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Habs Trying To Land The Big Fish

Tired of hockey cliches? It’s summertime after all, so let’s change it up a bit and why not try using fishing analogies to describe Montreal Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin‘s attempts at luring talent so far? Don’t miss the boat, the conditions are perfect. Rumours are swirling at cross-currents, and there are quite a few good fish to be landed. Big, small, fast, some stinky and some we would love having on our plate. If you’re not hooked yet, keep on reading.

Lesson number one is: You can’t catch fish if you don’t have a line in the water.

Aside from those crazy carp you see on Youtube, fish don’t just jump in the boat. Rest assured, Bergevin seems to have lines all over the place. Up until recently, he still had a big one on the hook in Sebastian Aho, but the forecast showed that a Hurricane could come through and get it off the hook, which has now been confirmed. Knowing that the offer was likely be matched, he has lines in several other spots it seems.

It’s up to the fish to dictate when they’ll get caught. You can’t force it.

The Habs wanted John Tavares last year. He didn’t even want to give them the time of day to meet or talk with them. You may have the best lure, the best equipment, but if the fish won’t bite or is not hungry for what you’re offering, there’s simply nothing you can do to get it into your boat. Montreal has a lot to offer but it’s not for everyone. Ironically, it seems like most players who experience playing for the Canadiens doesn’t want to leave. Just this past weekend, Brian Gionta was telling the media how much he misses Montreal and how he loved playing there. Gionta was at Josh Gorges‘ charity ball tournament in Kelowna and Gorges is another one who never wanted to leave the Canadiens’ organization, even declining a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs before being traded to Buffalo.

If it were easy, it wouldn’t be called fishing. I’d be called catching.

“Just do it” doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. You must work hard, smart, consistently, and keep market need firmly in the forefront, then your “doing it” will pay off. Yet, some fans and media are chastising the Habs every time a top UFA signs elsewhere or a trade involving teams other than the Habs is consumed. Many of them, sitting behind their keyboard in their stained underwear, protected by some usernames and a few Twitter followers or Facebook/Instagram “friends”, laugh at the notion that trading in today’s NHL is hard, pretending to know better. They forget that each time a player is signed, there are currently 30 teams (soon to be 31) that didn’t get him. Oh but that’s a GM’s job, they say. Well as a fan, your job is to cheer and encourage your team… and you’re failing at it too! Yet, it’s a heck of a lot easier to be a fan than trading with real money, real contracts and real players.

The bigger the bait, the bigger the fish.

You can’t land Moby Dick with a worm. If you’re up for catching the big fish, do what’s necessary in your industry to attract them and land them. Unfortunately for Bergevin, while he has perhaps the biggest bait in tons of cap space and a willingness to spent it, there are plenty of other factors going against him. The water is murky from the taxes muddy bottoms where every bottom sucking political government is taking pleasure in chasing the fish away. Worse, you have a bunch of media and so-called “fans” dumping their trash and sewage straight into the St. Lawrence river.

The fishing is always better on the other side of the lake.

Sometimes it seems like no matter where you throw your line, fish doesn’t bite. Yet, you see other fishermen pulling them out… on the other side of the lake. Team A managed to trade for player B. Why couldn’t Bergevin give player C to get him? Simple folks: Team A did not want or need player C, or didn’t think that he had as much upside as player B… in spite of what you think. And guess what? They’re entitled to it, it’s their team, their business. And no, it’s not Bergevin’s fault when that happens. It actually happens to every single team in the NHL.

Something big brewing?

It seems like this summer, Bergevin is a lot more aggressive and from the outside looking in, it certainly looks like he has a plan and he’s following it to a tee. He wants a big name and has already taken several steps to address his team’s needs.

Plan A seemed to have been Matt Duchene but as we know, he chose the Nashville Predators, where Duchene has a house and spends part of his off-season. An avid guitar player, he loves country music and if you’ve ever been to Smashville, it’s an amazing city, one that I would rank well ahead of Montreal, New York and Las Vegas.

Plan B might have been Anders Lee, although there seem to be contradicting reports on that one. The Isles captain never really wanted to leave, it was obvious and he said so himself. Being a UFA, he had to do his homework and see his worth on the market and that provided him with the leverage needed to convince Lou Lamoriello to fork out the dough to get him back.

The announcement of Lee’s signing with the Islanders wasn’t made yet that came the news of the offer sheet to Sebastian Aho, which drew a lot of ink (literally) in the media and between the Hurricanes and Canadiens’ fan bases. The Hurricanes’ owner Tom Dundon has come out with guns blaring stating that it was an exercise of futility, a waste of time for everyone on the part of Bergevin and the Canadiens but don’t be fooled. He didn’t want to spend that kind of money, particularly not most of it in bonuses and half the contract in the first 12 months! That’s the owner who, just a few months ago, didn’t want to pay his GM more than $600,000 when coaches make millions!

Patrik Laine

Rumours seems to be persistent surrounding the Habs and one of the most interesting, in my opinion, is the one where the Jets and Canadiens would be talking trade for 21 year-old Finnish forward Patrik Laine. Coming off a somewhat disappointing season with the Jets (to his standards as he still managed 30 goals), the RFA can’t agree on the terms of a new contract with the Jets who are in a bit of a pickle cap-wise. The team already lost 3 of their top-5 defensemen from last year in Tyler Myers (Canucks), Jacob Trouba (Rangers) and Ben Chiarot (Canadiens) and although they have picked up Neal Pionk from New York, they’re still thin at that position. A cheap NHL ready young defenseman as part of the package would likely have to go, a Victor Mete, Josh Brook or Noah Juulsen, one would think. The Canadiens’ first round pick (still tied up in the Aho offer sheet at the time of writing this) would also likely be involved, as well as a top forward prospect, one would think.

There is plenty of smoke and more often than not, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And Bergevin is still sitting in the middle of the lake, focused on the task ahead even with the wild forest fire around him, in the thick smoke… trying to land his very own big fish. He, Trevor Timmins and Shane Churla have already stolen the Draft by having Cole Caufield land on their lap at number 15. They’re looking at stealing the summer too. Stay tuned Habs’ fans and don’t forget: Good things come to those who wade. Bergevin did land a big Tuna late last summer remember? The season doesn’t start until October 3rd… in Carolina ironically. Go Habs Go!

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NHL’s Top-20 Current Worst Contracts

Market. Competition. Desperation. Self-preservation. All factors dictating, justifying and/or describing NHL General Managers’ actions during the summer months, but mostly in the early days of July when free agents hit the market. All of which contributing, in one way or another, in bidding wars bumping up the so-called market value of a player, or players within the same category, numbers used at a later date by other players’ agents in justifying the new bar for their clients in future negotiations. The best General Managers are those who can resist succumbing to the temptation of getting into betting wars, by simply sticking to their plans going in… but “simply” just isn’t that simple as it’s often easier said than done.

The irony of this whole phenomena is that the NHL imposed a hard salary cap in an attempt to stop that process, in a way to protect GMs from… themselves. But as we’ve witnessed over and over again, it hasn’t worked. All it has done is kill GM’s abilities to “fix their mistakes” by trading their bad contracts, making it less exciting for fans as in-season trades are few and far between.

“If you look at history in the NHL, the biggest mistakes are made in early July. Worst contracts, guys who underperform. The biggest mistakes are July first. You have to be careful.” ~ Marc Bergevin

As the July 1st Free Agents’ Frenzy is once again upon us, let’s take a look at the NHL’s current worst contracts. Taken into consideration are factors such as cap hit, production, games played, no trades protection, protection against buyouts (signing bonus), age and number of years remaining to the contract. In order to understand the buyout protection, signing bonuses don’t count in the case of a buyout, only the player’s salary. For example, for every year of his contract, Andrew Ladd’s base salary is $1M. The rest is all signing bonus. So the Islanders would still be left with $4.833M of his $5.5M counting against their cap.

20. Antti Raanta (G) 30 – 12 GP – 2.88 GAA – 0.906 SV%

19. Scott Darling (G) 30 – 8 GP – 3.33 GAA – 0.884 SV%

18. Ryan Johansen (F) 26 – 80 GP – 14G – 64 PTS

17. Brandon Dubinsky (F) 33 – 61 GP – 6 G – 14 PTS

16. Cory Schneider (G) 33 – 26 GP – 3.06 GAA – 0.903 SV%

15. James Neal (F) 31 – 63 GP – 7 G – 19 PTS

14. Justin Abdelkader (F) 32 – 71 GP – 6 G – 19 PTS

13. Erik Johnson (D) 31 – 80 GP – 7 G – 25 PTS

12. Ilya Kovalchuk (F) 36 – 64 GP – 16 G – 34 PTS

11. Bobby Ryan (F) 32 – 78 GP – 15 G – 42 PTS

Keep in mind that with the upcoming expansion draft, only those with No-Trade Clauses (NTC) can be left unprotected for Seattle. A player with a No-Movement Clause (NMC) MUST be protected by their team. This has a huge impact on how bad the contract is considered.

10. David Backes (F) 35 – 70 GP – 7 G – 20 PTS

9. Niklas Hjalmarsson (D) 82 GP – 0 G – 10 PTS

8. Karl Alzner (D) 30 – 9 GP – 0G – 1 PT

7. Corey Perry (F) 34 – 31 GP – 6 G – 19 PTS

6. Ryan Kesler (F) 34 – 60 GP – 5G – 8 PTS

And now down to the nitty-gritty, the five worst contracts in the NHL.

5. Nikita Zaitsev (D) 27 – 81 GP – 3 G – 14 PTS

4. Andrew Ladd (F) 33 – 26 GP – 3 G – 11 PTS

3. Kyle Okposo (F) 31 – 78 GP – 14 G – 29 PTS

2. Loui Eriksson (F) 33 – 81 GP – 11 G – 29 PTS

1. Milan Lucic (F) 31 – 79 GP – 6 G – 20 PTS

With the news that Erik Karlsson just signed a contract extension with the San Jose Sharks giving him a $11.5 million cap hit, we might have to wait a few years but that contract might eventually find its place amongst the NHL’s worst contracts… particularly if he can’t stay healthy. Either way, desperate GMs are likely to fall, as they do every year, to the peer pressure of getting a much desired free agent but as you can see, the notion that teams “get them for free” is as far as it gets from accurate. Here’s hoping that Marc Bergevin doesn’t pull another Alzner. Could Matt Duchene be a good fit? We’ll find out soon enough. Go Habs Go!

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Habs Prospects Turning Pro

Byron Pulsifer, a great motivational speaker and seminar leader, once said: “What is past is past and it does not forebode well to relive past mistakes or transgressions. Move forward rather than being stuck in the past. No one can redo the past but everyone can create a better future.” Admittedly, I am a sucker for motivational quotes and positive vibes. What can I say? I’m a “glass half-full” kind of guy. And this quote by Mr. Pulsifer is one that relates greatly to the current management of my very favourite professional organisation: the Montreal Canadiens.

This past summer, after a dreadful year that saw cornerstone Shea Weber playing only 26 games – one one leg – before missing the rest of the season, Marc Bergevin convinced Montreal Canadiens owner and President Geoff Molson that he had a plan: get younger, faster and change the attitude in the dressing room. Out went team captain Max Pacioretty and enigmatic Alex Galchenyuk, and in came Tomas Tatar and Max Domi. Looking at the season the Canadiens just finished, just missing the playoffs with a 96 points season, a 25 points improvement over the previous season, force is to admit that Bergevin was right and so was Molson for trusting his General Manager.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas where this team can improve on, but looking at the 180° turnaround, the foundation is there. The young core of Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen, Phillip Danault and the “mint duo” of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Victor Mete, combined with young veterans like Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw and Tatar, there are some strong building blocks in place for some of the team’s young prospects on the verge of joining the team in the next few years. And we haven’t mentioned the top leaders on this team, led by captain Weber and supported by Carey Price, Jeff Petry and Paul Byron.

“Objectives are not fate; they are direction. They are not commands; they are commitments. They do not determine the future; they are means to mobilize the resources and energies of the business for the making of the future.” ~ Peter F Drucke

After a couple of very strong drafts, Trevor Timmins has proven to be one of the NHL’s top draft specialists and the Habs are in an excellent position in the pipelines. As a matter of fact, the team likely has the best prospect pool they have had in decades, thanks to Bergevin and Timmins. As the NHL Playoffs continue, the Canadiens are looking at their prospect pool and they are in the process of evaluating which ones are about to turn pro, and how close they all are to making a push to make the big club starting next season. Ryan Poehling has decided to make a case for himself in his one and only professional game with a hat trick and a goal in the shootout to help the Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the last game of the season. But there are others…

This being a downtime for the Canadiens, we have touched on the team needs as well as the class of 2019 pending free agents that might be of interest this upcoming summer. Now, let’s have a look at the prospects who are ready to make the jump to the professional level in North America, as well as those playing pro hockey in Europe.

“It will also help you realize that though you cannot change the past you can work on the future and make it the way you want it to be, so that the next time you look at your old pictures you will be even more proud of what you see.” ~ Raymona Brown

PRO NORTH AMERICA

At forward

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Jake Evans22C/RWAHL0.67
Michael McCarron24C/RWAHL0.66
Daniel Audette22CAHL0.55
Lukas Vejdemo23C/WAHL0.44

On defense

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Noah Juulsen22DAHL/NHLInjured
Gustav Olofsson24DAHLInjured
Cale Fleury20DAHL0.38
Brett Lernout23DAHL0.12

In goal

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEGAASV%
Charlie Lindgren25GAHL2.94.884
Michael McNiven21GAHL2.52.902

CHL/NCAA

At forward

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Nick Suzuki19COHL1.59
Joël Teasdale20LWQMJHL1.21
Allan McShane19COHL1.11
Cole Fonstad18C/LWWHL1.09
Ryan Poehling20CNCAA0.86
Samuel Houde19CQMJHL0.67
Cam Hillis18COHL0.67

On defense

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Josh Brook19DWHL1.27
Scott Walford20DWHL0.76
Jarret Tyszka20DWHL0.73

In goal

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEGAASV%
Cayden Primeau19GNCAA2.09.933

PRO EUROPE

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Joni Ikonen20CLiiga0.77
Jesse Ylönen19RWLiiga0.51
Jacob Olofsson19CSHL0.26
Alexander Romanov19DKHL0.09

You have quite the variety in there, some players being closer to the NHL than others, but most are thought to have a bright future in the NHL. Some will be pushing for a spot starting next season, others will take 3, 4, 5 years before they’re ready to be key contributors. Others might not ever pan out. That’s life and it’s the reality of the draft, when trying to not only evaluate the talent of a 17-18 year old, but to determine when he will hit his plateau and stop improving. It’s not a pure science, that’s for sure.

The obvious names that come to mind are Nick Suzuki and Josh Brook, both of whom made a very strong impression at last year’s training camp, being the last ones cut. They both had an amazing season in the OHL and WHL respectively and as Marc Bergevin always told young players: “Force my hand to make room for you and I will do it.” He has kept his word with Gallagher, Mete and Kotkaniemi, and there is no reason to believe that he won’t do it again this year if any prospect shows that he can contribute immediately.

I don’t know about you folks, but I haven’t been this excited about the Canadiens’ prospect pool as a whole for decades. There are no guarantee that today’s prospects will develop as predicted and have an impact at the NHL level. But look at when Bergevin took over in 2012. The top prospects were Alex Galchenyuk, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Danny Kristo, Sebastian Collberg, Brendan Gallagher, Morgan Ellis, Dalton Thrower, Michael Bournival, Steve Quailer, Patrick Holland, Tim Bozon, Darren Dietz, Daniel Pribyl and Joonas Nattinen. It’s quite the turnaround isn’t it? The future is bright Habs’ fans! Go Habs Go!

Aho Offer Sheet: Bergevin Skating On Thin Ice?

You sort of expect it to happen every year, but it doesn’t. Yet, it’s totally legal according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Every single year, there’s a tool totally under-utilized by NHL General Managers for what seems to be a boys’ club unwritten rule. And then BOOM! There it is. A good young Restricted Free Agent signs a contract with a team other than their own. And the Montreal Canadiens shocked the hockey world on this Canada Day of by going for it, by signing a good young talent to an offer sheet. But it comes at what risk?

Desperate times call for desperate measures… and it seems like Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin has reached that desperation level. The Canadiens apparently were in discussions up until the very end with two high profile pending UFA’s in Matt Duchene and Anders Lee.

Matt Duchene tells @DavidAmber he was close to signing in Montreal. Has tremendous respect for that franchise.#signingseason— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) July 1, 2019

But as we know, Duchene put pen to paper with the Nashville Predators, a seven year deal worth $56 million. Tennessee has the third most attractive tax rate amongst NHL teams after the two Florida teams. In order to match the Preds’ average of $8 million, the Habs would have had to offer him around $71.4 million ($10.2M AVV) for the same net pay in Duchene’s pockets.

Having missed on Duchene, then the news came out that it was down to the Habs and the Islanders for signing Anders Lee.

All signs point towards the #Habs and #Isles battling for Anders Lee— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) July 1, 2019

But just before the official announcement that Lee had signed an extension with the Islanders, the Canadiens announced that they had signed restricted free agent Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet.

The offer sheet signed by Aho

While I won’t deny that Bergevin and his team had this option lined up for a while, it seems pretty obvious that it was plan C for them. Seeing that plan A (Duchene) and B (Lee) didn’t work, Bergevin certainly didn’t want to come out of yet another free agency summer without at least trying something. To me, this is a sign of desperation not because Aho isn’t a worthy candidate, but because Bergevin is willing to risk his relationship with fellow GMs to make something happen.

According to sources, Carolina got calls from 3 different teams today on Sebastian Aho, hinting at an offer sheet. The ‘Canes told them they would match any offer sheet. Carolina did tell them they would entertain trade conversation. Believe that Habs is among 3 teams who called— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 1, 2019

What I will give full credit to Bergevin for is how he handled the situation. As mentioned by NHL Insider Pierre LeBrun, the Canadiens’ GM did call his homologue Don Waddell prior to presenting an offer to Aho. And in his press conference from Carolina, Waddell acknowledged that fact.

Bergy did things right though. Waddell did say that the #Habs contacted him trying to work out a trade prior to the offer sheet. #GoHabsGo
Bergevin a fait les choses proprement. Waddell a dit que les #Canadiens l’ont contacté pour compléter un échange avant l’offre hostile.— 📰 J.D. Lagrange 🎙 (@Habsterix) July 1, 2019

In his own press conference, Bergevin qualified his offer as tactical based on Carolina’s “situation”. It’s a well published fact that the Canes’ owner, Thomas Dundon is in hot water, having invested $250 million into the Alliance of American Football that shut down soon after. So their offer to Aho was heavily bonus structured, with all bonuses due on the first of July except the first one, due 5 days after the approval of the contract. Here’s how the contract is structured:

Aho agreed to a five-year, $42.27 million deal, coming with a cap hit of $8.45 million cap hit. As shown above, only $3.65 million of the $42.27 million is actual salary. The rest ($38.62 million) is bonuses.

Interesting to note that the first $11.3 million will be due 5 days after the contract is made official. Then he will get paid $700,000 the following season, with an additional $9.87 million bonus due on July 1st, 2020. Based on Gary Bettman‘s historical negotiation tactics, we may very well see a lockout that year, affecting revenues. So that’s a grand total of $21.87 million in hard cash within the first 12 months! Can Dundon swallow that pill?

According to Forbes the #Habs made $90 million at the gate, operating income $102 million.

Canes $27 million at the gate, -$3.9 operating income.

Dundon does not like to spend, and this team makes zero money…this week will be a hard one to guess what will happen.— Eric Lepine (@ericlepine26) July 1, 2019

The risk is real

As we’ve explored on this very blog, breaking the Code as GM can be costly. As former Philadelphia Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren mentioned in Jay Greenberg‘s book “The Philadelphia Flyers at 50”, offer sheets can have serious repercussions. One of the reasons Holmgren stepped down from the general manager’s job was because he sensed other GMs didn’t want to deal with him after he signed restricted free-agent Shea Weber to a 14-year, $110-million offer sheet in 2012.

“It’s hard to do this job if you have a bad relationship, or at least a perceived bad relationship, with any number of GMs,” Holmgren told Greenberg.

Holmgren said that even though restricted free-agent offers are legal, they are “really frowned upon” and that his relationship with a lot of other general managers “changed.”

Marc Bergevin

And it had. After the Weber offer sheet was signed and matched, Holmgren has completed 12 trades, all of them considered minor trades. To the point where he felt like it was best for the team to step down and let Ron Hextall do the General Manager’s duties.

With that information, you can choose to ignore this reality, like many fans I’ve exchanged with on Twitter by finding 1,000 excuses, or you can be legitimately concerned about Bergevin’s ability to further improve his team with the NHL GMs blacklisting him. Yes, it’s a “what if” scenario and no one is hoping more that yours truly that GMs will get over it. But ignoring that possibility is a huge mistake.

Either way, I’m truly hoping that the Habs are successful as Aho is a very good young player. Either way, the damage could already be done. Let’s hope not. Go Habs Go!

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