January 22, 2018 | 10:44pm ET
By Andrew Sarrazin, The Fourth Period
TIME FOR CANADIENS TO PRESS RESET ON SEASON
Marc Bergevin, GM
MONTREAL, QC -- The 2017-18 season has not gone as well as Marc Bergevin hoped when he gave his initial season kick-off press conference. His optimism was encouraging to some, almost making you believe that the defence corps was, in fact, better than it was last year. While that was acceptable to some fans and media alike, the general population had a hard time believing the General Manager.
“Better than last year?”
Perhaps “equivalent to last year,” but surely not better.
This assumption made by Bergevin would start a Montreal Canadiens year that had promise of at least a playoff berth, and was in immediate scrutiny from fans and journalists. Following the season opener overtime-win over the Buffalo Sabres was seven-straight losses, putting the Canadiens in a position of weakness from the start, and had the Habs’ faithful calling for a new GM, most notable Julien BriseBois, the Assistant General Manager of Tampa Bay Lightning.
In past seasons, the Canadiens accumulated win after win to begin their 82-game schedule, making their road to the playoffs pretty simple, as long as they stayed somewhat consistent. The same can be said about having such a poor start to the season. If a team is digging themselves out of a hole after 10 games, the playoffs become that much harder in a league of parity.
While there is growing anger over how the season has rolled out, unless some sort of shocking revelation overcomes Geoff Molson, Bergevin is expected to have an opportunity to fix the issues that hampered the Canadiens this season. However, like most roles in the NHL, you’re only as good as your recent record. Second chances aren’t unheard of, and the current owner does believe in Bergevin, who still does, in fact, have some fan support.
So where does the team go from here?
Bergevin recently told media that he “has not given up.” While this has rubbed those who want a complete rebuild the wrong way, at this point, no matter what Bergevin tells the general public, it won’t go over well. Standing up there and saying “I give up” wouldn’t necessarily have been a wise move, either.
While some may be of the mindset that Bergevin should find employment elsewhere, I believe everyone should still desire a GM that has confidence. If a plane was having engine problems and your pilot came on the intercom to tell you “there are some major issues with the engine, I give up,” there would be a lot of panic. Obviously, this example is quite extreme, but the idea is that while Bergevin leads the Canadiens’ front office, you want someone who has not been shaken by this dreadful season.
By now, it is known changes will be coming. Whether they occur prior to the trade deadline or closer to the 2018 NHL Draft, the Canadiens are going to look different when the 2018-19 season gets underway.
The biggest trade chip the Habs have is their captain. For another team to obtain Max Pacioretty, the cost is high. The asking price is rumoured to be talented young players that can be implemented into the current lineup, as well as high draft picks. While it is yet to be seen if a team is willing to pay this price, Bergevin would be more than willing to wait for the Draft if there aren’t any partners willing to offer up something of similar value.
Pacioretty makes a lot of sense for the St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets. The Habs have ha interest in Columbus centre Pierre Luc Dubois since his draft year, as TFP has reported multiple times in the past, and while such a deal makes sense for the Canadiens, it is doubtful the Blue Jackets are willing to part with this young, talented asset.
Tomas Plekanec would be an attractive asset to any team looking to shore up the centre position, but he comes with a $6 million cap hit. Any team looking for a serviceable third line centre that can play against some of the best offensive forwards in the game, and kill crucial penalties, would have significant interest in Plekanec – providing the Habs eat some of his salary. While specific team names aligning to the 35-year-old haven’t been consistent throughout the year, Pittsburgh may be a team that could have a desire to add him to their roster. They would like to bring in additional experience, and allowing Plekanec to lead their defensive play would only benefit their top stars.
One of the more interesting advantages that Bergevin possesses is cap space. We hear repeatedly that teams “don’t have the cap space” in order to make any moves of significance. This ever-occurring issue hurts teams looking to sell, as the pool of buyers is greatly reduced. However, should a team be in a position similar to which the Habs currently are, they can not only retain salary, but also take on salary.
For example, if a team in the past had interest in Plekanec, but they were up against the cap, they may not even pick up the phone. But Montreal’s ability to take on up to half of his salary and also take back an expiring contract would facilitate a trade and provide Bergevin with a greater return.
This year has not gone according to plan and everyone knows it. However, the next couple of months will see a big shift in the Canadiens franchise, as a big “reset” seems to be in order.