No matter how often this question is being asked, and whom it is asked to, you always find two totally different answers to it. Wives and girlfriends are split on the topic, and so are Habs’ fans, who have had to suffer through years of “shortage” and nicknames like Smurfs for their beloved team.
For a while, it seemed like team GM Marc Bergevin was trying to change things in that aspect, injecting some much needed size and toughness to his line-up but 2016 seems to be a step back into a direction that few fans want to see their favourite team return to. While it’s hard to blame the GM for the fact that Zack Kassian refused to take his career seriously, we saw bigger guys like 6-foot 6-inches Jarred Tinordi traded for 6-foot Victor Bartley. The deadline also saw 6-foot 2-inches Dale Weise, 6-foot 1-inch Tomas Fleischmann and 214 pounds Devante Smith-Pelly find their way out of Montreal, making more room for 6-foot Phillip Danault, 5-foot 8-inches Paul Byron and long-shot 6-foot 2-inches Stefan Matteau.
Recent signings have done nothing to address the size issue for the Canadiens as talented but undersized Artturi Lehkonen (174 pounds) and 5-foot 8-inches Martin Reway signed their entry-level contract in hope to make the big club next season. Add the rumour that 6-foot 2-inches Lars Eller has been rumoured for some time to be available on the trade market, it seems like this team is getting much smaller instead of addressing their size issue. Good thing that prospect Mike McCarron (6-foot 5-inches) is still part of the organization!
Looking at the NHL Playoffs, particularly in the Western Conference, I’m not so sure that a smaller team like Montreal could have survived the grind of playoffs’ hockey and its physical play. Just look at the two finalists in that conference, San Jose and St. Louis, two big and nasty teams who not only play the body, but use their size and strength to keep puck control and grind the opposition in the offensive zone. As much heart as Brendan Gallagher can have, he is no match in a one-on-one battle with the Joe Thornton and David Backes of this world.
Out of curiosity, let’s have a look at the line-ups between our beloved Canadiens and those two hot playoffs’ teams:
Bergevin has his work cut-out for him this summer in what could very well be a deciding off-season for him and his management team. He must turn last year around and prove to everyone, his supporters included, that the monumental collapse of 2015-2016 was bad luck and not a step backwards from years past.
In spite of the fact that Alex Galchenyuk Has Gained in Maturity, the Canadiens desperately need more goals’ scoring but at the same time, they must revert back to getting some much needed grit and size. There is nothing wrong with having a couple of smaller players, but the rest of the team should be able to compete against bigger and meaner clubs in order to succeed, particularly in the playoffs.
After breaking a franchise record with nine consecutive wins, the same group of players are breaking a record of futility with the worst performance and fall in their history. While some of it can be explained by the injury to league MVP Carey Price, something happened which made this team go on this unstoppable tailspin. Marc Bergevin, to his credit, wanted to take the heat off his coach and players by telling who ever wanted to hear that the entire blame was on him. However, we know that it’s not true.
Bergevin shares the blame with his coaching staff and with his players, we all know that. Why is Michel Therrien so adamant about playing David Desharnais so much when he’s been absolutely atrocious in the last six weeks or so? In spite of hiring Craig Ramsay to help with the special teams, why is this team struggling so much with the man advantage? Why is it that most nights, Tomas Plekanec is a non-factor, particularly since signing his contract extension and why is Andrei Markov creating more turnovers than the Pillsbury Doughboy?
Oh Bergevin has his fault, no doubt, but there are more people who must shoulder the blame for this shameful display, particularly when the GM’s goal was to bring back pride to wear the CH. While those who know and follow me know that I’m an unconditional of his work since taking over, there are, in my opinion, five key points where Bergevin messed up.
1- The Tinordi situation
Going into the season, the organization knew that both Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn would have to clear waivers if they were to be sent back to the AHL. For that reason, it was understandable to start the season with eight defensemen on the roster. After all, injuries do occur and Bergevin rightfully believes in having quality depth on the blue line. However, for some odd reasons that escapes us, there was no rotation to keep those players in game shape. Further, when someone got hurt, Tinordi didn’t get to play. As a matter of fact, the team even preferred calling up Mark Barberio and playing him instead of giving the big defenseman a chance. When he was finally traded on January 15th, Tinordi had played… three games!
This is mind boggling as how can a young player continue to develop without playing? How can he have any value if he goes months without seeing the ice? It’s to wonder if there was some miscommunication between the GM and his coaching staff, or, as I suspect, both were on the same wave length. Either way, it’s not good assets management and the return for Tinordi clearly proves that. Worse, they seem to be doing the same with Pateryn right now!
2- The medical team
When Carey Price went down the first time, the team doctors provided their diagnosis. When he came back, those same doctors and Price told Bergevin that he was at 100%. That I believe, whether he was or not is another story. But when Price went down the second time, the story kept changing or at least, the prognosis given to the fans and media did. In today’s day and age, with the technology made available to professional athletes, how can someone misdiagnose a player so badly?
Marc Bergevin is no doctor. He must rely on what the team doctors, the professionals being well remunerated by the team, to provide him the truth, to paint the real picture, no matter how painful it might be to hear. Yet, Price’s expected return date keeps on being pushed each time. When we saw him skate on Wednesday, he did not look comfortable at all. While Bergevin cannot diagnose injuries, as unfortunate and unfair it might seem, the responsibility still falls on his shoulders and the team is now in a very difficult position to even make the playoffs.
3- Lack of scoring wingers
While some will blame Bergevin for not getting a top end scoring winger last summer, there weren’t that many available. So he took a calculated risk by trading Brandon Prust for Zack Kassian, and signed UFA Alexander Semin for dirt cheap. Unfortunately for him, neither player panned out for the reasons that we know: Kassian continued his partying way and the game has passed Semin.
Where the finger can be pointed at the Canadiens’ GM however, is that to this date, he has not found a way to add some scoring touch to his line-up. Oh we’ve heard from insiders all over the place that Bergevin was the hardest working GM out there but his effort, ultimately, served nothing… so far. I say so far as often, trades take months of discussions to develop so I give him the benefit of the doubt.
4- Plekanec’s extension
Let’s get one thing straight: Tomas Plekanec is an excellent hockey player, in case you didn’t already know. He was up to a great start to the season while centering a line with Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, so on October 16th, the team announced that they had signed him to a two-year, $12 million contract extension.
Why so soon in the season? While I never agreed with Bob Gainey’s rule of not negotiating during the season, what was the hurry? Why not wait to the second half of the season to see how things go? Had Bergevin done the same with pending UFA Dale Weise, who was on pace for a 45 goals season, imagine what he would have fetched then!
5- Publicly giving Therrien the season
The fact that he feels like the team’s poor play is not on his coach, or that he believes in him to turn things around is one thing. Stating publicly, in a press conference, that Michel Therrien is there for the season is a bit of a double-edged sword. No doubt that Bergevin wanted to stop fans and media from speculating about the coach’s future, but going public like this has the potential to create “job security” and what comes with it. Now how does the GM save face if he feels like a change is needed? He can’t fire him. The only possibility is if he promotes him to a different position within the organisation and that can still happen.
A chance to redeem himself
Geoff Molson fully supports Marc Bergevin. He and his friend Serge Savard took a long time selecting their man, the one who best fit their own philosophy and that has not changed. Bergevin is very well respected across the NHL and amongst all General Managers. He is a hard, honest worker who respects everyone, and he doesn’t panic. He has a plan and follows it, no matter how much fans or media complain. That’s his best quality in this market and the last GM to be this patient was none other than the person who helped select him: Serge Savard, who won the team’s last two Stanley Cups.
Having said all of that, what Bergevin does from now until the opening of training camp will say a lot about him. There might be some better UFAs available on the market and he still has a great core of young veterans and youth to build around. He needs to better surround them now.
For now, he needs to end Price’s season. Enough of this non-sense, get him under the knife if that’s what it takes. Do it now so that he can be ready for next year.
Then trade Tom Gilbert to a contender wanting depth on defense, and get Pateryn some ice time.