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)

Thank You – Merci – Andrei Markov

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It’s the new NHL. It’s a league with a hard salary cap, making trades extremely hard and complex to complete, a league which brings the business aspect of the game to a level so high, that it often comes at the expense of what team commitment used to be. Fewer players than ever finish their NHL career where it all started and to traditional hockey fans, to those who have experienced seeing the commitment between teams and players, that’s a bit of a shame. 

Andrei Markov is no different. In the “old NHL”, he would have signed with the Canadiens. But due to the business aspect of the game, with a hard cap, with Carey Price scheduled to take up $10.5 million of the team’s payroll, Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin couldn’t tie his own hands by giving in to Markov’s demands of $12 million over two years. Perhaps is it because he doesn’t feel Markov can sustain two more years at a high level, or maybe it’s to keep his options open for John Tavares, but no one can deny that the end of The General on the Habs’ blue line was a business decision.

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Habs’ fans and media have a way to make players bigger than they really are, as they have done with Mike Ribeiro, Jose Theodore, Guillaume Latendresse and Alexei Kovalev, or with P.K. Subban more recently. Contrarily however, Markov is a lot bigger than most people give him credit for. Why? Because he is a shy individual and he never liked interviews, preferring leaving the spot light to others.

But don’t be fooled. GMs around the NHL knew all along Markov’s worth. Mike Komisarek owes Markov his one and only big contract when he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent. Sheldon Souray looked like an All-Star playing alongside Markov while in Montreal. And the Canadiens’ powerplay was, for many years, Andrei Markov.

But all wasn’t always rosy for Markov in Montreal. He reached a low in popularity in Montreal when, in three seasons from 2008 to 2010, he played a total of 65 games due to various injuries. During that period, what drew the ire of fans and media alike is when he insisted on participating in international tournaments when he couldn’t help his own NHL team. Admittedly, I was one of them!

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It is unfortunate that he won’t be able to reach the 1,000 games plateau with the Canadiens, needing only 10 games to reach this milestone. A career of 16 seasons, he was the longest serving Montreal Canadiens, a title which he now passes to long time teammate Tomas Plekanec. The 34 year-old centre will start his 13th full season with the Canadiens and has 921 regular season’s games under his belt. The next longest serving Habs? None other than Carey Price, who will start his 11th season with the team which drafted him. Captain Max Pacioretty is next, he who will begin his 10th season wearing #67 in the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge uniform.

“I’ve never been nervous that way, even on my wedding day I wasn’t nervous that much. I had to make a very difficult decision. I will not be back with the Canadiens next season. For the past 16 years, I was proudly wearing the Habs jersey. Each and every day, I realized how lucky I was to be a part of such a great hockey organization.

I guess now it’s time to move on. It’s sad for me to leave. This organization was a big part of my life and always will be, but now I’m looking forward to new opportunities. They say that if one door closes, others will open.”

With his 572 regular seasons’ points, Markov sits in second place amongst defensemen in the long Montreal Canadiens’ history, tied with Guy Lapointe, with only the great Larry Robinson ahead of them. There is no doubt in my mind that The General’s jersey #79 should be hanging in the rafters of the Bell Centre and that he will be well deserving of a nomination into the Hall of Fame.

Some people will use his departure to crucify Bergevin and the Canadiens’ organization, claiming to those who will listen that they should have given Markov what he wanted. Those people however, sit behind a keyboard writing crap about the Habs, and don’t run a NHL team. It’s business and they know it, but controversy sells and they’re feeding on fans’ ignorance to get hits for themselves or on their web site. Fortunately, most reasonable fans can see right through it.