It’s been said over and over again by both Canadiens’ naysayers and fans alike, if there is one consensus amongst everyone, it’s the fact that General Manager Marc Bergevin has failed miserably in addressing his team’s biggest need: some offensive help down the middle, at the centre position. While team President and owner Geoff Molson publicly gave his full support to this lead hockey man, there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that this need cannot be left unresolved comes October, at the start of the 2018-2019 season.
How Bergevin will address this need remains to be seen though. As it stands today, the Canadiens’ depth chart is nothing to write about. As the Alex Galchenyuk experiment has proven futile due to his lack of defensive responsibility, he remains a better option on the wing. The team tried newly acquired winger Jonathan Drouin and it has not proven to be much better, although he did have a strong finish to the season, collecting 12 points in his last 13 games. But his mediocre minus – 27 has him second worst on the team behind Galchenyuk and Jeff Petry, both at minus – 30.
As natural centres, Phillip Danault is the team’s best option but he’s at best a decent second line centre and cannot be counted on as the team’s number one for a long period of time. Andrew Shaw has played at that position out of necessity but he’s no offensive dynamo either. Claude Julien has experimented with the likes of Jacob De la Rose with mixed results, but can they really rely on a guy whose best NHL production is four goals and 12 points?
In the minors, Daniel Audette has seen time at centre and could be, down the line, an interesting option as he has collected a respectable 13 goals and 29 points in 56 games for the Laval Rockets this season. At 21, I’m not so sure that Bergevin wants to gamble on him carrying the load if the team wishes to get back into contention, and Michael McCarron is, in my humble opinion, better suited on the wing than at centre.
Further in the system, the Habs have decent prospects up the middle but how quickly can the team realistically expect the likes of Ryan Poehling, Joni Ikonen, Will Bitten and Jake Evans to have an impact at the NHL level? The reality is that the team cannot count on anyone from within to provide them with the consistent and necessary help up the middle as a top gun first line centre. So in order to address their need, they will have to look on the outside.
2018 Pending UFA’s
It’s been the subject of many discussions and there are a couple of names coming back on a fairly regular basis. If he makes it to free agency, John Tavares will be the most sought after free agent on the market comes July first this summer. There will be a line-up of teams pitching their best stuff to try to lure him to sign with them. Can Carey Price and Shea Weber talk their Team Canada teammate into coming to the fishbowl that is Montreal, particularly after Price’s own wife had to come out on Instagram just a few months ago, to deny some absurd rumours thrown around by the blood thirsty media? Or after team captain Max Pacioretty admitted publicly that the talks in the media has affected not only him, but his family and his son at school? Can that and the money offered by the team be enough to overcome the high taxes, the language barrier for Tavares’ wife and children, and compensate for the fact that the Canadiens are nowhere close to being contenders? Allow me to doubt it, although there is no doubt that Bergevin, Molson and company will do everything in their power to try to sell him on wearing number 91 in bleu, blanc et rouge.
Another interesting name perhaps on that list would be Quebec born Paul Stastny, son of former Quebec Nordiques Peter. Tyler Bozak is another interesting name but we’re now talking about the equivalent to Danault as a second line centre… beyond that, it’s pretty dim.
Bergevin might have to explore the market via trades in order to address his team’s needs. But what exactly is out there for the taking?
Anze Kopitar (LAK)
Nah, I’m pulling your leg. Why would the Kings trade their best centre, particularly after making the playoffs? There isn’t much the Canadiens could throw at them to convince the Kings to pull the trigger, let’s face it.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM)
For the longest time, I thought that a Nugent-Hopkins and Max Pacioretty trade as the key pieces would be beneficial to both teams… until Oilers’ head coach Todd McLellan experimented with putting RNH on the wing with league MVP Connor McDavid that is. Since then, both players have caught fire and let’s face it, having RNH as a security blanket for centre depth in the event of one of McDavid or Leon Draisaitl getting injured is not a luxury the team can afford to mess with. They will need to unload salary but I would be shocked if Nugent-Hopkins is the one being sacrificed by GM Peter Chiarelli now.
Mason Appleton (WIN)
Who? Appleton is a 22 year-old American centre who is finishing his first pro season in the AHL, having collected 21 goals and 51 points in 61 games. Like Mike Reilly was in Minnesota, the youngster is stuck behind Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault and possibly Statsny if the Jets decide to re-sign him? Could something be worked out around Pacioretty? I think so.
Jack Roslovic (WIN)
If not Appleton, perhaps the Jets would consider Roslovic, a 21 year-old centre? 14 points in 31 games in Winnipeg, 35 points in 32 games in the AHL this season. The Jets are extremely deep at that position… including the next one!
Nic Petan (WIN)
Petan is another youngster who is ready to make the step into the NHL and would go a long ways into improving the position of centre for the Canadiens. With 52 points in 51 games in the AHL… Seriously, do the Jets need all three of these guys with what they already have on their NHL roster? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, I know so.
Dylan Strome (ARI)
Strome is not going to dislodge Clayton Keller and Derek Stepan for the top-2 centres spot on the Coyotes, and Christian Dvorak is a young centre doing a fantastic job in Arizona as well. Nine points in 20 games in Arizona, and 50 points in 47 games in the AHL for Strome, and they do need help on the wing. This team is in such a mess, who knows what they would be willing to pull in order to get a marquee name to market their product?
Doesn’t it look like the Winnipeg Jets are the perfect fit for Bergevin to be looking at for a young centre? And it seems like it will be the case no matter how far they go in the playoffs as they truly are set up down the middle. If I were a betting man, which I’m not, that’s where I’d be focussing and Kevin Cheveldayoff would be getting daily calls. But time will tell. Either way, Marc Bergevin cannot go another off-season without addressing his team’s biggest need. Go Habs Go!