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Top Cheese: November 2019 Edition

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as the team is in the midst of a five game losing streak and barely hanging onto a playoffs’ spot in the Eastern Conference. They have scouts across the league, including the GM, and the pressure is mounting to stop the slide before it’s too late. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Just when fans didn’t think that it could get worse than surrendering a 4-0 lead to the New York Rangers only to lose that game 6-5, the Canadiens put up a stinker the following game, getting varlopped 8-1 by their arch rivals, the Boston Bruins, a team they had beaten already earlier this month. It didn’t take more to see the anti-Bergevin crowd come out of their mole hole to call for his head but that’s to be expected. They’ll go in hiding when the team does well and will call for his firing as soon as something happens. That’s a behaviour that will never change coming from that group of people. However, while we can dismiss the anti-Bergevin loud minority, many fans are calling from everyone’s head, from Marc Bergevin to Claude Julien, to Kirk Muller and Luke Richardson. That’s not counting the multiple players that should be traded, in their opinion. But hey, what do you expect? It wouldn’t be Montreal without the drama, right?

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If we turn back to clock to November 16th, the Canadiens had just dominated one of the NHL’s top teams, one of the hottest teams in the league in the Washington Capitals. The Habs were comfortably sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the Bruins. But news came out that two quality players, Jonathan Drouin (wrist) and Paul Byron (knee), would require surgery and would miss a couple of months of action. Then, the wheels fell off the wagon in Montreal. Without those two in the lineup, the team has lost five in a row (0-3-2) and is barely hanging onto the final Wild Card spot, with teams right behind them looking at taking over as early as tonight. Worse than the losing is the way they’re losing.

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While Byron (19GP: 1G-3A-4Pts) wasn’t having the greatest start of this season, the same cannot be said about Drouin (19GP: 7G-8A-15Pts), who was amongst the team leaders in scoring and was finally showing signs of hustle game in, game out and that, at both ends of the ice. While many understood the importance of those two players, no one would have predicted such a drop in the team’s play and ultimately, confidence, resulting in those five consecutive losses.

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During that stretch, the Canadiens’ goaltending performances have been sub-par, like many other aspects of the team’s game. Since November 16th, neither Carey Price or Keith Kinkaid have been able to win a game on their own, steal a game in order to help get out of this embarrassing slump. It doesn’t matter on which team in the NHL, you are not going to win games with stats like this:

GPGSWLOTGASv%GAATOI
Carey Price4403118.8115.42199:25
Keith Kinkaid210017.8754.20100:07
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One would have to be out of their mind to think that this team doesn’t needs help. As we have touched on recently on this blog, Bergevin has a very good track record as the Habs’ GM but his biggest downfall is his inability or unwillingness to address needs in-season, on the fly, when the situation occurs, to prevent his team from sliding too far down in the standings. We have regularly heard him say that the goal is to make the playoffs as when you’re in, we never know what can happen. But in order to get there, the team needs their GM to reward his players and coaches by providing them with the necessary help when the going gets tough, like when going through injuries to key players as they are right now. It’s sad to say but eventually, the reverse will also true: don’t do anything and you run the risk of the players folding… as they feel their GM did.

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While I personally feel like he has made some very questionable decisions in the last calendar year or so and that he could very well be on a shorter leash, rest assured folks that Claude Julien’s status with the team is secure… for now. The team was doing well prior to the above-mentioned injuries.

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Bergevin had a long-term vision when he hired Dominique Ducharme as one of Julien’s assistants and Joël Bouchard as head coach in Laval. He was preparing the franchise by having not one, but two very respected individuals as potential successors to Julien if or when needs be. While that time hasn’t come quite yet, this is a good thing. Ideally, Bergevin would like to buy both of those guys more time to gain experience at the professional level but if push comes to shove, he won’t have to go look outside the organisation to find a quality replacement. My feeling is that the day Julien is removed as head coach, Bergevin will have a spot for him in management within the organisation.

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Back in the summer of 2017, team President Geoff Molson made a decision: it is Marc Bergevin who will be the GM to turn the franchise around by going through a youth movement. Ever since, Bergy has acquired quality young players and with the help of Trevor Timmins and Shayne Churla, he has replenished the cupboards with high quality prospects. Molson will not fire Bergevin. This would be punishing him for being ahead of schedule in his re-tooling, re-construction, re-building or whatever you want to call it. Aside from Price and Weber, the core of this group is young and we are starting to see the team’s top prospects starting to contribute. Further, there are more coming folks. Bergevin just needs to keep the team afloat for another season or two and that’s why he must help his people through trade this season. Playoffs’ experience is invaluable for those young guys.

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Bergevin has been spending a lot of time scouting the Chicago Blackhawks and their farm team lately. He has also had scouts following the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings, amongst others. Some people are wondering why he’s not also scouting the Philadelphia Flyers for Shayne Gostisbehere… that’s because the Ghost has been a healthy scratch for the last few games. Scout him for what? See how many hot dogs he can eat in the pressbox? Scouting is great Marc but now is the time to put your money where your mouth is. If your goal is to make the playoffs, it’s time to help your team. With a prospect pool as full as it is and with 12 picks at the next draft, if you don’t trade now, you never will… in-season that is.

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A year ago, the Canadiens went through the exact same slump at the same time of the year. Folks will remember that things got better when Shea Weber came back into the lineup and helped stabilize the team’s play, particularly the play of teammate and friend Carey Price. There is no Weber waiting to come back this season however, and Drouin and Byron are weeks away from returning to the lineup. And that’s why Bergevin MUST move and bring in help if he truly wants them to make the playoffs.

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Speaking of Weber, Man Mountain is having a career season. At the time of writing this, the Canadiens’ captain is seventh in the entire NHL in scoring amongst defensemen with 8 goals and 19 points in 24 games, on pace for 27 goals and 65 points. And he’s doing it by facing the opposition’s top lines game in, game out, playing on both the powerplay and on the penalty kill. Weber’s best season was in 2013-14 when he tallied 56 points with the Nashville Predators. Not bad for an aging, over the hill defenseman, right?

The Canadiens are scheduled to play 3 games in 4 nights this week. They are hosting the New Jersey Devils on Thursday (7:30PM ET) and the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday (3:00PM ET) before flying to Boston to face the Bruins on Sunday night (7:00PM ET). No need to say how important those games will be and coming out of it with a minimum of four points is crucial. Will they have the same lineup or will Bergevin inject some new blood in time for those games? That is the question. Go Habs Go!

Will Bergevin Let History Repeat Itself?

The date: November 25, 2015. Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price left the game, having played 40 minutes against the New York Rangers. It was Price’s 12th game of the season. He would eventually get shut down for the season and the Canadiens missed the playoffs. The date: December 16, 2017. Montreal had just finished playing the Ottawa Senators which turned out to be Shea Weber‘s last game of the season. You guessed it, the Canadiens did not make the playoffs and got to select third overall at the next Entry Draft because of it. Weber would miss the first 2 1/2 months of the following season and guess what? The Canadiens missed the playoffs again, this time by four points.

Aside from having key players out of the lineup for extended periods of time and missing the playoffs in each occasion, what do those three events all have in common? Each time, Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin was either unable or unwilling to pay the asking price to help his coach and ultimately his team get over such important losses in the lineup, letting them fend to themselves and battle through the adversity only to see them fall flat on their face.

Fast forward to this season, on November 15th. The Canadiens played an almost perfect game to dominate the Washington Capitals, in Washington nonetheless, by the score of 5-2. That impressive win didn’t come without a high cost as they’ve lost two key players in the process: Jonathan Drouin needed wrist surgery while Paul Byron had to have surgery performed on his knee. Since that impressive win and just as impressive loss in terms of players, the Canadiens have yet to win a game in four tries, compiling a record of 0-2-2. To make matters worse, all of those losses were against teams who, at the time, were playing for 500 or less…

Will Marc Bergevin pick up the phone and make a trade?

With only one goal and three assists in 19 games, there is no denying that Byron was not having a good start to this season. He had been playing much better however in November and his ice time went up accordingly. Further, he’s an assistant captain on the team, one of the leaders of the club.

Drouin was having his best start since joining the Canadiens. You could see him being more implicated and his efforts at both ends of the ice were starting to get noticed even by his biggest critiques. His 15 points in 19 games had him at the top of the Canadiens’ list offensively and he and Joel Armia were the biggest surprises on Claude Julien‘s roster at that point.

All on Bergevin

Every single point is important and seeing the way the Canadiens surrendered a 4-0 lead and losing 6-5 to the New York Rangers on Saturday night, a team that had lost 4-1 to the Ottawa Senators 24 hours earlier, was the peak of embarrassment for the players, the coaching staff, the fans and, hopefully to the General Manager and team President as well. It was simply pathetic and, truthfully, unexcusable.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein

It is now in Marc Bergevin’s hands and his only. There is no doubt that he has done an excellent job since taking over as we have recently detailed on this blog, but his downfall is his inaction, or unwillingness to adapt in-season, on the fly, as needs occur when they occur. Bergevin has 12 picks at the upcoming Entry Draft and the cupboards are filled with quality prospects. His core of players, aside from Price and Weber, are young and talented. He now has the assets to make a move or two.

Will he have learned from his past inaction and results because of it, or will he try to help the players and his coaches by bringing in reinforcement via trade before it’s too late? Time will tell but rest assured that the players on the team, key players like Price and Weber, are taking notes. If Bergevin does nothing once again and the Habs miss the playoffs, you can expect to have some very unhappy veterans, fans and members of the media and I, for one, won’t blame them one bit. Go Habs Go!