folin by season’s end.

In order to do that, the team will have to unload some of the NHL contracts for next season, unless Geoff Molson want to have the biggest payroll in the AHL, which already includes Karl Alzner. And Bergevin hasn’t addressed the team’s biggest needs for a left-handed Top-4 defenseman and some help for the powerplay. It will be a busy summer for Canadiens’ GM but then again… when hasn’t he been busy since taking over? Go Habs Go!

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