Bergevin Owes It To The Players

Eight days remaining to the 2019 NHL trade deadline and things are heating up around the league. The Edmonton Oilers are making questionable moves at best, the Senators put Matt Duchene on the market in hope to save enough to re-sign Mark Stone, and many pending free agents already have their bags packed knowing that by February 25th at the latest, they will be wearing a different uniform and will be making another city their temporary home.

The rumour mill has been quiet around the Montreal Canadiens this year. Very quiet. Too quiet even. True that GM Marc Bergevin is known for running a ship tighter than Dick’s hatband but even then, it is way too calm in a city like Montreal, particularly at a time when the team finds itself in a tight battle for a playoffs’ spot.

Anyone in their right mind will agree that the Canadiens aren’t Stanley Cup contenders and the Tampa Bay Lightning showed it last night, shutting out Claude Julien‘s team 3-0. But if the team’s goal is to make the playoffs, they will need some sort of injection to their lineup in order to make it happen. They will need to find their way back to the winning side of key games and they have several of them coming up.

Marc Bergevin

The Canadiens will have to face Toronto, Columbus and the New York Islanders twice each. They also have a game left against Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Carolina, Washington and Tampa Bay. In early March, they have a western road swing where they will be facing Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim and we all know how hard those western trips can be. Montreal’s last week of action will see them battle the Lightning, the Capitals and the Maple Leafs.

Players deserve a reward

With all of the changes that were made this past summer, few people predicted seeing the Habs where they are in mid-February. This team is for real but they need help. Teams around them are loading up and games aren’t going to get any easier. In order to keep the morale of his troops up, not only should Bergevin make a trade, but he must do it as a reward for his players’ commitment and hard work. If he fails to do so, it could be perceived as a slap in the face to some of the key players on the team.

* NHL standings, as of February 17, 2018

We can all agree with the Canadiens’ GM that he should not touch his core group of prospects or his first round pick(s) for temporary help. For that reason, it’s unlikely that he will be dipping into the pending UFA market. Having said that, he has space under the cap ceiling, and lots of it. Teams trying to load up are, for the most part, strapped to the ceiling and need help fitting rental players under their cap. That’s exactly where Bergevin should must become a serious player.

A trade or two like the one for Joel Armia is what he should be exploring. He can then address his long term needs in the summer if need be. But he has to do something. If he doesn’t, I’m afraid his players will lose faith in his abilities or willingness to recognize that they left it all out for the team this year. After all, aren’t those Bergevin’s own words? “The goal is to make the playoffs. Once you do, you never know what can happen.Go Habs Go!

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Mike Reilly And the Habs’ Misfit Toys

MisfitToys

Bargain Bin… that’s what some of Canadiens’ GM detractors were calling him. Yet, he has been one of the NHL’s most aggressive General Managers since taking over the reigns in Montreal. He has proven that trading a big name player is not only possible, it must be done when needed. P.K. Subban, Mikhail Sergachev, Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk are all playing elsewhere while Shea Weber, recently appointed team captain, Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar, Max Domi and Mike Reilly are proudly wearing the CH. Wait… Mike Reilly?

You see, while everyone in Montreal and others around the NHL are starting to notice the Canadiens’ flavour of the month, yours truly has been warning you, faithful readers of this blog, about the possibility of that happening. I’m no prophet but you see, I was given the opportunity to watch this guy skate for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL and I was extremely impressed by this young man’s aptitudes. He wasn’t just good, he was a dominant force in what is known as the best Junior A development league in the country and that, on a team – the Vees – that would have beaten most Major Junior team that year.

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Mike Reilly – Penticton Vees

I was shocked that Marc Bergevin only gave up a fifth round pick for the guy and I certainly was thrilled to see him coming to my favourite team. Way back in March, I was telling you that Reilly was a serious candidate to become Weber’s best option as a defensive pairing partner. More recently, in August to be precise, Reilly made my list of the Canadiens’ top candidates for a breakthrough season. He is the real deal and it seems that like several players we discovered on the Las Vegas Golden Knights last year, all he needed was a true opportunity to showcase what he could do, a chance to gain the necessary confidence to do what he knows he can do… what I and many Pentictonites knew he could do.

 

The Misfit Toys

Come to think of it, Bergevin and his team sure have a knack at finding players that nobody wants and getting the most out of them, doesn’t he? Think of Dale Weise who, prior to being acquired by that Habs, had 10 goals in 162 games for the Rangers and the Canucks. He scored 27 in 152 games in a Canadiens’ uniform and was a key penalty killer for them. Weise has since scored 12 in total for the Flyers.

Perhaps the biggest steal by Bergevin was when he claimed newly appointed alternate-captain Paul Byron off waivers from the Calgary Flames. Ti-Paul had 17 goals in 138 career games for the Sabres and the Flames. In a Habs’ uniform, he has contributed 56 goals in 231 games so far, including two consecutive 20+ goals seasons while being one of the NHL’s best penalty killers.

In a smaller sample size, Canadiens’ gritty winger Nicolas Deslauriers had a grand total of 12 goals in 211 career games with the Sabres before finding his niche with the Habs. Last season alone, the LaSalle native tallied 10 goals in only… 58 games!

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Tomas Tatar leads the Habs in scoring

In the trade sending disgruntled Max Pacioretty to the Golden Knights, young centre Nick Suzuki was the key piece of the trade. The second round pick was a bonus and George McPhee is the one who insisted on including Tomas Tatar if, for nothing else, cap reasons. As a matter of fact, the Knights picked up some of Tatar’s salary in the trade. A healthy scratch in Vegas, Tatar leads the Canadiens in the first two weeks of the season with eight points in six games.

 

Who wanted Antti Niemi last year? Nobody. Nobody except Bergevin and the Canadiens. Stephane Waite knew him well from their days together in Chicago, where Niemi helped the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup. But after a few good seasons in San Jose, the veteran goaltender’s career went on a downward spiral, particularly the past couple of years. A 3.30 GAA and .892 Sv% in his last year in Dallas, followed by a season where he was claimed off waivers… twice in 2017-18! A 5.08 GAA and .872 Sv% with the Panthers, followed by a 7.50 GAA and .797 Sv% with the Penguins made people question Bergevin’s sanity and outrage his belittlers when he claimed him off waivers. Yet, he followed that up with an astounding 2.46 GAA and .929 Sv% on a team where everything went wrong for last season.

Last, need I remind you that the Canadiens acquired Joel Armia as an incentive to take Steve Mason’s contract from the Winnipeg Jets? While Armia has yet to fully show what he can do, the 6-foot 4-inches former first round pick winger is showing flashes of the skills the Canadiens need on right wing. Time will tell if he makes the list of Bergevin’s steals but by giving up Simon Bourque for him is robbery in itself.

Let’s not forget that Xavier Ouellet‘s contract was bought out by the Detroit Red Wings before the Canadiens jumped to the occasion to offer him a chance. So far this season, he has earned every minute that he’s played and he has proven to be a valuable asset. After seeing what we’ve seen of the Red Wings in the 7-3 routing at the hands of the Habs, I can’t imagine that Detroit couldn’t use him right now.

Honorable mentions must be given for the acquisitions of Jeff Petry (2nd round pick in 2015, which the Oilers ended up trading away), and Phillip Danault and a 2nd round pick (Alexander Romanov) for two pending UFA’s in Weise and Tomas Fleischmann.

Early on this season, fans love the new attitude around their favourite team. The speed and work ethics displayed are a huge contrast with what they got to see last season and yes, two of the biggest culprits of taking nights off have been traded. The scoring lost in those trades has been replaced with an exemplary effort and scoring by committee, and fans appreciate that. It’s way too early to get carried away but don’t the Canadiens remind you of last year’s Vegas Golden Knights? Go Habs Go!