Bergevin Making The Habs Great Again

He was a rookie General Manager. Highly sought, but a rookie nonetheless. And he was the choice of not only Geoff Molson, but of former Canadiens’ GM Serge Savard as well, who was hired by Molson as a special consultant to help him find the right guy. Marc Bergevin was it. Known around the league as a great hockey mind and talent evaluator, Bergevin decided to return home, knowing full well that the challenge wouldn’t be easy. The team had just finished 28th out of 30 teams, the bank of quality prospects was non-existent. He had his work cut out for him… but he knew it.

There is a lot of misinformation circulating, most spread by people who are still hot at Bergevin for trading P.K. Subban, let’s admit. So let’s start by addressing some of the “rumours” or plain made-up stories out there, and set the clocks straight, shall we?

In the summer of 2017, Bergevin wanted to re-sign Andrei Markov and they had some talks. The problem is that for the longest time, Markov insisted on a two-year contract while the Canadiens were offering him one year. Players like Niklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Joe Sakic – just to name a few – all signed 1-year deals at the end of their career but Markov seemed to think that he was above that. Had he been represented by an agent, he might have received proper guidance but he waited too long and by the time Markov changed his mind, it was too late. The Canadiens went to plan B and signed Karl Alzner (which they shouldn’t have done in retrospect). Markov’s stubbornness indeed cost the Habs… and himself to reach 1,000 games with the Canadiens.

Alexander Radulov followed the money.

And the Alexander Radulov story… the Canadiens’ GM did offer Radulov contract extension back in January, but the player wanted to wait in the summer before making up his mind. Again in June, the Canadiens offered him the same contract that Radulov ended up signing with Dallas, but he wanted to wait to July 1st, to gauge the offers, and he wanted $7M from Habs. Facing the same salary cap as any other teams, the Habs didn’t want to pay him that. When Radulov received his offer from the Stars, Bergevin offered to match that offer but Radulov chose the Dallas, likely due to the taxes, and “sold” to fans that the Canadiens’ offer came in too late, that he had accepted the one in Dallas. Having enough of the lies, Bergevin retorqued publicly, something the organization rarely does.

Transactions

In one of his most underrated achievements, Bergevin picked up Paul Byron off waivers – free! He then re-signed him at $1.1 million per season. If you want to see how valuable Byron is to the Canadiens, here’s a recent article on this blog.

Shea Weber for P.K. Subban: the only reason why this transaction seemed, for a while, to go against Bergevin and the Habs was because of Weber’s injury. Prior to that, they were nose to nose in offensive production, with Weber being more physical and much better defensively. Now that the one nicknamed Man Mountain by Mike Babcock is back healthy, the entire Habs’ team is playing better hockey. Coincidence? I think not. But I’m working on a 3-year recap so stay tuned…

Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev didn’t look so good last year according to many, but lopsided in Habs’ favour this year. With one game left to this season, Drouin is one point shy of his career high. Sergachev plays only 17:55 minutes per game, 1:31 minutes of it being on the powerplay. He has 6 goals and 32 points this season. I still believe it’s a good trade for both teams.

Tomas Tatar/Nick Suzuki/2nd for Max Pacioretty: literally a steal by Bergevin. Pacioretty now has a cap hit of $7M starting next year. Has Tatar (without a NTC) at $500k rebate (paid by Vegas) who has reached the 20-goal plateau this season for the fifth consecutive season. Suzuki is tearing up the OHL and the 2nd in 2019 is the Blue Jackets’ pick.

Max Domi is happy in Montreal

Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk: Not really wanting to put Galchenyuk down here, as much as to praise Domi, who has shattered his career-high in points by about 20 points. He has played admirably well at the centre position and leads the Habs in scoring. Highly in Habs’ favour.

Mike Reilly for a 5th? Okay, Reilly has slowed down after a very hot start to the season, but he’s played top-4 minutes most of the season. No matter how you look at it, getting that kind of return for a 5th round pick is unbelievable value. Further, it’s not the Canadiens’ 5th, it’s the Washington Capitals’.

Phillip Danault & 2nd (Alexander Romanov) for pending UFA’s Dale Weise/Tomas Fleishmann: Much like Domi, Danault has beaten his career high in points in 22 fewer games this season. The new father has been the Canadiens’ second line centre while playing against the oppositions’ top forwards. Many “experts” and “fans” were complaining last June that Trevor Timmins took a no-name, Romanov, so soon in the draft. None of them are complaining today as he’s perceived to be one of the NHL’s top prospects.

Josh Gorges for 2nd: That pick was later traded to Chicago to get Andrew Shaw.

Thomas Vanek & 5th/Sebastian Collberg & 2nd: Vanek was the biggest pending UFA that year and Garth Snow was holding back trying to get the maximum for him. He waited too long and Bergevin pounced like a mountain lion on an unexpected pray. Vanek played outstanding in regular season but disappeared in the playoffs, so Bergevin cut him loose. At that price, he was worth the shot.

Michael Ryder & 3rd (Connor Crisp)/Erik Cole: While this trade won’t go down as remarquable in history, getting Ryder back when Cole’s play was fading rapidly was a good trade. That is when young Brendan Gallagher gave up his number 73 to Ryder, and picked number 11, which he’s still wearing to this date.

Andrew Shaw / 2 x 2nd: As mentioned above, one of the 2nd round picks was acquired in the Josh Gorges trade. When you can turn a fading and banged up Gorges into a proven competitor like Shaw, that’s gold. Shaw is tied with Tatar on the Habs with 0.73 points per game.

Jeff Petry was a great pickup

Jeff Petry / 2nd & 5th: This might be one of Bergevin’s most underrated trade he’s made. Petry is a very serviceable top-4 who has done a good job under difficult circumstances filling in for Shea Weber last year. This season with one game to go, he has reached a career-high 45 points.

Joel Armia, Steve Mason, 4th, 7th / Simon Bourque: That was a strategic trade. The Canadiens had cap space, the Jets needed to clear some so Bergevin bought out Mason’s contract and got Armia and two picks for a guy that will never see the NHL. Highway robbery.

Kerby Rychel, Rinat Valiev, 2nd (Jacob Olofsson) / Tomas Plekanec, Kyle Baun: While Rychel and Valiev have not panned out, Olofsson is a very good prospect in the Canadiens’ organisation. Plus, they got Plekanec back as a UFA so he could play his 1,000th game with the team that he loves.

Jakub Jerabek (UFA) / 5th: Bergevin had signed Jerabek as a UFA so he didn’t cost him anything. The 5th round pick was the Washington Capitals’ pick, which Bergevin flipped to Minnesota to get Mike Reilly.

Nicolas Deslauriers / Zach Redmond: Deslaurier is a physical fourth liner with grit, a local product who loves being in Montreal. Redmond played three games for the Sabres since the trade.

Jordie Benn / Greg Pateryn, 4th: Benn has had his ups and his downs since being acquired by the Canadiens. He finished his first season with the Habs very strong, which earned him a new contract. Last season, he did not play well mostly due to injuries to Weber, which put everyone in a role they weren’t suited for. But he has bounced back this season playing on the third pairing and killing penalties.

2nd in 2017 (Joni Ikonen), 2nd in 2018 (traded to EDM) / Lars Eller: If people complain about Andrew Shaw costing the Habs two second round picks, they have to be happy that Bergevin received two second round picks for Eller. It’s almost like a Shaw for Eller trade. Then you add Ikonen who is one of the team’s best prospects.

Christian Folin, Dale Weise / David Schlemko, Byron Froese: Weise is thrilled to be back in the Canadiens’ organisation. Schlemko had become an dead weight and Froese is a good AHL player, nothing more. Folin has played some very good hockey alongside Benn down the stretch.

Nate Thompson, 5th round pick / 4th round pick: That’s your typical, annual Kings/Habs trade. Remember the Dwight King trade for a pick? Then the Torrey Mitchell trade getting that same pick back? Thompson has taken some pressure off Phillip Danault for defensive zone faceoffs, winning 55.1% of his faceoffs.

Jordan Weal / Michael Chaput: Another depth move, this time bringing in a quality right-handed faceoffs’ centre (57% with the Habs), Weal has also been a key contributor offensively down the stretch. Don’t be surprised if the pending UFA gets offered a contract this summer.


As you can see, Bergevin has won a vast majority of his transaction and even the one he’s been most criticized about, the Weber / Subban deal is in his favour this season.

While some will get stuck on the Alzner contract, they also forget that he is also the one who signed some of the most one-sided contracts (in the Habs’ favour) in the NHL. Who could get a 30-35 goals scorer – Pacioretty – at $4.5 million per season long term? A 20-goals scorer in Byron at $1.1 million? Perhaps shall we look at another 30-goals’ scorer –Brendan Gallagher – at $3.75 million? Domi at $3.15 million isn’t too shabby either, is it? Or what about Danault at $3.08 million? But let’s focus on Alzner, right?

Now that the Canadiens are officially out of the playoffs, there’s this (same) group of people out there calling for his head because the team missed out for the second year in a row. Yet, Geoff Molson was quite clear last summer when saying that he had accepted Bergevin’s plan, which seems to be to get younger and add an attitude of hating to lose. Molson is a smart and reasonable man. He understands that going through a reset through youth likely meant that the team would miss the playoffs. You can bet that he’s satisfied with the way his GM turned things around, even after narrowly missing the playoffs. Oh I personally would have liked for him to do more at the deadline, but his overall work since last summer has been spectacular. Even his recent depth moves have paid off.

Now he must continue in the same direction this upcoming summer as he did for the past year or so. Trevor Timmins has 10 picks to play with at the upcoming draft and Bergevin MUST find a quality left-handed top-4 defenseman at the very least. Someone in the mold of Cam Fowler or Shayne Gostisbehere, who can also play on the powerplay would be ideal. Either way, the future is very promising in Montreal folks. Go Habs Go!

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Top Cheese: March 2019 Edition

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as the team is entering the exciting last stretch of the season, pushing for a spot in the playoffs. Four teams, including the Canadiens, are battling for the two Wild Card spots, three of which are also playing for the Metropolitan division’s third position, making for an exciting end to this regular season. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Less than 20 percent of the 2018-2019 regular season is left to play for the Canadiens and they find themselves in a dog fight to get in and gain the rights to play either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the leaders of the Metro division in the first round of the playoffs. Only 16 games, that’s what it boils down to, and we will find out if there will be some playoffs’ hockey at the Bell Centre come April. Players are banged up, they’re tired, but their sight is on playing for at least a chance to compete for the elusive Stanley Cup.

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One of those players on the Canadiens is team captain Shea Weber, who missed most of last season and the first couple of months to this season. While his play hasn’t been as sharp lately as we’re accustomed to seeing from him, he is still the backbone of that Montreal defense. If the Canadiens are going to make the playoffs, a lot of it will be on the shoulders of the one they call Man Mountain… and no one relishes that more than Weber, a true competitor who has proven time and time again that he can be counted on when everything is on the line.

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Shea Weber and Carey Price

Which makes Claude Julien‘s decision against the Pittsburgh Penguins that much more puzzling. On Saturday night, he gave the duty to neutralize Sidney Crosby to the defense pairing of Jeff Petry and Jordie Benn, and Sid the Kid finished the night with… four points in a Pens’ 5-1 victory at the Bell Centre. For fans and media members, who are not privileged to inside information, this decision is mind boggling at the very least and, in my humble opinion, could end up being the difference between making or missing the playoffs when it’s all said and done.

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But one would be foolish to blame it all is on Julien. Marc Bergevin has yet to address the team’s biggest need, finding a suitable partner for Weber, a left-handed defenseman who can log big minutes in a shutdown role against opponents’ top lines. Victor Mete is doing okay but when you have to rely on Mike Reilly or Benn on your top-4, it exposes the glaring need at that position. With the trade deadline come and gone, that gaping hole is still there and ultimately, the Canadiens are paying for it.

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The truth is that the Canadiens are greatly missing Andrei Markov. Maybe not Markov at his age, but a Markov-type player. Someone with his passing abilities, someone with his vision, a left-handed shot who can dish the puck from the point on the powerplay… but we’ll get back to that later on. Seeing the Habs with over nine million dollars under the cap and the GM’s inability to fill that hole in the summer or at trade deadline, perhaps Bergevin could have given the Russian defenseman a contract? Hindsight being 20-20, of course.

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All is not lost however, at least not for the mid to short term. Much like we’ve seen with Jonathan Drouin, the discussions held at the trade deadline often carry over to the Summer months and one can only hope that Bergevin’s talks for a quality left defenseman can pay off in the off-season. Could a Jonas Brodin, a Cam Fowler, a Shayne Gostisbehere, a Hampus Lindholm or another similar defenseman be coming in the summer? We can’t rule that out.

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Jesperi Kotkaniemi

Yes, Alexander Romanov might be on the verge of coming to North America. Yes, Josh Brook has played on his off-side for a bit. But it’s far from ideal. Mostly, it’s unrealistic to expect a green rookie to fill that role. The Canadiens are better off doing the right thing, as they are doing with young Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and bring those guys up slowly and protect them with favourable matchups. As they should try to hang onto them instead of trading them for temporary help, the team MUST resist the temptation of rushing their top young talent. This also means that they must find some sort of stop-gap.

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One options that might be available is putting an offer in to pending UFA Jake Gardiner or the Maple Leafs, who will likely be unable to resign him. But is giving Gardiner, a very ordinary defenseman defensively, a guy who has been the scapegoat in Toronto more often than not, a contract in the seven million dollar range a smart move? Allow me to doubt it. In my opinion, Bergevin is better off sacrificing some assets and pick and chose the defenseman that he truly wants through a trade. Someone with a more cap-friendly contract and with term left to it.

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Here’s something that I’ve read that really irks me… Why trade to improve this year when the team doesn’t have a shot at the Stanley Cup, if others teams like Tampa Bay are stronger? Then why play the season then? Why want to make the playoffs? Why did the other teams fighting with the Habs for a playoffs’ spot trade to improve? If it’s pointless for the Habs, shouldn’t it be pointless for all other teams on the bubble? I’ll tell you why. When you are this close to a playoffs’ spot, you MUST try to get it. The experience gained by the young Canadiens would be most valuable in the long run. And I remember 1986 as if it was yesterday.

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In 1986, the Canadiens had no chance according to everyone around the NHL. But they had a great young goaltender and some young kids who didn’t know better. They had a balanced offense with multiple players around the 20 goals mark. Mostly though, they made the playoffs, giving them a chance to be in a position to battle for Lord Stanley. When you don’t make the playoffs, your chances are zero percent. Even a couple percentage points are better than zero. So folks, unless you have a crystal ball, stop pretending that you know better. You are talking odds and those odds can be beaten. It’s been proven time and time again in pro sports.

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Perhaps the most amazing thing about this season’s Canadiens is the fact that they are in the position that they are in, without a powerplay worth being called that. Sitting at a league worst 12.4 percent, the Habs have been unable to fix that issue all season long. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t start clicking. You see, a lot of it is playing on the players’ mind. They are making poor passing choices, and the passes are often off for one-timers or to keep the opponents’ penalty killers honest. Confidence plays a huge role in hockey and if my five decades of hockey have taught me anything at all, it’s that it can change quickly… with a bit of success.

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One guy who has been playing great hockey is Max Domi, although not so much on the powerplay. While I personally predicted that he would do well, he is playing well beyond what anyone could have expected when the Canadiens made his acquisition. And he’s doing all of this at the centre position, as the team’s number one centre nonetheless, with few points on the powerplay. Anyone miss Alex Galchenyuk… and his father?

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When the Canadiens acquired Jonathan Drouin, he and Max Pacioretty started practicing together in the off-season, hoping to develop chemistry, a chemistry that never came about. The same cannot be said between Drouin and Domi however. They started the season together and had great success, then got separated for a while but just recently, Julien put them back together and they started to produce again. Fast and creative, those two look for each other and it’s working. If only they could transpose that to the powerplay…

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Even a few percentage points improvement on the powerplay would go a long way to improving the Habs’ chances to make the playoffs but let’s be real here… their odds dropped drastically after losing that game against the Penguins. It is my opinion that they will fall just short of their quest and had Bergevin brought in some help at the deadline, and Julien made a better decision against Pittsburgh, this team would be part of the Spring Showdown.

What’s done is done and we can only look at the future. Bergevin must address the team’s needs on left defense as he’s done with the centre position this past summer. If he does that and if the team avoids key injuries, the Canadiens should be in the playoffs next season. Until then, let’s put that under the “experience gaining” category. Go Habs Go!