Bergevin Owes It To The Players

Eight days remaining to the 2019 NHL trade deadline and things are heating up around the league. The Edmonton Oilers are making questionable moves at best, the Senators put Matt Duchene on the market in hope to save enough to re-sign Mark Stone, and many pending free agents already have their bags packed knowing that by February 25th at the latest, they will be wearing a different uniform and will be making another city their temporary home.

The rumour mill has been quiet around the Montreal Canadiens this year. Very quiet. Too quiet even. True that GM Marc Bergevin is known for running a ship tighter than Dick’s hatband but even then, it is way too calm in a city like Montreal, particularly at a time when the team finds itself in a tight battle for a playoffs’ spot.

Anyone in their right mind will agree that the Canadiens aren’t Stanley Cup contenders and the Tampa Bay Lightning showed it last night, shutting out Claude Julien‘s team 3-0. But if the team’s goal is to make the playoffs, they will need some sort of injection to their lineup in order to make it happen. They will need to find their way back to the winning side of key games and they have several of them coming up.

Marc Bergevin

The Canadiens will have to face Toronto, Columbus and the New York Islanders twice each. They also have a game left against Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Carolina, Washington and Tampa Bay. In early March, they have a western road swing where they will be facing Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim and we all know how hard those western trips can be. Montreal’s last week of action will see them battle the Lightning, the Capitals and the Maple Leafs.

Players deserve a reward

With all of the changes that were made this past summer, few people predicted seeing the Habs where they are in mid-February. This team is for real but they need help. Teams around them are loading up and games aren’t going to get any easier. In order to keep the morale of his troops up, not only should Bergevin make a trade, but he must do it as a reward for his players’ commitment and hard work. If he fails to do so, it could be perceived as a slap in the face to some of the key players on the team.

* NHL standings, as of February 17, 2018

We can all agree with the Canadiens’ GM that he should not touch his core group of prospects or his first round pick(s) for temporary help. For that reason, it’s unlikely that he will be dipping into the pending UFA market. Having said that, he has space under the cap ceiling, and lots of it. Teams trying to load up are, for the most part, strapped to the ceiling and need help fitting rental players under their cap. That’s exactly where Bergevin should must become a serious player.

A trade or two like the one for Joel Armia is what he should be exploring. He can then address his long term needs in the summer if need be. But he has to do something. If he doesn’t, I’m afraid his players will lose faith in his abilities or willingness to recognize that they left it all out for the team this year. After all, aren’t those Bergevin’s own words? “The goal is to make the playoffs. Once you do, you never know what can happen.Go Habs Go!

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Time to Put Up or Shut Up

Ten days before the annual NHL Trade deadline. And while every team has had their meetings to set up game plans, not everything is set in stone. Some teams have started moving assets, others are still trying to figure out what’s available out there and there are those sitting on the fence still. But in the meantime, the teams whose GM has been proactive by moving early are gaining some precious points over their rivals… and that in itself is adding pressure on the teams battling for position with them.

And that’s the case of the Toronto Maple Leafs. When they acquired Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings on January 28th, both the Bruins and the Canadiens were right with them, within a point or two. Realizing that his team has no issues scoring goals, GM Kyle Dubas went out and addressed the Leafs’ biggest need: their defense. And it’s paying off.

With all three teams having played 57 games, the Leafs now lead the pack with 75 points, which is three more than the Bruins and, most importantly, six ahead of the Canadiens and a Wild Card spot. Yet, it’s not like the Bruins and the Habs have played badly. In their respective last 10 games, the Bruins are 6-1-3 while Claude Julien‘s team went 7-2-1. But solidifying their defense with a legitimate top-4 defenseman has helped the Leafs improve by enough to create some much needed breathing room. Since acquiring Muzzin, Mike Babcock‘s team is 6-1-1, getting 13 out of 16 possible points.

Put up or shut up

If the Bruins and the Canadiens want to keep pace with Toronto, they will have to do something otherwise, the separation will only continue to grow. As it stands today, Boston and Montreal appear safe for a playoffs’ spot but of the teams on the outside looking in, the Carolina Hurricanes are on fire and the Buffalo Sabres are hanging in there. All it takes is for one or two injuries to sabotage a season or, in this case, a playoffs’ spot. No team knows that better than the Habs, having lost Carey Price and Shea Weber for long periods of time… and having felt the dramatic impact.

Don Sweeney

The Bruins need some scoring and they are rumoured to be very active. Wayne Simmonds, Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, Artemi Panarin have all been linked to the Bruins at one point or another, and if Eric Staal or Charlie Coyle are made available by the Minnesota Wild, GM Don Sweeney will be right in there poking around.

In his February 13th Rumor Mill column, Lyle Richardson posted that according to Joe McDonald of the Athletic, Sweeney won’t be seeking help after the injury to David Pastrnak. I’m sorry but I don’t buy it. While the Bruins have the second best team defense in the entire NHL, allowing 2.56 goals per game, they score 2.93 goals per game, currently good 17th in the NHL. And that’s with Pastrnak’s 31 goals and 66 points production in the line-up so without it, their offensive production has the possibility of becoming rather anemic.

Bergevin’s move to make

Much has been said about Marc Bergevin and what he wants to do (or should do) at the trade deadline. While I strongly agree and support not overpaying for rental players or older players soon to be unproductive, I’m also of the opinion that this team, while over-performing in the eyes of many, needs a boost. Those players have been working their butts off to make liars out of us, making some “experts” look foolish in the process. They deserve something from their GM, a reward, a sign that their efforts didn’t go unnoticed or underappreciated.

Alexander Romanov

A scoring winger (or centre to move Max Domi back to the wing) would be helpful, but the Canadiens’ biggest need right now is a top-4 left handed defenseman. We recently touched on a few potential trade targets for the Habs, but there are obviously many more. While Alexander Romanov might be on the verge of making the jump from the KHL to the NHL, he still remains very young. The Edmonton Oilers have had the bad habit of rushing their prospects and we see how efficient that is. They have caused some to crumble under pressure and/or delayed the development of others. They sheltered Kotkaniemi this season and it’s paying dividends. They must try doing the same for Romanov when he joins the Canadiens.

On the right side you have Weber, Jeff Petry, Noah Juulsen (hopefully), Josh Brook and Cale Fleury in the depth chart. It’s on the left side that things get rather thin. Victor Mete is improving but a top-4 role, particularly on the top pairing in the playoffs, is not ideal neither for the team or for the young man. Then you follow that with Karl Alzner (!), Mike Reilly, Brett Kulak and Romanov coming up.

Bergevin needs to get his hands on a top-4 with term on his contract, at least two years. This will allow for better development for Mete and Romanov, while helping Weber and Petry who carry the load on their respective pairing. It’s not only for this year, it’s for the next few seasons too. With the news coming out that the Wild has received the green light to tweak their line-up, perhaps a phone call to his buddy Paul Fenton is warranted. If you know the difference between ‘need‘ and ‘want‘, filling that left defense position definitely falls into the ‘need‘ category. A scoring winger is more of a ‘want‘.

Jonathan Huberdeau

Speaking of ‘want‘, when the name of Jonathan Huberdeau was thrown around in rumours, disbelief is how I would describe many people’s reaction to the news. But when it’s coming from reputable insiders, one must listen. Just like we predicted here back in May 2017 that Bergevin would do anything to get Drouin back when he was rumoured to be shopped around, you can rest assured that the Canadiens’ GM has been on the phone with Dale Tallon in Florida to get all necessary information on this case. Yes it would cost a lot to get him, but let’s not under-estimate the impact of local talent on the Montreal Canadiens.

Until then, if you’re anything like me, you will be checking your phone regularly in hope to see the Canadiens get more help… but let’s ensure not get our hopes up too high as the higher they are, the harder it will be if things don’t pan out. Go Habs Go!