The Habs’ Summer Shopping List

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Fair to say that the 2017-2018 season of the Montreal Canadiens has been a huge disappointment. Going from a 103 points Division title to a lottery team at the very bottom of the league is as big of a disappointment as what’s felt in Ottawa and Edmonton, amongst other places in the league. We can look at every reason for this lackluster season but one wouldn’t have to look very far. When you are without your best players for long periods of time, and when they are there but not producing to the level expected of them, your team will be in deep, deep trouble… as were the Habs this year.

Carey Price suffered from Chronique Fatigue Syndrome and his goals against average of over 3.00, and a saves percentage of just over the .900 mark, all well below respectability, will go a long way in explaining the team’s lack of success. Further, if you add to that the fact that Price’s best protection, stud defenseman Shea Weber, broke his foot in game one and had to call it a season a quarter of the season in, plus the team’s top goals’ scorer Max Pacioretty finished the season with a total of 17 goals in 64 games, and the team barely breaking the 200 goals for mark on the season, well… you have what you got.

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Carey Price waives at the Bell Centre crowd after an emotional ovation.

Needless to say that for the team to hope getting back to the success they have accustomed their fans to in the past 6 years under Marc Bergevin, those players will have to return to form. In a league where parity is as high as it’s ever been, in a cap era where substantial trades are extremely difficult to complete in-season, the Canadiens’ GM has his work cut-out for him in order to address some serious issues.

Team captain Pacioretty has been rumoured to be traded by trade deadline, and the return for him would be substantial, particularly considering what the Colorado Avalanche received for a less productive Matt Duchene. But how would trading your best offensive player, or best goals’ scorer, the guy who, since 2012, has scored the most goals in the NHL after only Alexander Ovechkin, would sit with a disgruntled fan base?

Let’s take a look at what is likely to be the to-do list of Bergevin and his associates this summer, at least in my opinion…

1- Find an assistant-coach to replace Jean-Jacques Daigneault

Under Daigneault, the Canadiens’ defense has never looked great. He couldn’t figure out P.K. Subban and certainly didn’t have his respect. The penalty-kill is second worst in the NHL and no one seems to know what they’re doing out there, leaving Price and any other goaltender out to dry in way too many occasions. My personal choice would be to get Larry Robinson behind the bench, but I doubt that he would want to get a role requiring such commitment at this point in his life. Still, I would ask him first, before considering anyone else. Otherwise, leave the choice up to Claude Julien as it’s his team to coach anyway. Either way, Daigneault needs to go and be replaced by someone better and with fresh ideas.

2- Bring in one, possibly two offensive centres

Isn’t that simple? Yeah, right! There is no doubt that Bergevin knew his team’s need last summer but he was unable to get his hands on that elusive centre. He was rumoured to be very interested in Duchene, but backed out when the price became too rich for his blood, and rightfully so! However, he cannot afford to go another season without improving at that key position and rest assured that he will do everything to get a top-end centre this summer. His job will depend on it. If he makes it to free agency, John Tavares will be his prime target, but he could find what he’s looking for in Winnipeg too.

3- Possibly a defence partner for Weber

This is something that was lacking from day one, even when Weber was skating on one leg. Weber is one of the most feared defensemen in the NHL, THE or one of the most efficient shut-down defensemen in the game, but in order to maximize on his qualities, he needs a good skating, puck-moving defenseman to complement him. Just like Subban needs a good stay-at-home defenseman to cover for his high-risk plays, it’s something that Bergevin needs to address. Unless he feels like he has what he needs in either Victor Mete or newly acquired Mike Reilly, that is. Something tells me that he would rather have his young guys deeper in the depth chart and acquire a veteran for the first pairing, especially if he wants his team to contend.

4- New coaching staff in Laval

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Dominique Ducharme would be a welcomed addition in the Canadiens’ organization.

Enough of the Sylvain Lefebvre experiment. Since he’s been there, the farm has missed the playoffs every year and the number of players moving up and making an impact are minimal, if any. The best candidate for the position would be Team Canada Junior head coach and current coach and GM of the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Dominique Ducharme. Having him in the organization would groom him to potentially become a good replacement for Julien down the line, and would bring some fresh blood and new ideas to a development teams needing some sort of boost.

There could be more than that happening in what promises to be not only a very busy off-season for the Canadiens, but a career defining one of Marc Bergevin. He has Geoff Molson‘s support and confidence to address the team’s needs, but he cannot afford another summer like he had a year ago. Expect a lot of movement, or at least some very important movement at this year’s draft, while the Canadiens are in an excellent position to make some noise. Go Habs Go!

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Montreal Canadiens picks at the 2018 Draft (Source: CapFriendly.com)
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Rebuild… Retool… Resomething!

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With just over five weeks to go before the NHL trade deadline, we have reached the time when some teams are already thinking about what to do in order to become competitive again. Unfortunately for the Montreal Canadiens, they are one of those teams and the thought of the Habs being out so early has many fans and media members steaming at the collar… with reason.

And this tweet by Brian Wilde of Recrutes.ca, quoting Elliott Friedman, has the fanbase stirring prior to the game against the Washington Capitals.

It makes you wonder though… are Carey Price and Victor Mete really untouchable players on the team? In my humble opinion, they are also very much touchable, even Price if, for nothing else, because of his contract.

As a matter of fact, in my opinion again, anyone not named Jonathan Drouin should be considered touchable. Drouin is a very talented and young local product, and it looks like Marc Bergevin paid a high price to get him from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Local, young and talented players are difficult to get and we have touched before, on this very blog, on the importance of having local talent on the Canadiens, a very unique market. They paid a high price for Shea Weber as well but unlike Weber, Drouin’s best years are ahead of him.

There is no doubt in my mind that Bergevin’s best asset is Max Pacioretty. The Habs would get a great return for their captain, who is still under contract for one more year with a cap hit of $4.5 million. If he is offered a return anywhere close to what the Colorado Avalanche got for Matt Duchene, Bergevin cannot pass on trading him.

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Max Pacioretty is a likely candidate to be traded

While we know that Bergevin has always supported Carey Price (remember the grocery store comment), the fact that the goaltender is scheduled to take $10.5 million of the team’s cap hit for the next eight years starting next season should be enough to make him consider testing his value on the market, at the very least. Is Charlie Lindgren the caliber of Price? Absolutely not. But he is ready to take the next step in his career and paired with a quality veteran backup, goaltending wouldn’t be a big issue, particularly if the team improves on other weaknesses.

Would he dare trading Weber after giving up on P.K. Subban, a fan favourite? Again, I’d say that it would depend on what he can get in return. But in my opinion, Weber will be kept no matter what. If Pacioretty is traded prior to the draft as I’m anticipating, the team will need a new captain and while Brendan Gallagher is also an excellent candidate to wear the “C”, Weber would be even more. Why? Because when either of them stands up and speaks, teammates are more likely to listen to Weber. He has this presence and respect from everyone. You need some quality veterans to lead by example, as the Edmonton Oilers finally realized. Having said that, if a team is willing to pay the big price for him, then pull the trigger.

There are some glaring holes in the Canadiens’ line-up, everyone who knows a little bit about hockey can see it. But there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Bergevin tried to improve his team at the centre position. He’s not a dumb hockey man, as some around Montreal seem to think. But he was unsuccessful doing so and that is his biggest failure since taking over the team. Trading a couple of veterans would be the fastest way to replenish the blue-chip prospects’ cupboards while filling key holes in the organisation, the centre position being one.

Team’s best trade candidates

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Tomas Plekanec could be gone by trade deadline.

Prior to trade deadline, the Canadiens’ best trade candidates based on fair return is pending UFA Tomas Plekanec. If a team knows the importance of quality depth at the centre position, it’s the Canadiens and while he’s not the offensive player that he used to be, Plekanec is an excellent defensive and responsible centre who would play a key role, particularly on a third line. He does carry a cap hit of $6 million so the Habs might have to eat some salary to help a contender pull the trigger, but the return should be excellent because of the position that he plays.

 

Max Pacioretty, Carey Price, Shea Weber, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher are the team’s best assets for potential trades, but they would get best value during the off season. Why? Not only are they the team’s best players but only Price has any say in where they could be going with his full non-movement clause. It’s then up to the highest bidder with any team in the NHL and everyone has cap space in the summer, not so much at trade deadline. Put quality players and add bidding wars between teams and you have the recipe for a good trade return.

No matter what happens from now on, Bergevin cannot miss on any major trade from now on. He cannot waste his best assets without getting full value in return. The team that he built is underwhelming and under-performing and even Geoff Molson’s patience has to have its limits. The Canadiens’ GM is playing big from now until the trade deadline as what he does will likely decide if he will be the one getting a chance to rebuild, retool or resomething this upcoming summer. Go Habs Go!