The Heat Is On The Canadiens

HabsHeat

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.

https://www.nhl.com/canadiens/video/embed/conference-call-hemsky/t-277437414/c-52384903?autostart=false

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!

 

 

Habs Players Get Into Mentorship

McCarronMitchell

You are a young hockey player. At 18, you are drafted to the NHL. To boot, it’s the most storied franchise in the game who called your name. After attending a camp or two, you eventually sign your first professional contract. Immediately, you feel not only the pressure to wear that legendary uniform, but fans are already starting to idolize you. When you finally make the big club, you enter this world of glamour, fans recognizing you everywhere you go. You are young, good looking, with pockets full of money and girls are all around you wanting nothing more than to be the next hockey girlfriend/wife. What could go wrong?

There have been plenty of examples over the years all around the NHL where these situations get to a young player’s head and Montreal is no different. If anything, it might even be worse, hockey being the only major professional sport in town (no disrespect intended to the Impact and the Alouettes), and with bars closing at 3:00 am. The inner circles of corruption and drugs are everywhere and temptation to “live the life” is omnipresent, and young players are most vulnerable to it.

With the Canadiens, we have seen first hand the effect of what I refer to as “vedettaria“, has had on players, particularly on local talents who are placed on an even higher pedestal. Whether it be fans pushing for Guillaume Latendresse to stay in Montreal while still of junior age, Jose Theodore being made bigger than he really was, Mike Ribeiro and Pierre Dagenais were preferred to Saku Koivu and Craig Rivet when things blew up in practice… those are just a few concrete examples proving that point, contributing to the fact the Bell Centre had to let them in through the garage door just so their head could fit through the doors.

So pardon me if I am a bit concerned about seeing Jonathan Drouin come in and be the new face of the Canadiens in their promos on Canadiens.com. Jerseys and T-shirts sales, taking on the streets in Montreal doing live interviews with fans, the Habs are obviously taking full advantage of having the most talented young local product in the NHL playing for them. Here’s hoping that the young man keeps both feet anchored to the ground.

Local products weren’t the only ones however and current management has done a good job at weeding out the distractions. They gave Zack Kassian a chance, Marc Bergevin sitting with him immediately after the trade, but his demons were too strong, Canadiens’ GM trading him before the troubled forward could play a single game after he rammed his truck into a telephone poll at the wee hours in the morning. Devante Smith-Pelly loved the nightlife and guess what happened? In addition to him not being the most coachable,  P.K. Subban was traded for rubbing his teammates the wrong way, some claiming that his ego was bigger than the team. After several chances, Nathan Beaulieu will now pursue his career under the leadership of… Evander Kane!

The Canadiens almost “lost the handle” on star goaltender Carey Price but Bergevin pushed all the right buttons by bringing his mother to live with him, and his then girlfriend. And Alex Galchenyuk‘s outings have made the news from time to time, management still trying to decide if he’ll turn it around like Price or if his fate will follow Beaulieu’s.

Leadership stepping up

While some laugh at the concept, Bergevin believes in character and positive leadership and that’s why he acquired the likes of former Mark Messier Award winner Shea Weber, Andrew Shaw, Torrey Mitchell and Jordie Benn (amongst others), to better support the existing leaders in captain Max Pacioretty, Carey Price, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov.

At the end of last season, we were able to witness the newly found friendship between young veteran Andrew Shaw, who took rookie Artturi Lehkonen under his wing. The two were inseparable and Shaw sees a lot of himself in his young teammate.

“He’s [Lehkonen] fun to be around. He’s a kid having fun … he’s enjoying life. He kind of reminds me of how I play. He plays physical, he goes to those dirty areas, he competes, he goes to the net, and I like that in a player. I try to help him out, how he can better his game, what he needs to keep working on, what he needs to keep doing to be successful in the league.” ~ Andrew Shaw

Shaw isn’t the only one taking young guys under his wings, as we have discovered this summer. Earlier this summer, Brendan Gallagher posted a picture on his Instagram account of he and Shea Weber playing a round of golf at Pebble Beach. Ironic in the sense that Weber broke Gallagher’s had with a slap shot previously, Gally is considered one of the team’s young leaders, who is learning from one of the best leaders in the entire NHL.

Captain Pacioretty didn’t take long to reach to newcomer Drouin and the two are training together this off-season in preparation for the upcoming NHL season. The 22 year-old Drouin can’t ask for a better welcome to the City than having the one wearing the captain “C” on his jersey taking the time to train with him, in Montreal.

 

More recently in an article on Canadiens.com, we found out that 32 year-old veteran Torrey Mitchell is training with 22 year-old Mike McCarron, pushing each other. And McCarron is learning a lot from the veteran.

“This is my first summer training one-on-one with another guy with that much experience. He’s definitely showed me what it takes to stay in the League that long. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever worked out with,” said McCarron, who trains with Mitchell five to six times per week off the ice. “Sometimes you look at him like he’s crazy, but that’s why he’s been in the NHL for so long. Training with Torrey has definitely helped me train harder this summer.”

Where this mentorship will lead to when it comes to on-ice production remains to be seen, but there is not a soul who can see the negative in such collaboration. It looks like Bergevin’s message is getting through and the leaders are, well, just being themselves. And as a fan, I have to say that I love what I’m seeing… and so does management, rest assured. Go Habs Go!