Habs Trying To Land The Big Fish

Tired of hockey cliches? It’s summertime after all, so let’s change it up a bit and why not try using fishing analogies to describe Montreal Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin‘s attempts at luring talent so far? Don’t miss the boat, the conditions are perfect. Rumours are swirling at cross-currents, and there are quite a few good fish to be landed. Big, small, fast, some stinky and some we would love having on our plate. If you’re not hooked yet, keep on reading.

Lesson number one is: You can’t catch fish if you don’t have a line in the water.

Aside from those crazy carp you see on Youtube, fish don’t just jump in the boat. Rest assured, Bergevin seems to have lines all over the place. Up until recently, he still had a big one on the hook in Sebastian Aho, but the forecast showed that a Hurricane could come through and get it off the hook, which has now been confirmed. Knowing that the offer was likely be matched, he has lines in several other spots it seems.

It’s up to the fish to dictate when they’ll get caught. You can’t force it.

The Habs wanted John Tavares last year. He didn’t even want to give them the time of day to meet or talk with them. You may have the best lure, the best equipment, but if the fish won’t bite or is not hungry for what you’re offering, there’s simply nothing you can do to get it into your boat. Montreal has a lot to offer but it’s not for everyone. Ironically, it seems like most players who experience playing for the Canadiens doesn’t want to leave. Just this past weekend, Brian Gionta was telling the media how much he misses Montreal and how he loved playing there. Gionta was at Josh Gorges‘ charity ball tournament in Kelowna and Gorges is another one who never wanted to leave the Canadiens’ organization, even declining a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs before being traded to Buffalo.

If it were easy, it wouldn’t be called fishing. I’d be called catching.

“Just do it” doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. You must work hard, smart, consistently, and keep market need firmly in the forefront, then your “doing it” will pay off. Yet, some fans and media are chastising the Habs every time a top UFA signs elsewhere or a trade involving teams other than the Habs is consumed. Many of them, sitting behind their keyboard in their stained underwear, protected by some usernames and a few Twitter followers or Facebook/Instagram “friends”, laugh at the notion that trading in today’s NHL is hard, pretending to know better. They forget that each time a player is signed, there are currently 30 teams (soon to be 31) that didn’t get him. Oh but that’s a GM’s job, they say. Well as a fan, your job is to cheer and encourage your team… and you’re failing at it too! Yet, it’s a heck of a lot easier to be a fan than trading with real money, real contracts and real players.

The bigger the bait, the bigger the fish.

You can’t land Moby Dick with a worm. If you’re up for catching the big fish, do what’s necessary in your industry to attract them and land them. Unfortunately for Bergevin, while he has perhaps the biggest bait in tons of cap space and a willingness to spent it, there are plenty of other factors going against him. The water is murky from the taxes muddy bottoms where every bottom sucking political government is taking pleasure in chasing the fish away. Worse, you have a bunch of media and so-called “fans” dumping their trash and sewage straight into the St. Lawrence river.

The fishing is always better on the other side of the lake.

Sometimes it seems like no matter where you throw your line, fish doesn’t bite. Yet, you see other fishermen pulling them out… on the other side of the lake. Team A managed to trade for player B. Why couldn’t Bergevin give player C to get him? Simple folks: Team A did not want or need player C, or didn’t think that he had as much upside as player B… in spite of what you think. And guess what? They’re entitled to it, it’s their team, their business. And no, it’s not Bergevin’s fault when that happens. It actually happens to every single team in the NHL.

Something big brewing?

It seems like this summer, Bergevin is a lot more aggressive and from the outside looking in, it certainly looks like he has a plan and he’s following it to a tee. He wants a big name and has already taken several steps to address his team’s needs.

Plan A seemed to have been Matt Duchene but as we know, he chose the Nashville Predators, where Duchene has a house and spends part of his off-season. An avid guitar player, he loves country music and if you’ve ever been to Smashville, it’s an amazing city, one that I would rank well ahead of Montreal, New York and Las Vegas.

Plan B might have been Anders Lee, although there seem to be contradicting reports on that one. The Isles captain never really wanted to leave, it was obvious and he said so himself. Being a UFA, he had to do his homework and see his worth on the market and that provided him with the leverage needed to convince Lou Lamoriello to fork out the dough to get him back.

The announcement of Lee’s signing with the Islanders wasn’t made yet that came the news of the offer sheet to Sebastian Aho, which drew a lot of ink (literally) in the media and between the Hurricanes and Canadiens’ fan bases. The Hurricanes’ owner Tom Dundon has come out with guns blaring stating that it was an exercise of futility, a waste of time for everyone on the part of Bergevin and the Canadiens but don’t be fooled. He didn’t want to spend that kind of money, particularly not most of it in bonuses and half the contract in the first 12 months! That’s the owner who, just a few months ago, didn’t want to pay his GM more than $600,000 when coaches make millions!

Patrik Laine

Rumours seems to be persistent surrounding the Habs and one of the most interesting, in my opinion, is the one where the Jets and Canadiens would be talking trade for 21 year-old Finnish forward Patrik Laine. Coming off a somewhat disappointing season with the Jets (to his standards as he still managed 30 goals), the RFA can’t agree on the terms of a new contract with the Jets who are in a bit of a pickle cap-wise. The team already lost 3 of their top-5 defensemen from last year in Tyler Myers (Canucks), Jacob Trouba (Rangers) and Ben Chiarot (Canadiens) and although they have picked up Neal Pionk from New York, they’re still thin at that position. A cheap NHL ready young defenseman as part of the package would likely have to go, a Victor Mete, Josh Brook or Noah Juulsen, one would think. The Canadiens’ first round pick (still tied up in the Aho offer sheet at the time of writing this) would also likely be involved, as well as a top forward prospect, one would think.

There is plenty of smoke and more often than not, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And Bergevin is still sitting in the middle of the lake, focused on the task ahead even with the wild forest fire around him, in the thick smoke… trying to land his very own big fish. He, Trevor Timmins and Shane Churla have already stolen the Draft by having Cole Caufield land on their lap at number 15. They’re looking at stealing the summer too. Stay tuned Habs’ fans and don’t forget: Good things come to those who wade. Bergevin did land a big Tuna late last summer remember? The season doesn’t start until October 3rd… in Carolina ironically. Go Habs Go!

Advertisements

Aho Offer Sheet: Bergevin Skating On Thin Ice?

You sort of expect it to happen every year, but it doesn’t. Yet, it’s totally legal according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Every single year, there’s a tool totally under-utilized by NHL General Managers for what seems to be a boys’ club unwritten rule. And then BOOM! There it is. A good young Restricted Free Agent signs a contract with a team other than their own. And the Montreal Canadiens shocked the hockey world on this Canada Day of by going for it, by signing a good young talent to an offer sheet. But it comes at what risk?

Desperate times call for desperate measures… and it seems like Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin has reached that desperation level. The Canadiens apparently were in discussions up until the very end with two high profile pending UFA’s in Matt Duchene and Anders Lee.

Matt Duchene tells @DavidAmber he was close to signing in Montreal. Has tremendous respect for that franchise.#signingseason— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) July 1, 2019

But as we know, Duchene put pen to paper with the Nashville Predators, a seven year deal worth $56 million. Tennessee has the third most attractive tax rate amongst NHL teams after the two Florida teams. In order to match the Preds’ average of $8 million, the Habs would have had to offer him around $71.4 million ($10.2M AVV) for the same net pay in Duchene’s pockets.

Having missed on Duchene, then the news came out that it was down to the Habs and the Islanders for signing Anders Lee.

All signs point towards the #Habs and #Isles battling for Anders Lee— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) July 1, 2019

But just before the official announcement that Lee had signed an extension with the Islanders, the Canadiens announced that they had signed restricted free agent Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet.

The offer sheet signed by Aho

While I won’t deny that Bergevin and his team had this option lined up for a while, it seems pretty obvious that it was plan C for them. Seeing that plan A (Duchene) and B (Lee) didn’t work, Bergevin certainly didn’t want to come out of yet another free agency summer without at least trying something. To me, this is a sign of desperation not because Aho isn’t a worthy candidate, but because Bergevin is willing to risk his relationship with fellow GMs to make something happen.

According to sources, Carolina got calls from 3 different teams today on Sebastian Aho, hinting at an offer sheet. The ‘Canes told them they would match any offer sheet. Carolina did tell them they would entertain trade conversation. Believe that Habs is among 3 teams who called— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 1, 2019

What I will give full credit to Bergevin for is how he handled the situation. As mentioned by NHL Insider Pierre LeBrun, the Canadiens’ GM did call his homologue Don Waddell prior to presenting an offer to Aho. And in his press conference from Carolina, Waddell acknowledged that fact.

Bergy did things right though. Waddell did say that the #Habs contacted him trying to work out a trade prior to the offer sheet. #GoHabsGo
Bergevin a fait les choses proprement. Waddell a dit que les #Canadiens l’ont contacté pour compléter un échange avant l’offre hostile.— 📰 J.D. Lagrange 🎙 (@Habsterix) July 1, 2019

In his own press conference, Bergevin qualified his offer as tactical based on Carolina’s “situation”. It’s a well published fact that the Canes’ owner, Thomas Dundon is in hot water, having invested $250 million into the Alliance of American Football that shut down soon after. So their offer to Aho was heavily bonus structured, with all bonuses due on the first of July except the first one, due 5 days after the approval of the contract. Here’s how the contract is structured:

Aho agreed to a five-year, $42.27 million deal, coming with a cap hit of $8.45 million cap hit. As shown above, only $3.65 million of the $42.27 million is actual salary. The rest ($38.62 million) is bonuses.

Interesting to note that the first $11.3 million will be due 5 days after the contract is made official. Then he will get paid $700,000 the following season, with an additional $9.87 million bonus due on July 1st, 2020. Based on Gary Bettman‘s historical negotiation tactics, we may very well see a lockout that year, affecting revenues. So that’s a grand total of $21.87 million in hard cash within the first 12 months! Can Dundon swallow that pill?

According to Forbes the #Habs made $90 million at the gate, operating income $102 million.

Canes $27 million at the gate, -$3.9 operating income.

Dundon does not like to spend, and this team makes zero money…this week will be a hard one to guess what will happen.— Eric Lepine (@ericlepine26) July 1, 2019

The risk is real

As we’ve explored on this very blog, breaking the Code as GM can be costly. As former Philadelphia Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren mentioned in Jay Greenberg‘s book “The Philadelphia Flyers at 50”, offer sheets can have serious repercussions. One of the reasons Holmgren stepped down from the general manager’s job was because he sensed other GMs didn’t want to deal with him after he signed restricted free-agent Shea Weber to a 14-year, $110-million offer sheet in 2012.

“It’s hard to do this job if you have a bad relationship, or at least a perceived bad relationship, with any number of GMs,” Holmgren told Greenberg.

Holmgren said that even though restricted free-agent offers are legal, they are “really frowned upon” and that his relationship with a lot of other general managers “changed.”

Marc Bergevin

And it had. After the Weber offer sheet was signed and matched, Holmgren has completed 12 trades, all of them considered minor trades. To the point where he felt like it was best for the team to step down and let Ron Hextall do the General Manager’s duties.

With that information, you can choose to ignore this reality, like many fans I’ve exchanged with on Twitter by finding 1,000 excuses, or you can be legitimately concerned about Bergevin’s ability to further improve his team with the NHL GMs blacklisting him. Yes, it’s a “what if” scenario and no one is hoping more that yours truly that GMs will get over it. But ignoring that possibility is a huge mistake.

Either way, I’m truly hoping that the Habs are successful as Aho is a very good young player. Either way, the damage could already be done. Let’s hope not. Go Habs Go!