As the Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues winds down, the hockey worlds attention is shifting to the off-season. For some places, the off-season can’t come soon enough. Montreal is one of those places. After getting a lot of heat from fans and the media after the 2017-18 season, Marc Bergevin responded well last season. The Habs were a surprise team in the league. Playing a more up-tempo skilled game, the Habs were in the thick of the playoff race all season. Despite a surprise 96 point season, the Habs missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. Heading into the off-season, the Habs need to build off this turnaround. While the Habs definitely played well, there are still some glaring holes on the team. For Marc Bergevin, this is the off-season where he needs to push his chips into the pot.
Marc Bergevin Needs To Take a Swing
The Habs strong 2018-19 season was a huge surprise to most. Racking up 96 points is usually enough to get a team in the playoffs, but unfortunately, it was not this year. The Habs had low expectations coming into the season. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year. The team had other plans. Now rather than making a move this past year, it was seen more as a bonus or ahead of schedule. Many, including Bergevin, were opposed to making a big acquisition at or near the deadline.
Even with the Habs in the thick of the playoff race at the NHL trade deadline, the Habs declined to make any significant moves. Bergevin, in typical Bergevin fashion, added depth. He acquired Christian Folin, Dale Weise, Nate Thompson and Jordan Weal. While some of these players played well, it’s hard to argue any of them was a missing piece. Still, with the Habs being so much better than anyone expected, people treated last season like playing with house money. Bergevin was unwilling to part with any of his top prospects or picks for the short term.
Lightning in a Bottle?
A logical plan to be sure. Unfortunately, for a man that insists that the goal is making the playoffs and anything can happen, the Habs missed out on playoffs where almost everything did happen.
A bigger concern might be if the Habs caught lightning in a bottle last year. Relatively speaking, the Habs were not overly injured last season. They also had several players putting up career years. Newly acquire Max Domi led the way notching a 72 point campaign in Montreal while adjusting to playing centre. Other players to have career years include Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Drouin, Phillip Danault, Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn, and Brett Kulak. Optimistically, some of these players will continue to build on this, but to expect this many players to have career years again is a bit much. The Habs were able to pull all of this off while owning one of the worst power plays in the NHL. Even if it wasn’t part of the plan, sometimes you need to take advantage of the opportunities presented to you.
Just a Few More Seconds…
Bergevin has always stated he wanted to build his team through the draft. Unfortunately, the Habs had a poor track record of drafting the through Bergevin’s first five seasons. Still, the past two drafts saw the Habs, according to experts, do very well. Along with adding Nick Suzuki from Vegas in the Max Pacioretty trade, the prospect pool finally feels full. Still, Bergevin has been very protective of draft picks and prospects. While the fans have been waiting for a truly competitive team, Bergevin has been waiting for the exact perfect moment to make his move. The only issue with that is nobody knows when that moment is. Now seems to be that moment but it wouldn’t be the first time Bergevin lets an opportunity slip away. He always seems willing to wait for an even more opportune time. You can wait and wait but eventually, you run out of time.
Churn the Mill
Over the last few weeks, reports have come out that two big-ticket free agents are linked to the Canadiens. Centre Matt Duchene has Montreal as one of this top two landing spots according to Elliott Freidman. Erik Karlsson was also reported to be hoping the Canadiens make him a significant offer. Now, these are just reports, although from some credible sources. This kind of thing has not ever happened to the Canadiens since the inception of free agency. Things seem to be lining up well for the Habs to make a splash this off-season.
Player In, Player Out
The Habs have done a lot of good things the past year to make them entertaining again. Still, a big knock against Marc Bergevin is he seems to shy away from making big splash moves. And by splash moves, I mean adding to the roster without giving up a roster player. The P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade is well documented. Still, while it was shocking, it was still playing in for play out. Most of Bergevin’s bigger moves are like this. Alex Galchenyuk for Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev are other examples of Bergevin making big trades but moving similar players.
That is not to say he only makes player-for-player trades but there is a kind of accounting balancing going on. Andrew Shaw was acquired for two second-round picks – after Lars Eller was traded, also for two second-round pick.
The last time Marc Bergevin really added to the roster was 2014 when he acquired Jeff Petry at the trade deadline. Originally a deadline rental, Petry ended up re-signing with the Habs following the 2014 season.
Swing Away, Marc
So, after seven years of patients and mixed results, its time for Marc Bergevin to sake a swing here. The Habs need to take advantage of this momentum they have built up. It has seemed as if Bergevin has been waiting for the perfect moment to make his move. While it might not be the perfect time for him, Bergevin cannot afford another season missing the playoffs in Montreal. He can’t afford to play it safe this year. Its time for him to go for it.
As mentioned, despite their strong season, there are holes that need filling. They need someone to play with Shea Weber on defence. Victor Mete has filled in admirably, but his lack of offensive output is a concern. The Habs need a true partner for Weber. They also need scoring. While the Habs played much better offensively, there is still a need to improve their goal scoring. IN the past Marc Bergevin has tried to address these holes by going after low-risk high reward type players, with unfavourable results. It’s time to get established big-time players in Montreal.
There are options for defence. As mentioned Karlsson has been linked to the Habs. Other free agent names the Habs could be interested in are Jake Gardiner and Alexander Edler. All three of these players will command a big payday but the Habs have the room. Outside of these three players, there is not much else high-end defensive talent on the open market.
Forward is a complete situation. As mentioned Matt Duchene has been linked to the Habs. Outside of Duchene, there is the biggest free agent name, Artemi Panarin. While it would be great, he is unlikely to come to Montreal. There is also Joe Pavelski but he is not likely to leave San Jose. Other names the Habs could go after are Gustav Nyquist, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Dzingel.
There are big names to be had, for sure but it’s going to cost the Habs. Bergevin is going to be up against history here as the Habs have failed to attract any real big name free agents, ever. The promising thing, however, is Montreal does seem to be a desirable location for some players now.
With the Habs poor history attracting free agents, a trade might be the best route to improving the roster. The Habs have improved their prospect pool and now have the assets to move to improve their roster without losing a significant piece of their main roster. While Bergevin loves to get a steal (all GMs do) he will need to be willing to overpay in some situations, if it comes to that. This is not to suggest he needs to make a stupid deal, like the rumoured price the Buffalo Sabres were asking for Ryan O’Reilly (Three first-round picks, including the number three overall).
It will be interesting to see if Bergevin will be willing to pay the price to bring in a marquee player via trade. He has shown a reticence to pay that price in the past. Still, he might not have much of a choice.
The Time Is Now for Marc Bergevin
The Montreal Canadiens need to keep up with their Atlantic division opposition. With the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs continuing to be Cup contenders and the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers on the rise, the Habs will need to keep pace.
The Canadiens can not afford to wait around any more. The team has been preaching patience for a long time. After seven years of limited success, Marc Bergevin needs to deliver a true contending team. It may have started last year but he can ill afford to have the team stagnate or regress. Perhaps Bergevin should take a page out of Jarmo Kekalainen‘s book and get aggressive and make a move to go all in. He can’t afford to play it cautiously this time.