After being a massive surprise to the hockey world this past season, Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens are gearing up for a very busy off-season. The Habs went right to the wire in the playoff race, however, came up just short finishing two points behind the eighth seed Columbus Blue Jackets. Now, with the right coaching staff in place, highly skilled young players in Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling as well as a strong core occupied by Shea Weber, Max Domi, Brendan Gallagher and all-world goaltender Carey Price, the Canadiens are just a couple pieces short of being a legitimate contender. With a ton of cap space, the Canadiens are in the perfect position to make some big-time moves to take the next step. Here’s a look at the Montreal Canadiens off-season goals and how they’ll be able to use their cap space to achieve them.
Montreal Canadiens Off-Season: Cap Space Key for Marc Bergevin
The Canadiens season was a step in the right direction, despite missing the playoffs. The team was expected to be a bottom feeder this past season. However, the moves Bergevin made last off-season proved to be more impactful than people would have thought. Max Domi became the Canadiens first 70-point scorer since Tomas Plekanec did it in the 09-10 season. Tomas Tatar set a new career high in points with 58. Brett Kulak proved capable of playing in the team’s top-four on defence, moving the puck effectively. Meanwhile, Suzuki took the OHL by Storm (no pun intended). The Canadiens finished with 96 points, tying the highest margin of points by a team that missed the playoffs in NHL history. While all this is great, the end result was still the same as the previous season. The Canadiens were still on the outside looking in.
The biggest reason for this, the Canadiens still have some gaping holes. The biggest being a top-four defenceman to play alongside Shea Weber. The second being a proven point producer to play in the Canadiens top-six. The good news is, Bergevin has everything needed to acquire these types of players. Cap space, draft picks, trade chips and solid young core destined for great things in the near future. Bergevin will focus the Canadiens off-season on filling these holes.
Acquire a Top Four Defenceman
The biggest need Bergevin has is a top-four defenceman. Victor Mete and Brett Kulak looked good next to Weber last season. However, a bonafide top-four defenceman next to Weber is something the Habs will certainly be in the market for this off-season.
If we look at the free agent market there’s not a whole lot available. However, the two names that pop out are Jake Gardiner and Alexander Edler. Although these two players play different styles, both would compliment Weber nicely. Gardiner brings a bit more offence than Edler, however, Edler provides a stronger two-way game than Gardiner. Gardiner is five years younger than Edler but will likely command more on the open the market.
We then turn toward the options via trade. Names such as Shayne Gostisbehere, Cam Fowler, and Alec Martinez come to mind. Other options include Mike Matheson and Olli Maatta are also options, but there are questions if they could play on the top pair with Weber. In terms of the salary cap, all these players outside of Fowler would be cheaper than signing Gardiner or Edler. However, the Habs would lose valuable assets to acquire these players rather than just sign them.
Acquire a Top-Six Forward
Although Max Domi was great last season, they’re still missing that game breaker type of player. Despite so many players having career years for the Habs, only Domi hit 70 points and only Gallagher hit the 30 goal plateau. The Canadiens need to find a player they can lean on to score a big goal in the clutch. A skilled forward who will help the team’s dismal power play would also help the team immensely.
This off-season there is a lot of high-end forwards available for the taking. Two of the biggest names are Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene. Both played a pivotal role in sweeping the President Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning. With both expected to hit the open market, you can bet Marc Bergevin will be making a phone call to their respected agents.
Panarin will certainly command a lot more money than Duchene and rightfully so. Panarin has had at least 70 points every year since entering the NHL. However, between the two, Duchene would be the more realistic signing. Bergevin was in on Duchene at the trade deadline so you can guarantee he’ll take a run at him again. Duchene has also publicly said he grew up a Habs fan much like his father and grandfather. One would think it would be a dream come true for Duchene to dawn the bleu blanc et rouge.
In terms of the trade market, there are many viable options too. Specifically, Phil Kessel who is rumoured to be on the market after Pittsburgh got swept by the New York Islanders in the first round. Pittsburgh is looking to shake things up and Kessel would certainly be a great fit for the Canadiens as the depth on the right wing is not overly strong. Kessel has three years left on his deal with a cap hit of $6.8 million. He is a cheaper option cap wise but again would cost valuable assets.
Use Cap Space to Replicate the Armia Trade From Last Off-Season
One of the most underrated moves by Bergevin last season was the trade he made with the Winnipeg Jets to acquire Joel Armia. Seeing that the Jets were in cap trouble, Marc Bergevin swooped in using his cap space to take on and buy out the contract of Steve Mason for the Jets. In return, Bergevin acquired Joel Armia, a fourth-round pick, and a seventh-round pick for failed prospect Simon Bourque. With so many teams looking for cap space this off-season, Bergevin could step in and make the same type of move again. Teams like Vegas, Tampa Bay, Toronto and once again Winnipeg are strapped for cash and will be looking to move out a contract or two to help rid them of some cap space to get their star players under contract. The Habs could jump in and take on one of those contracts in order to gain a valuable asset. Ryan Callahan from Tampa, for example, would fit the bill.
Over the last few seasons, Bergevin has had a ton of cap space left each year. However, with the Canadiens success last season, they look to be just a couple pieces away from being a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup. He has shown multiple times he’s not afraid to make a big trade. Now with arguably the best group of free agents in the history of the league, it’s time to start spending some of that cap space to take the final step to bring the Habs back to glory. All the moves he has made this past season were building up to this moment. The Montreal Canadiens off-season moves will determine Bergevin’s legacy as the Habs general manager.
Main Photo: MONTREAL, QC – JANUARY 07: General manager of the Montreal Canadiens Marc Bergevin speaks with the media prior to the NHL game against the Minnesota Wild at the Bell Centre on January 7, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Minnesota Wild defeated the Montreal Canadiens 1-0. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)