Habs Are Neither Buyers or Sellers

Ah this time of the NHL season. It’s like Christmas for hockey fans. Some teams are sellers, wanting to stock up on picks and prospects, while others are considered buyers, trying to improve their team for the immediate future in hope of either make a run at the elusive Stanley Cup or at the very least, earn a playoffs spot and a couple of home games for the owners to cut their losses or fill their pockets. Either way, fans and media members alike are anxious to see what their local team will do.

With five weeks to go to the February 25th trade deadline, teams are justleling and the race is tight in many places. The Atlantic division sees the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens within a point of each other, battling for 2nd and 3rd in the division, and/or for a Wild Card spot at the very least. The Buffalo Sabres are four points from a playoffs spot too, but they have been trending the wrong way as of late.

The Metropolitan division has four teams within two points, with the Tavares-less New York Islanders overtaking the Columbus Blue Jackets and Stanley Cup champions Washington Capitals to lead the division, while the Pittsburgh Penguins (58 points) occupy the last Wild Card spot, two points back.

In the weaker Western Conference, you can dream of the playoffs if you find yourself around the .500 mark. You have Colorado, Dallas and Vancouver with 50 points, with Minnesota, Edmonton and Anaheim a single point back, while Arizona (46) and St. Louis (45) are still mathematically in the race. Only three of those teams will make the playoffs.

Habs neither buyers or sellers

If you pay attention to what Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin is saying, it is very unlikely that he will be pursuing short-term help. This means that he will not be a buyer. And why would he be? His team is one of the youngest in the league and it has performed beyond what most people thought they would this season.

“I’m always going to be listening to options, but the goal is to build for the future. Just to give up assets for the short-term, I’m not going to do it. It would have to be very appealing. If there are young players available, assets have to go. I get that. But, I don’t think I’ll be in the rental business.”

“Based on what I saw in Vancouver [at the WJC], the future of the Canadiens is very bright. I’m not going to start mortgaging the future. I know what’s coming with the World Juniors, who they’re going to be asking for, and I’m not moving these kids. It’s going to be a short conversation, I think… If we drafted these kids, it’s because we believe they have some potential. That came to the forefront in Vancouver with our prospects that really stepped up their games.”

~ Marc Bergevin (January 7, 2019)

Only Kenny Agostino, Jordie Benn and Antti Niemi are pending UFAs at the end of the season. With the Canadiens in a playoffs’ spot, don’t expect any of them to be traded as they are, in fact, some very good “rentals”.

If Bergevin makes a move, it will have to be a hockey trade, one that makes sense not only for now, but for the future. The Canadiens have just over $9 million of cap space available so it is not out of the realm of possibilities that teams might come knocking with offers like the one with the Winnipeg Jets, which saw them unload a contract in Steve Mason, bringing in Joel Armia into the Habs’ fold as a reward for doing so.

Joel Armia

The Canadiens’ biggest need right now still is a suitable partner for Shea Weber, someone who can eat up 25 quality minutes a game against the opposition’s top lines. Victor Mete is doing fairly well but if they want to be taken more seriously, they need an improvement at that position. While Alexander Romanov has made huge strides, he is likely a few years from having the necessary impact to play such a role. A while back, I had created a list of 24 potential target for Bergevin and while the list likely has changed somewhat, some names on that list would still be pretty good options.

It is also very much possible that Bergevin sits there and doesn’t do anything. If that happens, he will be criticised by some but rest assured, this would not be a bad move at all. The future is bright, very bright in Montreal and in spite of what some want you to believe, Bergevin knows what he’s doing. Go Habs Go!

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Hanging The Turtleneck

PlekanecCountdown2

Sunrise Florida, June 23rd, 2001. With their first round pick, the Montreal Canadiens are happy to select… from the University of Michigan, Mike Komisarek. With their second first round pick, the Canadiens select… from Avangard Omsk (Russia), Alexander Perezhogin. Quebec National holiday, the St-Jean Baptiste is in full course, June 24th, 2001, same location. The 37th overall pick belongs to the Montreal Canadiens who select… from the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos, Duncan Milroy. All this time, there’s a young Czech wondering if his name will be called to fulfil his dream to play in the highest caliber league in the world, the National Hockey League, in North America.

He had to wait to pick number 71 in the third round, before his name is finally called. With their third round pick, the Montreal Canadiens select… from HC Rabat Kladno in Czech Republic, Tomas Plekanec. For those who are curious, the Canadiens also selected in this draft, Finnish defenseman Martti Jarventie, center Eric Himelfarb (Sarnia, OHL), defenseman Andrew Archer (Guelph, OHL) and another Czech, right-winger Viktor Ujcik. Who would have thought back then that Plekanec would be not only the longest serving Canadiens, but the one playing the most NHL games of that group? As a matter of fact, Plekanec played more NHL games (1,001) than the seven other players combined by a wide margin (685)!

“It’s great in many ways. He scored the goal, it’s his 1,000th game. We win the game. There’s all the reasons in the world for him to be happy and have a real good souvenir about his 1,000th game. He looked like a guy who had drank from the fountain of youth tonight. He was really skating well. He had lots of energy. You could see he was excited to play his 1,000th game and he wanted it to be a real good memory for him. So I really liked his game.” ~ Claude Julien

We’re not going to put you through his career highlights, plenty of other blogs and/or media outlet have done so or will do so in the next little while. Here, I simply want to thank Plekanec for the person that he is, the true and true professional that he is, and what he stands for. Over his long NHL career, he has had a multitude of different wingers ranging from high end Alexei Kovalev, to some grinding forwards. He was asked to play an offensive role and always did so by being very reliable in his own end. As a matter of fact, had the definition of the Selke Trophy not changed to become yet another offensive award (Pavel Datsyuk won it while not playing on the penalty kill), Plekanec probably should have won a few.

Never a peep about him in the media which, in Montreal, is almost unheard of. One of the first guys at the rink, on the ice, one of the last off the ice. He has always taken good care of himself. Quiet leader, he cherished teaching the ropes to young players. Plekanec took Artturi Lehkonen under his wing when he broke into the league and just recently, Charles Hudon was praising his return to the organization after a stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs late last season as Plekanec was a mentor to him last year. Pleky1000

There was (and still is) a mutual respect between Plekanec and team General Manager Marc Bergevin and many believe that when he was traded to Toronto at the trade deadline last season, there was a verbal agreement that Pleky, as his teammates call him, would return this season to play his 1,000th game in a Habs’ uniform, a game in which he will have scored his last goal in the NHL. Fun fact: new Canadiens’ sensation Jesperi Kotkaniemi was born the year Plekanec was drafted.

It is with mixed feelings that I watch him retire in mid-season. Part of me is thrilled that he was brought back to play this milestone in a Habs’ uniform. Part of me is sad to see him fade away without winning a Cup with the team where his heart has been since June 2001. So long Pleky. On a team so rich in history, you may not have accomplished enough to get your jersey number 14 retired in the rafters in Montreal, but your blue turtleneck will be hanging in the hearts of Habs’ fans for a long, long time. Go Habs Go!