It has been a disastrous six months for professional sports in the city of Montreal. It began last spring with the Montreal Canadiens getting outplayed by Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. The dismal summers of the Montreal Alouettes and Impact kept the morale of sports fans low. Now the bad news continues as the Canadiens are off to one of their worst starts in club history at 1-6-1, and currently on a seven-game losing streak.
There are no easy fixes to the Canadiens’ woes. That is simply wishful thinking. However, the debate rages on as to whether or not the Canadiens should take their lump of coal and head straight for a total rebuild, or if there are enough pieces to tinker with that the team can claw their way out of this hole.
Amassing the pieces
General Manager Marc Bergevin is on the hot seat, at least in the public’s mind. He has certainly made a number of questionable moves, especially over the course of the past six months. There is no doubt that Bergevin wanted his team be physically stronger, to be harder to play against dating back to the blockbuster P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade.
Some of his moves since then were positive. The trade of David Desharnais was a good one given that his time in Montreal had clearly come to an end, and Brandon Davidson still has potential despite being a healthy scratch for the past two games.
However, most of his 2017 moves have come back to bite him. Those moves are highlighted by Sven Andrighetto’s 22 points in 27 games since joining the Colorado Avalanche while Andreas Martinsen is now toiling away as a fourth-liner in the AHL since being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. Dwight King was acquired based on a career year in 2014 and clearly could not keep pace when he arrived in Montreal. Steve Ott was a character player but could hardly be counted on to make a true impact with the team.
None of those moves addressed the Canadiens’ goal-scoring needs, or helped bolster the centre-ice position. Instead of being seen as part of the solution, Andrighetto was not really given a chance under new coach Claude Julien. Hindsight is 20-20, but Max Pacioretty did exclaim before the 2016-17 season that he felt Andrighetto could have a breakout season. He just didn’t know that it would be for a different team.
The only off-season move to truly address the Canadiens’ lack of scoring was to acquire Jonathan Drouin in exchange for blue-chip prospect Mikhail Sergachev. The strong play and development of Victor Mete likely facilitated this deal. The Canadiens desperately needed scoring and a number-one center. Losing Sergachev was a risk that the team needed to take, as Drouin’s potential is certainly higher than the other rumoured trade target: Matt Duchene.
The problem was not in acquiring Drouin, but in doing little else to shore up the offence. Alexander Radulov was allowed to walk away. Ales Hemsky was signed as a low-risk gamble that has not panned out.
On the back end it only got worse. The Canadiens clearly felt the need to protect Jordie Benn rather than Nathan Beaulieu. It will likely be a good four to five years until the Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres find out who won the Beaulieu trade, as time will be needed to allow 68th-overall pick Scott Walford to develop and to see if Beaulieu will be able to finally become a top-four defenceman.
Alexei Emelin was selected by the Golden Knights; a win for the Canadiens to get out of that contract. Karl Alzner is essentially the Emelin replacement, but as long as he stops trying to be a defenceman that he’s not, he will be fine with the team.
However, they failed to keep Andrei Markov in Montreal, leaving a glaring hole in the Canadiens’ defence. Mark Streit clearly lost a step last year and could barely crack a depleted Pittsburgh Penguins defence corps, dressing only three times in the playoffs. Yet Bergevin believed that he could still help the team.
Joe Morrow was likely signed due to his previous relationship with Claude Julien in Boston, but he has failed to prove that he can be an effective everyday defenceman in the NHL. Jakub Jerabek may be ready for the NHL sooner rather than later, but he still needs a little more seasoning in the AHL.
The only thing that has saved the blue-line contingent is Mete stealing the show on the top pairing; a reality that surely wasn’t banked upon when making off-season deals.
Now the Canadiens have nearly $8 million in cap space but any move that Bergevin makes right now would likely be one made out of panic. The question that Geoff Molson must be asking is if he still believes that Bergevin is the right person for the job. Does the owner truly have faith that Bergevin, who is in the first year of a new five-year contract, has the ability to right the ship? What is Bergevin’s vision of the team? How does he hope to make it competitive again? There is only so much time and patience that Molson can afford, especially as the Bell Centre struggles to sell out.
Putting the pieces together
There is little doubt that Julien will be sticking around. He has to make do with the pieces that he has and try to lead the team back into the win column. Bergevin just gave him two thirds of the Laval Rocket’s top line in an effort to aid the big club. It appears as though they will immediately be given a chance to make an impact given yesterday’s practice lines:
Habs lines— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) October 23, 2017
Habs defence— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) October 23, 2017
While Alex Galchenyuk is once again being demoted to the fourth line, it could also be argued that this just might benefit him as he and the skilled Nikita Scherbak certainly have potential to complement one another. They should benefit from going up against opposing teams’ weaker lines and defence pairings. The question will be if Michael McCarron can keep up with those two in the NHL.
Charles Hudon may have been the instinctive choice to play with McCarron and Scherbak given their past history and success in the AHL, however it is about time that he is being reunited with Tomas Plekanec. The duo started the season, even the pre-season, strongly together. They were separated in an attempt to spark other lines, but that clearly did not work out.
Claude Julien says Galchenyuk "has not given us enough to be on our top line" and that Byron has earned it: "You reward guys who deserve it"— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) October 23, 2017
In some ways it is hard to believe that Paul Byron will play on the top line ahead of Galchenyuk, Pacioretty, and Hudon. At the same time it seems as though every year Byron is able to elevate his game and help steady the first line until a skilled forward is ready to reclaim his spot. He has consistently been one of the Canadiens’ top forwards to date and is trying to prove that last season’s 22 goals scored were no fluke. It is hard to argue that he does not deserve an opportunity there. As for Drouin, he has certainly displayed more chemistry thus far with Artturi Lehkonen than Pacioretty.
On defence, Davidson draws back into the lineup and will be paired with Jeff Petry. The duo had some success when they played together last Spring and Julien is hoping that they will be able to rediscover that chemistry. Since Benn’s arrival in Montreal he has consistently played better on the right side than the left. He and Alzner can be a shut-down pairing, but they must play within themselves and not try to force the play.
And it goes without saying that Carey Price needs to play like Carey Price again. But that is the least of the Canadiens worries. If his smashed stick is any indication, the struggling Price is now history and a determined Price is ready to play.
carey price can break a goalie stick in half with top chops pic.twitter.com/a9St7PzzGJ— steph (@myregularface) October 21, 2017