Bergevin Summarizes Habs’ Summer 2019

It’s early… still: September 8. The rookie camp is in full force and youngsters like Ryan Poehling, Nick Suzuki, Josh Brooks, Otto Leskinen, Cale Fleury and other Habs’ hopeful are grinding their teeth against the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets’ top prospects. As Joël Bouchard directs the flow, management is looking on, trying to determine which ones of those prospects will be invited to the Canadiens’ main camp starting September 12th.

In the meantime, team General Manager Marc Bergevin is keeping a close eye on many other files, particularly the Restricted Free Agents’ market, as many high quality players are still unsigned. Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Mikko Rantanen, Zach Werenski, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Matthew Tkachuk, Brock Boeser, Travis Konecny, Charlie McAvoy, Ivan Provorov – and the list goes on, are all without contracts.

On a segment of Table d’hôte with Marc Denis on RDS, Bergevin took time in his busy schedule to answer some tough questions with an honesty that has become his trademark. Here are some of the key topics and answers provided by the Canadiens’ GM, when questioned about the teams’ activities since the end of June, after the Draft.

THE OFFER SHEET

With the discussions we had within our staff and with Sebastian Aho‘s agent, we estimated our chances of getting him at 90-95% from the discussions with the player. You don’t submit an offer sheet just to submit one was not the goal. The goal was to get the player. We structured the contract in a way that we thought it would be a strong possibility. The $21 million in the first 11 months or so was the hammer but at the end of the day, they made the decision to match it. If I had to do it over, I’d do it again.

From the discussions with the agent and from within, we felt like going up to the next level would not have made a difference, from $21M to $25M isn’t a big enough difference. As for going to the upper level, the idea of giving up four first round picks wasn’t an option. Maybe we would have gotten him at that price but it would be too pricey.

Sebastian Aho

Bergevin also address a legitimate concern: his relationship with other GMs around the league since that offer sheet.

The relationship with other GMs is fine. Since then, I’ve had discussions with the majority of them and it’s fine. Some GMs told me in their discussions, they said that they understood why we did that, it made sense. It’s in the CBA and available. I have no problems.

REMAINING RFA’s

Is Bergevin contemplating another offer sheet this late in the summer?

We keep a close eye on unsigned RFA’s but as it stands, we’ll have about $6.2 million available and those players will require more than that. You’re not going to get them at $5 million. But we keep a close eye on it.

Is he happy with his summer, his acquisition thus far?

Starting around June 22nd, the window to talk to pending UFA’s so by July 1st, we had a good idea of who would or would not consider Montreal. Some wouldn’t consider it. As you know, when you become UFA, you get to pick your destination and we make the calls but at the end of the day, we’re happy with the players we signed. Chiarot wants to play in Montreal. He was willing to stay in Winnipeg and wanted to play in a Canadian market. I can’t wait to watch him at camp.

ANDREI MARKOV

The Andrei Markov situation has been a regular topic of discussions amongst fans for two years now, since “the General” left to play in the KHL. Bergevin made it clear: he will not be back with the team as a player.

In 2012, Andrei was here. His contract was due and we re-signed him. Two years ago, we made an offer but he chose another direction, the KHL. Since then, things have changed. The player is older and we have taken another direction, going with youth. We have many young guys pushing. The Juulsen, Mete, Brook, Romanov next year. We want to give then a chance. We had success with our youth last year and that’s the direction we want to go. No hard feelings between us and Andrei but this chapter is closed.

I don’t know why people don’t like Bergevin. He’s honest in his answers and I personally feel like some mistake his confidence and sense of humour with arrogance. They cannot be more wrong, again in my opinion. He wears his heart on his sleeve and several people around hockey say that he’s one of the hardest working GMs around the league. Is he done for the summer? Something tells me that he’s not… if the price is right. Go Habs Go!

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Top Cheese: March 2019 Edition

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as the team is entering the exciting last stretch of the season, pushing for a spot in the playoffs. Four teams, including the Canadiens, are battling for the two Wild Card spots, three of which are also playing for the Metropolitan division’s third position, making for an exciting end to this regular season. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Less than 20 percent of the 2018-2019 regular season is left to play for the Canadiens and they find themselves in a dog fight to get in and gain the rights to play either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the leaders of the Metro division in the first round of the playoffs. Only 16 games, that’s what it boils down to, and we will find out if there will be some playoffs’ hockey at the Bell Centre come April. Players are banged up, they’re tired, but their sight is on playing for at least a chance to compete for the elusive Stanley Cup.

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One of those players on the Canadiens is team captain Shea Weber, who missed most of last season and the first couple of months to this season. While his play hasn’t been as sharp lately as we’re accustomed to seeing from him, he is still the backbone of that Montreal defense. If the Canadiens are going to make the playoffs, a lot of it will be on the shoulders of the one they call Man Mountain… and no one relishes that more than Weber, a true competitor who has proven time and time again that he can be counted on when everything is on the line.

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Shea Weber and Carey Price

Which makes Claude Julien‘s decision against the Pittsburgh Penguins that much more puzzling. On Saturday night, he gave the duty to neutralize Sidney Crosby to the defense pairing of Jeff Petry and Jordie Benn, and Sid the Kid finished the night with… four points in a Pens’ 5-1 victory at the Bell Centre. For fans and media members, who are not privileged to inside information, this decision is mind boggling at the very least and, in my humble opinion, could end up being the difference between making or missing the playoffs when it’s all said and done.

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But one would be foolish to blame it all is on Julien. Marc Bergevin has yet to address the team’s biggest need, finding a suitable partner for Weber, a left-handed defenseman who can log big minutes in a shutdown role against opponents’ top lines. Victor Mete is doing okay but when you have to rely on Mike Reilly or Benn on your top-4, it exposes the glaring need at that position. With the trade deadline come and gone, that gaping hole is still there and ultimately, the Canadiens are paying for it.

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The truth is that the Canadiens are greatly missing Andrei Markov. Maybe not Markov at his age, but a Markov-type player. Someone with his passing abilities, someone with his vision, a left-handed shot who can dish the puck from the point on the powerplay… but we’ll get back to that later on. Seeing the Habs with over nine million dollars under the cap and the GM’s inability to fill that hole in the summer or at trade deadline, perhaps Bergevin could have given the Russian defenseman a contract? Hindsight being 20-20, of course.

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All is not lost however, at least not for the mid to short term. Much like we’ve seen with Jonathan Drouin, the discussions held at the trade deadline often carry over to the Summer months and one can only hope that Bergevin’s talks for a quality left defenseman can pay off in the off-season. Could a Jonas Brodin, a Cam Fowler, a Shayne Gostisbehere, a Hampus Lindholm or another similar defenseman be coming in the summer? We can’t rule that out.

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Jesperi Kotkaniemi

Yes, Alexander Romanov might be on the verge of coming to North America. Yes, Josh Brook has played on his off-side for a bit. But it’s far from ideal. Mostly, it’s unrealistic to expect a green rookie to fill that role. The Canadiens are better off doing the right thing, as they are doing with young Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and bring those guys up slowly and protect them with favourable matchups. As they should try to hang onto them instead of trading them for temporary help, the team MUST resist the temptation of rushing their top young talent. This also means that they must find some sort of stop-gap.

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One options that might be available is putting an offer in to pending UFA Jake Gardiner or the Maple Leafs, who will likely be unable to resign him. But is giving Gardiner, a very ordinary defenseman defensively, a guy who has been the scapegoat in Toronto more often than not, a contract in the seven million dollar range a smart move? Allow me to doubt it. In my opinion, Bergevin is better off sacrificing some assets and pick and chose the defenseman that he truly wants through a trade. Someone with a more cap-friendly contract and with term left to it.

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Here’s something that I’ve read that really irks me… Why trade to improve this year when the team doesn’t have a shot at the Stanley Cup, if others teams like Tampa Bay are stronger? Then why play the season then? Why want to make the playoffs? Why did the other teams fighting with the Habs for a playoffs’ spot trade to improve? If it’s pointless for the Habs, shouldn’t it be pointless for all other teams on the bubble? I’ll tell you why. When you are this close to a playoffs’ spot, you MUST try to get it. The experience gained by the young Canadiens would be most valuable in the long run. And I remember 1986 as if it was yesterday.

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In 1986, the Canadiens had no chance according to everyone around the NHL. But they had a great young goaltender and some young kids who didn’t know better. They had a balanced offense with multiple players around the 20 goals mark. Mostly though, they made the playoffs, giving them a chance to be in a position to battle for Lord Stanley. When you don’t make the playoffs, your chances are zero percent. Even a couple percentage points are better than zero. So folks, unless you have a crystal ball, stop pretending that you know better. You are talking odds and those odds can be beaten. It’s been proven time and time again in pro sports.

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Perhaps the most amazing thing about this season’s Canadiens is the fact that they are in the position that they are in, without a powerplay worth being called that. Sitting at a league worst 12.4 percent, the Habs have been unable to fix that issue all season long. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t start clicking. You see, a lot of it is playing on the players’ mind. They are making poor passing choices, and the passes are often off for one-timers or to keep the opponents’ penalty killers honest. Confidence plays a huge role in hockey and if my five decades of hockey have taught me anything at all, it’s that it can change quickly… with a bit of success.

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One guy who has been playing great hockey is Max Domi, although not so much on the powerplay. While I personally predicted that he would do well, he is playing well beyond what anyone could have expected when the Canadiens made his acquisition. And he’s doing all of this at the centre position, as the team’s number one centre nonetheless, with few points on the powerplay. Anyone miss Alex Galchenyuk… and his father?

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When the Canadiens acquired Jonathan Drouin, he and Max Pacioretty started practicing together in the off-season, hoping to develop chemistry, a chemistry that never came about. The same cannot be said between Drouin and Domi however. They started the season together and had great success, then got separated for a while but just recently, Julien put them back together and they started to produce again. Fast and creative, those two look for each other and it’s working. If only they could transpose that to the powerplay…

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Even a few percentage points improvement on the powerplay would go a long way to improving the Habs’ chances to make the playoffs but let’s be real here… their odds dropped drastically after losing that game against the Penguins. It is my opinion that they will fall just short of their quest and had Bergevin brought in some help at the deadline, and Julien made a better decision against Pittsburgh, this team would be part of the Spring Showdown.

What’s done is done and we can only look at the future. Bergevin must address the team’s needs on left defense as he’s done with the centre position this past summer. If he does that and if the team avoids key injuries, the Canadiens should be in the playoffs next season. Until then, let’s put that under the “experience gaining” category. Go Habs Go!