The Heat Is On The Canadiens

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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.

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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!

 

 

Controversy Follows Subban

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The topic of P.K. Subban has never been one that’s been unanimous and it is to be taken with great caution, particularly these days. One can go all the way back to the 2007 draft when NHL scouts were stating openly that Subban was a first round pick talent but his antics could scare teams away, and 42 times, he was passed on by teams before the Canadiens took a chance on him.

It didn’t take long for Subban to find his niche in Montreal and there aren’t many markets better suited for someone loving the spotlight. With his flamboyant style and his charismatic personality, fans adopted him in no time and the love affair only kept growing when he won the Norris trophy back in 2013 and when he committed to donating an astounding $10 million to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, for what was qualified as the biggest philanthropic commitment by a sports figure in Canadian history.

Since making the big club, while his on-ice play and his relationship with reporters and fans were top-notch, he was regularly getting into fights with teammates in practice. Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher, amongst others, have had their issues caught on camera and all were with Subban. While this was downplayed by some, it raised some red flags for others.

The controversy continued when team GM Marc Bergevin, still unsure about his defenseman’s relationship with key teammates and his ability to be a team player, insisted on giving him a bridge deal, wanting to buy more time to see exactly how Subban would mature and cope in the dressing room. Some fans were outraged by it, but the GM knew something that fans and even members of the media didn’t. Even by pushing the deadline, the team ran out of time and either had to lock him up long term or trade him. We all know the rest: Subban was awarded the richest contract in Canadiens’ history, even higher than the team’s number one star, Carey Price. This $72 million, eight year contract made of Subban the highest paid defenseman in the entire NHL, nothing to stop the critics but this time, they were all across the NHL. This bullseye is likely to follow him for some time still.

While he was selected to represent Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics, the year after winning his Norris Trophy, Mike Babcock only gave him one game and made him a healthy scratch the rest of the tournament. While Subban remained professional about it, his fans were once again outraged at the “unfair” treatment he was getting.

EVENTFUL WEEK

This past week pretty much sums up P.K. Subban. With less than three minutes left in the third period, with the scored tied at two a piece against the Avalanche, Subban, the last man back, decided to try to keep the puck and skate it in at Colorado’s blue line instead of dumping it deep in the zone. He lost an edge, creating his league leading 88th turnover (14 more than anyone else), resulting in an odd-man rush which ultimately ended up in the Canadiens’ net. The Habs, in need of every point at that time, lost that game. Coach Michel Therrien fell under criticism when he chose to sit Subban in the final minute, down by one goal and qualified the play as a poor decision in his post-game analysis.

Two days later, the Canadiens were facing the Philadelphia Flyers and Subban finished the night with two assists, three shots on goal and over 30 minutes of ice time. He was named the first star of the game and in his post-game interview, he took the opportunity to send a message to whomever in what, once again, can be seen as controversial, saying that “… if people want to be critical, they don’t need to say anything; just look at the numbers. That’ll shut ’em up pretty quickly”.

In that game, controversy continued however when, after another turnover at the blue line, Subban hit Claude Giroux in a questionable way. While Giroux finished the game, he did not play the following game in Toronto. At the time of writing this, it is unknown if the NHL will take some discipline against Subban.

Louis Jean, of TVA Sports, reported earlier that one NHL executive from a Western Conference team had confirmed that the Canadiens were gauging the market for Subban, something that was later denied by the team.

WHAT NOW?

There is no denying that P.K. Subban is a world class athlete and an outstanding individual in the community. He loves Montreal and Montreal loves him.

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Remember the gold or blue dress debate?

 

Far from being a “choice between Therrien or Subban”, the issue here will be from management to determine if the controversial player is worth more on or off the team and rarely do we see star players getting a just return. Also, if Marc Bergevin was looking at trading Subban, it is very, very unlikely that it would happen during the season. While there would likely be 29 teams lined-up to at least ask about him, big salaries like that are difficult to move in the best of time, let alone during the season when many teams are strapped with the salary cap and chasing playoffs’ hopes.

Something tells me that the Subban story is far from over and is to be followed closely.

Go Habs Go!