The Heat Is On The Canadiens

HabsHeat

As summer is in full strides across Canada, and as the province of British Columbia is on fire and in a state of emergency, so is Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin. And as BC is monopolizing the forces to fight their fires, let’s just say that loosing two key free agents this summer has done nothing to reassure the masses in Montreal.

The news of top-six forward Alexander Radulov and top-four defenseman Andrei Markov finding new places to play has left blatant holes in a line-up which was already trying to find ways to add offense, let alone lose some. Yes, the arrival of Jonathan Drouin will help in that department but some will say that it’s a lateral move at best with Radulov gone.

Bergevin, as he has accustomed us to, has taken a gamble on a player when he signed a low-risk, possibly high-reward player in Ales Hemsky, who played his junior hockey in Gatineau, at only $1 million for one year. Hemsky was held to 15 games last year with Dallas after having hip surgery, and managed four goals and seven points.

https://www.nhl.com/canadiens/video/embed/conference-call-hemsky/t-277437414/c-52384903?autostart=false

Desperation mode?

It’s no secret that most teams, most years, make their big moves, their big changes at the June NHL Draft and in early July during free agency. Most GMs around the league take the month of August off after a long year of wheeling and dealing, and rest until training camp to see how they have faired in the early part of summer. But Marc Bergevin is not most GMs. As a matter of fact, he has been tagged by everyone and anyone around the NHL as a work horse, someone with his fingers everywhere… and just a few days ago, Sportsnet analyst and NHL insider Elliotte Friedman had this to say, on the NHL Network:

“I think that Markov was asked to wait until September or October. I get the impression that you’ve got Marc Bergevin sitting here with a lot of cap space and I think he’s sitting on something, or some ideas. And I’m not necessarily saying that he’s going to do something big, but I think he’s dreaming big.”

Bergevin does have around $8.5 million available to him in cap space and allow me to guess that it’s not because team President and owner Geoff Molson told him not to spend to the cap. Personally, I think that he’s playing a game a chicken with a couple of GMs who, by the way, are seeing fewer teams having the cap space to complete a trade with them. While those teams had the big part of the bat (pardon the baseball expression), the roles are now reversed.

We’ve touched on it before but fans (and media) wishing for the Canadiens to make an offer-sheet to a restricted free agent are holding on to a thought that’s not even being considered by Bergevin. So this only leaves the trade option at this point.

If Joe Sakic is serious about wanting to improve his team by trading away Matt Duchene, he will have to do so before the start of the season. Now Bergevin might have the money to spend, but they might not have the young defenseman that the Avalanche are looking for in return. Further, Duchene doesn’t have a no-trade clause on his contract so Sakic could trade him anywhere he wants to, without restrictions. For those reasons, the odds of Montreal getting him are rather slim.

One guy who I’m quite high on is Edmonton Oilers’ former first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. True that he hasn’t put up the numbers of a first pick. Also true that he was often injured in the first part of his career, which should affect the asking price. But he has since put some meat on his bones, weighing in at 196 lbs. If you watched the Oilers in the playoffs last year, you will have also noticed that he was very gritty, not afraid to get his nose dirty, and that coach Todd McLellan was using him in all situations, including when trailing behind at the end of games to get the tying goal. But the Oilers have signed Connor McDavid to a lot of money and they will have to do the same with Leon Draisaitl, who is a natural centre in spite of having played the wing more often than not so far. I still feel like a deal based on RNH and Brendan Gallagher (add here or there) makes a lot of sense for both teams.

There have been other names being thrown out there, like declining Philadelphia Flyers Claude Giroux, who has a NMC and another 5 years to his contract with a cap hit of $8.25 million per season. That’s a lot of money for a guy who managed 58 points last season, his worst production since the 2009-10 season. Everything is possible, but unless the Flyers are willing to eat some of Giroux’s salary, it’s likely not an option that Bergevin would seriously entertain.

The Dallas Stars are tight against the cap and they do have Jason Spezza tied up for another two years at a cap hit of $7.5 million, and so are the St. Louis Blues who have Paul Stastny ($7 million for one year) as a pending UFA next year. Like Philly though, both those teams would have to eat some cap.

Here’s what Brian Wilde had to say on the Bergevin topic:

Like Wilde, I also believe that the Islanders will throw everything, including the kitchen sink, to John Tavares to keep him there. But ultimately, Tavares will want to win and I’m not convinced that Garth Snow did anything to help them do that this summer or that he is capable of building a contender. Also weighing in the balance is the team’s uncertainty, not having an arena to call their own, and star players often look for stability.

And that could very well be the reason why Bergevin categorically refused to give in to Markov’s two-year contract demands. Knowing that he will have to pay Carey Price in two years, he didn’t want to tie his own hands with a 38 year-old for that extra season when a player like Tavares could come into play. Will he be able to manage to lure him to Montreal? Who knows? There will be a herd of teams, the Maple Leafs included, who will do everything in their power to get him but by deliberately choosing not to give Markov the extra year at $5-6 million, and with Tomas Plekanec‘s contract coming to an end, Bergevin is leaving himself room in the event that Tavares considers joining Team Canada teammates Price and Shea Weber as an option.

One thing is for sure though: if Bergevin start the season with the current roster, he will have failed, in my opinion, on what I was expecting from him during this off-season. Yes, this team is good enough to make the playoffs, but they will have to win games 2-1 and 3-2 and will rely heavily on Price and a pretty strong core of defensively responsible defensemen. Bergevin told us to expect the unexpected. I was expecting him to improve the offense. He hasn’t done that so I guess I didn’t expect the unexpected… but there is still time. Either way though, you won’t see me give up my allegiance to the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge like some have done in the past year or so, and I know that most of you are with me on that one. Go Habs Go!

 

 

Advertisements

Radulov Heading Home… Trade Brewing?

Radu50

July first is a marked date in the NHL, where the frenzy is at its peak for the first time since the spring trade deadline. Sports radio and television stations have hours long specials, battling for scoops in hope to be the first one to break a signing or a trade. And since the arrival of the salary cap, combined with the loser point keeping the standings tight, trades are few and far between in the league and teams have very little chance to improve their situation so days like today are great for fans and media to see teams address the needs for the upcoming season.

This year was no different and two of the tops available free agents were Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov, both of whom played a key role in the Habs’ success this past season. It’s been a long saga for both pending UFA’s marked by the fact that there was an expansion draft and the Canadiens could only protect so many players, and they couldn’t agree to a contract prior to the deadline arriving. In both cases, the sticking issue doesn’t appear to be the dollar figure as much as the length of the contract. Markov wants two years, the Habs want one year. Radulov is rumoured to want 6-7 years, the Habs want a much shorter term.

Radulov going home

Some very interesting information came out all day long about the negotiation between the Canadiens and the 30 year-old right winger and fans were taken though a roller coaster of emotions following insiders (real and fake), waiting desperately for the news they’ve all been waiting for. So allow me to give you a recap of the day’s events, and some things that fans might have missed in one language or another.

  • Radio commentator Martin McGuire is not one to invent things like others in the business. He said in the afternoon that Radulov and the Canadiens had reached a deal on a four year contract.
  • A few reporters in Quebec, including François Gagnon, said earlier that the Habs had made a final offer to Radulov, a take it or leave it type of offer. They also mentioned four years.
  • Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud), a russian journalist covering the KHL, tweeted that the contract signed by Radulov was a deal for the Habs as he was offered much more money and term in the KHL. He erases his tweet soon after but one of my followers, @AlexNyko, will be able to attest as he re-tweeted the post.
  • Then Radulov posted a video on his Instagram account, where he is sitting on a plane, telling people that he is going home. Did he mean Russia? Montreal?
  • We know that Radulov was vacationing in Italy and I don’t know if players still need to physically sign their contracts or if they can do it electronically like you do in the real estate business.Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 5.31.48 AM

Like when trying to solve a crime, this is all circumstantial evidence until the team or one of the reputable insiders comes out with the DNA. Until then, it’s all speculation.

Markov in limbo

Insisting on a two year deal could spell the end of the longest serving Canadiens on the team. I don’t know why the 39 year-old Markov can’t do what Nicklas Lidstrom, Rob Blake, Joe Sakic and many other star players have done before him and go year to year. Is he really better than those Hall of Famers? But the Habs have loaded on defensemen today when acquiring Karl Alzner and Joe Morrow, and they had already acquired David Schlemko not long ago.

Trade brewing?

duchenelandeskog
Could Duchene finally be traded?

No matter what happens with Radulov and Markov, Marc Bergevin has yet to get his hands on a top-six centre, a big need on his team. While UFAs like Joe Thornton (SJS), Nick Bonino (NAS) and Martin Hanzal (DAL) have all signed new deals, Joe Sakic has yet to find a taker for Matt Duchene and if he wants him traded, time is the essence. Sakic has not done anything substantial to improve his team today, a team that finished in the basement of the NHL, and that can’t sit well in Colorado.

I have a theory (not a scoop), which I shared on Twitter: if Radulov signs an extension, Alex Galchenyuk very well could be sacrificed in a trade for a top-six centre. Will it be Duchene from Colorado? Maybe but the Avs are wanting a top end defenseman in return, something the Canadiens don’t really have. But Galchenyuk is a nice piece for them, one that the Habs might be dangling in front of them.

Then there’s the Edmonton Oilers who are trying to sign both Connor McDavid ($13 million?) and Leon Draisaitl ($9 million?) and this could force Peter Chiarelli to find a taker for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Could a trade involving Brendan Gallagher and some added incentive be enough to get the young centre? “The Nuge” is making $6 million per season while Gallagher’s cap hit is $3.75 million. Both contracts go until the end of the 2020-21 season. This would save the Oilers some cap space.

Expect the unexpected“, said Marc Bergevin in a couple of occasions in the last week or so. But what are we expecting exactly?