Rebuild… Retool… Resomething!

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With just over five weeks to go before the NHL trade deadline, we have reached the time when some teams are already thinking about what to do in order to become competitive again. Unfortunately for the Montreal Canadiens, they are one of those teams and the thought of the Habs being out so early has many fans and media members steaming at the collar… with reason.

And this tweet by Brian Wilde of Recrutes.ca, quoting Elliott Friedman, has the fanbase stirring prior to the game against the Washington Capitals.

It makes you wonder though… are Carey Price and Victor Mete really untouchable players on the team? In my humble opinion, they are also very much touchable, even Price if, for nothing else, because of his contract.

As a matter of fact, in my opinion again, anyone not named Jonathan Drouin should be considered touchable. Drouin is a very talented and young local product, and it looks like Marc Bergevin paid a high price to get him from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Local, young and talented players are difficult to get and we have touched before, on this very blog, on the importance of having local talent on the Canadiens, a very unique market. They paid a high price for Shea Weber as well but unlike Weber, Drouin’s best years are ahead of him.

There is no doubt in my mind that Bergevin’s best asset is Max Pacioretty. The Habs would get a great return for their captain, who is still under contract for one more year with a cap hit of $4.5 million. If he is offered a return anywhere close to what the Colorado Avalanche got for Matt Duchene, Bergevin cannot pass on trading him.

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Max Pacioretty is a likely candidate to be traded

While we know that Bergevin has always supported Carey Price (remember the grocery store comment), the fact that the goaltender is scheduled to take $10.5 million of the team’s cap hit for the next eight years starting next season should be enough to make him consider testing his value on the market, at the very least. Is Charlie Lindgren the caliber of Price? Absolutely not. But he is ready to take the next step in his career and paired with a quality veteran backup, goaltending wouldn’t be a big issue, particularly if the team improves on other weaknesses.

Would he dare trading Weber after giving up on P.K. Subban, a fan favourite? Again, I’d say that it would depend on what he can get in return. But in my opinion, Weber will be kept no matter what. If Pacioretty is traded prior to the draft as I’m anticipating, the team will need a new captain and while Brendan Gallagher is also an excellent candidate to wear the “C”, Weber would be even more. Why? Because when either of them stands up and speaks, teammates are more likely to listen to Weber. He has this presence and respect from everyone. You need some quality veterans to lead by example, as the Edmonton Oilers finally realized. Having said that, if a team is willing to pay the big price for him, then pull the trigger.

There are some glaring holes in the Canadiens’ line-up, everyone who knows a little bit about hockey can see it. But there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Bergevin tried to improve his team at the centre position. He’s not a dumb hockey man, as some around Montreal seem to think. But he was unsuccessful doing so and that is his biggest failure since taking over the team. Trading a couple of veterans would be the fastest way to replenish the blue-chip prospects’ cupboards while filling key holes in the organisation, the centre position being one.

Team’s best trade candidates

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Tomas Plekanec could be gone by trade deadline.

Prior to trade deadline, the Canadiens’ best trade candidates based on fair return is pending UFA Tomas Plekanec. If a team knows the importance of quality depth at the centre position, it’s the Canadiens and while he’s not the offensive player that he used to be, Plekanec is an excellent defensive and responsible centre who would play a key role, particularly on a third line. He does carry a cap hit of $6 million so the Habs might have to eat some salary to help a contender pull the trigger, but the return should be excellent because of the position that he plays.

 

Max Pacioretty, Carey Price, Shea Weber, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher are the team’s best assets for potential trades, but they would get best value during the off season. Why? Not only are they the team’s best players but only Price has any say in where they could be going with his full non-movement clause. It’s then up to the highest bidder with any team in the NHL and everyone has cap space in the summer, not so much at trade deadline. Put quality players and add bidding wars between teams and you have the recipe for a good trade return.

No matter what happens from now on, Bergevin cannot miss on any major trade from now on. He cannot waste his best assets without getting full value in return. The team that he built is underwhelming and under-performing and even Geoff Molson’s patience has to have its limits. The Canadiens’ GM is playing big from now until the trade deadline as what he does will likely decide if he will be the one getting a chance to rebuild, retool or resomething this upcoming summer. Go Habs Go!

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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.