The Montreal Canadiens are in a slump. It’s a bad one. Almost all aspects of the team are off. Carey Price is playing far from his best hockey right now and the Habs poor play in their own end hasn’t helped one bit. The team is also struggling to score goals since Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron have been out of the lineup as well. Their penalty kill has been a disaster all season and their power play has gone cold. The team needs a shot in the arm if it has hopes of making the post-season. Right now, the team needs general manager Marc Bergevin to make a move.
Marc Bergevin Unlikely to Make a Trade
The Habs have dropped six in a row. While a six-game losing streak isn’t the end of the world, it’s more about how the team has looked in those games. First off, they dropped five of the six(two in overtime) to the New Jersey Devils (twice), Columbus Blue Jackets, Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers. Those are four of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. Their combined record is 42-43-11. Probably the most troubling sign was the Habs blew leads in each game. The low point was against the Rangers when the Habs blew a 4-0 lead and then a 5-3 third period lead to lose 6-5 at the Bell Centre.
Well, that was assumed to be the low point. Then Tuesday happened. The Boston Bruins rolled into town. The B’s emphatically extended the Habs losing streak to five. Boston laid an 8-1 whipping on the Habs at the Bell Centre. All the Canadiens struggles were on display, most notably their atrocious defence.
Perhaps even more damning evidence of the Habs terrible play was on display against the Devils on (American) Thanksgiving. The Habs dominated the flow of play but continued to give up odd-man rushes in the game. The Habs gave up three two on ones that resulted in goals and a breakaway. They lost the game 6-4.
Heading into the season, everyone knew the Habs were lacking on the back end. Marc Bergevin tried to address the issue by signing Ben Chiarot to solidify the back end. While Chiarot has played fine, the Habs needed more help, specifically on their top pair. While Bergevin tried to sign Jake Gardiner, he was ultimately unsuccessful. It drew the ire of many fans as it meant the Habs entered the season with over $8M in cap space and no resolution to their issues. It is also the third consecutive season the Habs have entered a season with a large amount of cap space unused.
The Habs defence has been a hot mess all season. Punctuated by leading the league in goals against in the final minute of a period, with 11. The Habs penalty kill is also a disaster. It sits 30th in the league with a 72.7% success rate. In past years, the Habs could rely on Price to cover at least some of their defensive warts, but in this last stretch, he hasn’t been able to. Price’s numbers in November are not pretty. He has a 3.77 GAA and a .883 save percentage. With Price not bailing the team out, the results have been staggering. The Habs in November are 4-5-3.
No matter how bad the Habs have looked in their six-game losing streak, the season is not lost. What it has done, however, is significantly magnify issues the team has. A convincing win against the Philadelphia Flyers will quiet masses for a bit but a struggle would really crank up the pressure on the team, coach and GM. Still, the Habs entered the season with some lofty expectations after a 96-point effort last year.
A lot went right for the Habs in a year where many ‘experts’ predicted them to be one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. They had career years from several players such as Max Domi, Jeff Petry, and Tomas Tatar. The team was also relatively injury-free. They still had issues like a terrible power play and defensive zone coverage, but the team was able to overcome them. The thing is almost everything went right for the Habs, despite their shortcomings and issues. While Bergevin tried to address some of them, during the off-season, he ultimately has not. Right now, the Habs are looking more like the team everyone thought they were going to be last year.
Marc Bergevin’s Track Record
All to say, even before the slide, the Habs needed help. The defence was obvious, but they could also use a bit more punch up front as well. While it’s clear the Habs need help, expecting Marc Bergevin to make a move is foolhardy. Since being hired prior to the 2012-13 season, Bergevin has made a total of 62 trades. It’s an average of around eight (7.75 to be precise) per season. Seems like a busy guy. A closer look at those trades, however, shows that Bergevin likes to work at specific times.
Of those 62, 20 trades were made in the off-season. Another 18 were deals made around the deadline. That leaves 24 trades made during the season. While the biggest number of trades seem to take place during the season, a closer look at the types of trades he makes at each time will show just how unlikely it is he will pull the trigger on a trade.
In Season Trading
Bergevin’s in season trading record is pretty unspectacular. Yes, he has made 20 of them during his tenure but looking at the actual trades he has made should not stir up confidence in his willingness to pull the trigger on something major.
The biggest in-season trade he has made was back in 2013 when he sent Erik Cole to Carolina for Michael Ryder. The trade was mostly a success as the Habs rid themselves of Cole’s cap hit and got decent production from Ryder. Other notable In-season trades were:
- Rene Bourque for Bryan Allen
- Travis Moen for Sergei Gonchar
- Raphael Diaz for Dale Weise
- Jiri Sekac for Devante Smith-Pelly
- Victor Bartley and John Scott for Jarred Tinordi and Stefan Fournier
- Greg Pateryn for Jordie Benn
- Rinat Valiev and Matt Taormina for Brett Kulak
Other trades Bergevin has made were AHL deals and had no impact on the NHL roster. While some of these trades worked out well for the Habs, none have had a major positive impact on the team.
Bergevin tends to be busy at or around the trade deadline, at least in terms of NHL bodies. His biggest deals at the deadline include acquiring Jeff Petry, Phillip Danault and Thomas Vanek. Petry and Danault are core members of the Habs roster today. Still, those acquisitions were made at a very reasonable cost to the Habs. Danault was acquired while the Habs were sellers at the deadline while Petry and Vanek were rentals (although Petry re-signed) that cost the Habs two second-round picks, a fifth-round pick and low-level prospect Sebastien Collberg.
He has shown an ability to make smart efficient deals at the deadline when GM’s can get desperate. Still, in recent years, Bergevin’s willingness to take a big swing has waned. He still makes smart depth moves such as bringing in Nate Thompson, Jordan Weal, Torrey Mitchell and Mike Weaver, but he has been able to bring in someone significant like he did with Vanek and Petry.
Bergevin has shown he can make a splash at the deadline but in recent years has shied away from a high-end player in favour of depth. The Habs circumstances have been in flux for the past five years. The Habs only have one playoff appearance in the past four seasons. This state of flux has led to a conservative approach by Bergevin at the deadline. Still, his recent conservative approach means passing up opportunities.
Marc Bergevin is his busiest in the off-season. Like most general managers, Bergevin builds his team in the off-season. Bergevin’s biggest trades all happened during the summer. He acquired Shea Weber, Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Andrew Shaw, Tomas Tatar, and Nick Suzuki during the off-season. He has also traded away P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Andrew Shaw. It is unquestionably easier to make moves, especially big ones, in the off-season. With the salary cap always changing, teams need to find ways to make the cap work for them and the off-season is the best time.
Marc Bergevin Hot Seat?
To start, past performance is not an indication of future results. So Habs fans can still believe (or hope) Bergevin will make a deal. Still, his track record to date seems to suggest he does not like or want to make major moves prior to the deadline. There is also the 2015-16 season when the team went into a tailspin when Carey Price was injured and Bergevin froze. There was also the 2017-18 season when the Habs struggled all year and Bergevin did nothing. Once the season ended there were strong calls for Bergevin to be fired, but he was retained by owner Geoff Molson.
Sometimes that can be a good thing. When a move is made out of desperation, it rarely works out. Still, when it’s clear a team with expectations needs help or a jolt, it’s up to the general manager to act. While it seems to be against type to expect Bergevin to do something drastic, there is a slightly different feel to this season. With the added expectations and the fact that the Habs have missed the playoffs three times in the last four seasons, Bergevin might be feeling more heat than ever before. With this added pressure it would seem a trade is a foregone conclusion. Marc Bergevin, however, has not yet shown an ability to adjust mid-season. Expecting him to start now might be wishful thinking.