Habs’ Plans: Now What?

Grit

When the Montreal Canadiens got up to a slow start this, while seeing Carey Price not being himself in net and the team being unable to score and to defend, many people like yours truly were preaching for patience. After all, when was the last time that the Stanley Cup was ever won in October or November? Thankfully for us, the team did manage to get back on track after their California trip by winning seven of their next 10 games, all without Price who suffered an undisclosed injury. Then came this past week… 

After a heartbreaking loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets who, let’s be honest here, had no business of winning as Sergei Bobrovsky literally stole the game for his team, Claude Julien‘s team looked absolutely brutal two games in a row, resulting in one single point in three games this week. While the offense was present against the Arizona Coyotes, the defensive play was worth Pee-wee aged players, as did the goaltending, and it didn’t get any better against Toronto on Saturday. And no folks, we’re not only talking about the defensemen here. The forwards had more turnovers than the Pillsbury Doughboy in the last two games!

This past week’s results saw the Canadiens slide all the way down to 14th out of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference standings, and only four teams in the NHL have a worse record that the Habs. Having allowed 23 more goals than they have scored, Julien’s team can thank the Coyotes’ dismal season to prevent them from being the worst in the NHL in that department. As a matter of fact, the last time that the Canadiens perform that badly, a guy by the name of Carey Price only played 12 games that season. Yet that year, those blaming the Shea Weber trade for this year’s misery tend to forget that they had a guy by the name of P.K. Subban in their line-up back then.

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Claude Julien is running out of options

Now what? 

Don’t go all ape-crap on Marc Bergevin here. The Jonathan Drouin for Sergachev was a good trade, for both teams. But no matter what the reasons, the Canadiens’ GM made two crucial mistakes this summer:

  1. He never addressed the centre position in spite of having plenty of cap space to do so.
  2. Losing Markov and Radulov and not replacing them simply could not happen.

So while Drouin has performed well while getting used to a new position at centre, that simply wasn’t enough to support and improve on a team already thin at that position and offensively challenged.

According to Capfriendly.com, Bergevin now has over $7 million in cap space available at the time of writing these lines. The problem that he’s facing is that the demand is higher than the supply, which means that finding an immediate solution will be extremely difficult through trades… and the price is going to be very high.

The reality of the situation is that Bergevin has painted himself into a corner with no way out, unless the players he put together start performing as they were expected to perform, allowing the paint to dry. If they can stay in the race until trade deadline, then Bergevin might be able to make a big move with the cap space available. But will it be too late?

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Jason Spezza

Jason Spezza 

Please stop with the Spezza rumours in Montreal as that train has passed last year already. This season, he’s having a horrible season and has been moved to the wing on a team struggling to meet expectations. With one more year at $7.8 million cap hit after this season, it would be shocking to see Bergevin tie his own hands when this summer’s free agency looks very promising, including a guy by the name of John Tavares. But then, why would Tavares pick the Habs… unless the players in place turn things around?

Do you see a pattern here? Go Habs Go!

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Who Is Jonathan Drouin?

DrouinStreet

Contrarily to what some want you to believe, trading in today’s National Hockey League is far from easy. As a matter of fact, since the implementation of the hard salary cap back in 2005, the number of trades completed have dropped more than half of what they were prior to it. It’s easy to understand why. Teams obviously have to look at the fiscal impact on their team, and they also have to plan ahead, looking at whose contracts will need to be renewed in the foreseeable future. Hockey is a business more than ever and Habs’ fans had a hard reality of it when team General Manager Marc Bergevin had to let lifetime defenseman Andrei Markov walk away to the KHL late this summer.

Getting some young and productive talent at a reasonable cap hit is what will often make the difference in the mid to long term and Bergevin understands that. When he completed yet again one of the biggest trades of the summer in acquiring 22 year-old Jonathan Drouin, in exchange for blue-chip prospect Mikhail Sergachev, the Canadiens’ GM landed a top-end offensive juggernaut for a player who might (or not) become a stud on defense… but there is no denying that he is the one who received the proven asset versus potential.

Immediately after the trade was announced, Bergevin was on the phone negotiating a shiny new contract with Drouin’s agent, Allan Walsh (yes, him), agreeing to a six year, $33 million contract, ensuring that there was no doubt about the commitment between the team and the newly acquired fan favourite.

Who exactly is Drouin?

Jonathan Drouin was born on March 28, 1995 in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. Few people remember that as a 17 year-old, he failed to make the roster to start the season with Halifax in the QMJHL despite being the second pick in the entry draft, so he had to return to play AAA midget hockey, until he was called up by Halifax December 9, 2011. Drouin made an immediate impact, getting two assists in his first game, including the primary assist on the winning goal. From that point, Drouin proved to be one of the top players in all of junior hockey. As a matter of fact, Drouin was named player of the year in the CHL. He was then chosen with the third pick overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2013 NHL Draft, two spots behind his Halifax linemate Nathan MacKinnon.

Drouin was among the final cuts in his first training camp with the Lightning and was returned to Halifax for another season, where he finished with 108 points in 46 games in 2013-14 and had 41 points in 16 playoff games. He joined the Lightning in the 2014-15 season, playing in 70 games, and enjoyed a breakthrough in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he had 14 points in 17 games, including four goals in the Eastern Conference Final.

Dispute with Tampa Bay

In a much publicized even, Drouin’s dispute with the Lightning drew a lot of negative attention on himself starting in January 2016. It was no secret that there was a relationship issue between Drouin and Lightning coach Jon Cooper, and one day after being reassigned to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, Walsh issued a statement on behalf of his client. The agent revealed that Drouin had made a trade request back in November, but had kept the matter private. Walsh referred to it as an untenable situation and that it was in everyone’s best interest that Drouin be allowed to move on and play hockey.

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While some people claimed that he was a head-case, others said that he was given bad advice from the people around him. Either way, this wasn’t good news for either the Lightning or the player. But Lighting GM Steve Yzerman stuck to his guns and on January 20, 2016, he suspended him indefinitely without pay for a failure to report to the Crunch’s game against the Toronto Marlies. It’s not until March 8, 2016 that Drouin finally reported to Syracuse for the first time since being suspended. On April 4th, the Lightning called up Drouin from the AHL after a nine-game stint, a stretch in which he recorded nine goals and an assist. The young forward wasted no time making his presence felt as he scored the game-winning goal in his first game back with Tampa Bay.

Impact of the trade for the Habs

No one understands better the need for local talent with the Canadiens than Bergevin and team President Geoff Molson, and getting arguably the best young Quebecois in the entire NHL was a very impactful feat in itself. As we have touched on this very blog back in May, there was no doubt that if Drouin was made available, the Habs would be all in… and they were!

As much as people loved P.K. Subban, Jonathan Drouin will have an even bigger impact. He’s a mature young man, well beyond his age, and he speaks the language of his fans in his home province. Before even putting foot on the ice, he has already been utilized by the organization for many public appearances and marketing events, and fans have responded to him in a very positive manner, making him feel welcome. Of course, what he does on the ice is what will matter most, but judging from what he has already shown in the NHL, at such a young age, the future certainly appear to be bright for both the player and the Canadiens’ organization. Training with team captain Max Pacioretty, Drouin seems to have already found a home in Montreal. Until we get to see him work his magic in a Habs’ uniform, let’s enjoy together a few highlights of what he has done and what’s to come for the fans. After watching this, you will join me in wishing that the season started now! Go Habs Go!