All Star Break: Decision Time

The All Star break is over, players raced around the rink, took slapshots and even shot pucks from the rafters of the arena. The (awful) tournament style games are done and teams are returning to the ice, with the NHL schedule starting on Monday. Making things worse, some teams like the Montreal Canadiens are coming out of their bye week, as fans and media members are chomping at the bit to see them back… either to cheer them on or to have new material to complain about.

The way things are shaping up, few teams are guaranteed a playoffs’ spot but many are in a position where they will soon have to make a decision if they’re going for it or if they start selling assets. As the deadline approaches, more teams will be joining the nine or so teams with little playoffs’ hopes, being either too far and/or having too many teams to pass in order to make it. Let’s have a look at roughly where teams find themselves at as the home stretch is upon us.

TEAMGPPTS
BUYERS
4971
5170
4968
5067
CONTENTION
4963
4862
4962
5162
4961
5061
5060
4858
4958
4957
4957
5057
5157
5257
5154
5154
5052
4751
SELLERS
4951
5051
4850
5046
4843
4842
4841
5041
5128

It goes without saying that there could be some surprises since as long as there’s a mathematical chance, anything can happen. This is basically “playing the odds” based on previous years. The nine teams considered as sellers all have pending unrestricted free agents (UFA) amongst them and those are often the most likely to be wearing a new uniform by trade deadline.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the most prominent pending UFA’s on the nine team catalogued as sellers in the table up above. I’ve sorted them by position to make it easier to find how the supply sits today at each position. As we know, supply and demand dictates the market and right now, there are more buyers than sellers. It will change the closer we get to the deadline of February 24th.

TEAMNAMEPOSITIONCAP HIT ($)
Michael FrolikLW4,300,000
Conor ShearyLW3,000,000
Jimmy VeseyLW2,275,000
Zemgus GirgensonsLW1,600,000
Patrick MarleauLW700,000
Melker KarlssonLW2,000,000
Chris KreiderLW4,625,000
Nicolas DeslauriersLW950,000
Mikkel BoedkerLW4,000,000
Vladislav NamestnikovLW3,250,000
Trevor LewisLW2,000,000
Kyle CliffordLW1,600,000
Nate ThompsonC1,000,000
Matthew PecaC1,300,000
Joe ThorntonC2,000,000
Jean-Gabriel PageauC3,100,000
Ilya KovalchukRW700,000
Dale WeiseRW2,350,000
Jesper FastRW1,850,000
Wayne SimmondsRW5,000,000
Tyler ToffoliRW4,600,000
Zach BogosianD5,142,857
Marco ScandellaD4,000,000
Brenden DillonD3,270,000
Michael Del ZottoD750,000
Ron HainseyD3,500,000
Mark BorowieckiD1,200,000
Andy GreeneD5,000,000
Sami VatanenD4,875,000
Derek ForbortD2,525,000
Mike GreenD5,375,000
Jonathan EricssonD4,250,000
Trevor DaleyD3,166,666
Alex BiegaD825,000
Keith KinkaidG1,750,000
Aaron DellG1,900,000
Craig AndersonG4,750,000
Louis DomingueG1,150,000
Jimmy HowardG4,000,000
Marco Scandella, Nate Thompson and Ilya Kovalchuk could all find a new place to call home by Trade Deadline.

Looking at this breakdown, the centre position market is very thin, and teams are always looking for centres. This should drive the asking price up and perhaps even force teams wanting to buy into making more “hockey trades” than “rental trades”. There usually is a good demand for defensemen but even this early, the market seems saturated with a wide range of blue liners. There are some decent names in net for teams searching for an insurance policy in the event of an injury to a masked man.

Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin was taking advantage of the bye week to meet with his team of pro scouts and Assistant GMs in order to come up with a game plan for trade deadline. They are well positioned with Ilya Kovalchuk being so cheap, and with Nate Thompson as a centre with a good faceoffs’ percentage. Marco Scandella is a good defenseman but the return might not be what we had hoped for due to sheer numbers of players available at that position. As for Dale Weise, the Habs will likely have to eat half his salary in order to make teams interested. He has been playing some good hockey since being called up. Expect the unexpected, we are always told. While playoffs’ hockey seems unlikely this season, this should be an exciting time of year regardless. Go Habs Go!

Bergevin Has Let His Players Down

Sometimes, inaction is an action that speak louder than anything. It can be a good thing, or it can blow back in your face. Admittedly, some inactions are however better than bad actions. In some case though, inaction can be the equivalent of becoming stagnant, even taking a step back in a particular moment, especially when those around you have all moved forward. If you’re standing still and everyone else is moving forward, you still have lost ground.

All through summer, Marc Bergevin was on the hot seat. Not only had he failed to bring his team to the next level but according to some, the team had regressed. At the start of the season, even after the moves that he made in the summer, fans and media were sceptical about his acquisitions. After all, he had traded his top two goals’ scorers for guys whose production was nowhere close to them. He hadn’t improved his porous defense. The expectations? What expectations? The once glorious Montreal Canadiens were going to be a lottery team with good odds to get the 1st overall pick, everyone thought.

Well this group of players, led by captain Shea Weber, his assistants Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron, and room leader Carey Price, decided otherwise. They took matter into their own hands and they were going to prove everyone wrong and that, they certainly did. To the point where at the trade deadline, they found themselves in a playoffs’ position.

History repeats itself

Trade deadline comes and players are secretly hoping to get some help, a bit of a reward for their had work, for their dedication. Something to get them over the hump. What did they get this season? Fourth line help and a seventh or eighth defenseman. Yes, Christian Folin, Nate Thompson, Dale Weise and Jordan Weal were added to the roster by Bergevin. Players are looking at this knowing full well that their biggest needs were someone to help spark their anemic powerplay, and a left-handed defenseman to eat up big minutes on the top-4. The got nothing, nata.

Canadian country music star Terri Clark once said:

The best thing to do is stare it in the face and move on. We have to face our fears and plow through. I think taking chances takes a lot more courage than staying stagnant and doing what’s safe and comfortable.

And this is not the first time that Marc Bergevin is playing it safe at the trade deadline. There seems to be a pattern here and players aren’t stupid. They see it. At least those who were here when it happened before.

The 2014-2015 season was the last time Bergevin gave them some substantial help. With his team sitting second overall, he acquired Jeff Petry from the Edmonton Oilers, to play behind P.K. Subban. As is his trademark, he also fortified his fourth line by adding Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell. Results? They lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the playoffs but that wasn’t because Bergevin did nothing.

Carey Price and Shea Weber could have used some much needed help.

The following year, Carey Price injured his knee and only played 12 games to start the season. With Price in the line-up, the Canadiens were sitting seventh in the NHL’s overall standings. Bergevin waited to December 28th to get help and instead of getting a quality goaltender, he traded for… Ben Scriven. He never addressed the need, never adjusted all season long and that was a huge let down for the players. No one can replace Price, everyone knows that, but to expect Scriven to come anywhere close the the All-Star netminder’s level of play is mind boggling. The Habs finished 22nd overall that year, well out of a playoffs’ spot.

In 2016-2017, the Canadiens were sitting in eighth place overall by trade deadline day with 78 points in 64 games. At the deadline, here’s the help Bergevin gave his players: An aging Steve Ott, Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen, Brandon Davidson and… Jordie Benn. With deficiencies covered by the play of Price (who had a strong finish to the season) the Habs managed to maintain their pace but were eliminated by the New York Rangers after Chris Kreider took Price out of the series.

Last season, the Canadiens suffered a huge loss when it was announced that Shea Weber had broken his foot in the very first game of the season and was shut down for the season after only 26 games into it. How did Bergevin react? He waited, picked up Mike Reilly by the deadline and… became a seller. Only the Buffalo Sabres, the Ottawa Senators and the Arizona Coyotes finished the season with a worse record than the Habs.

Jump to February 25th, 2019… The Canadiens are battling for a playoffs’ spot. Claude Julien‘s team has won only two of its last eight games, allowing on average almost four goals per game and their powerplay sits second last in the NHL with a 12.7% success rate. Their recent slump has allowed the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins to distance themselves, when the three teams were nose to nose just a few days back. What did Bergevin do? He went and changed his fourth line. The powerplay help didn’t come and the blatant hole on the left side of the defense is still has gaping as it has been all year.

In the meantime, the teams battling with the Canadiens bolstered their roster. The players see that…. and it could very well cost them to miss the playoffs when it’s all said and done.

Having said all of that, While it’s okay to be upset to see that the Habs didn’t add any major asset(s) at the deadline, we do need to remind ourselves that they also didn’t give away any major asset(s) either. Also, rest assured that Bergevin has planted important seeds in the last few days and sometimes, those come to tuition in the off season. Nothing lost, except a playoffs’ appearance in my opinion, and some valuable playoffs’ experience for the young players on the team. Let’s just hope that the players don’t give up on Bergevin the way he sort of did on them. Go Habs Go!