The one thing you won’t see much of is criticism for some of Marc Bergevin’s recent moves. The Montreal Canadiens general manager has been successful in his recent trades. Even moves that were initially questioned — like Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk — have proven to be wins.
The problem is that Bergevin is still responsible for the results and those, despite his moves being good overall, have not improved.
Now, you can say that the draft and prospect capital that Bergevin has built up makes the short-term results not as relevant, but you don’t trade for Marco Scandella, and sign Ilya Kovalchuk if you’re not trying to make the playoffs. Even before that, signing Keith Kinkaid was an attempt to get this team over the line. It’s also their well-stated public goal.
Despite the obvious improvements Bergevin has made to the Canadiens organization recently, there’s one overlying theme and as the Trade Deadline approaches: Loss aversion.
There’s a great study on loss aversion when it comes to golf. It looked at putts that a golfer makes and found that the same putt from the same location is much more likely to go in when it is a putt for par (meaning you avoid a bogey, or losing a shot) than it is for birdie (meaning you gain a shot). The theory shows that golfers are generally more concerned with losing a shot than they are by gaining one.
It makes sense. Bergevin has only made moves recently when they are clear wins, or he had no choice. Being safe and letting things play out is the best way to keep your job. If you promise the future is going to be brighter, you have more chance to see it out. Swing for the fences and miss, and you’re putting yourself out there for criticism or worse. Of all the bigger moves Bergevin has made, the Max Domi and the Jonathan Drouin trades are the two most proactive as opposed to being reactive.
There were other small and successful moves Bergevin has made. He’s no longer in a position where he can make sure moves. That has run its course. In order for the Canadiens to take the next step, they need to be aggressive. He needs to take risks. Pars won’t work for Bergevin anymore. He needs birdies, and he needs several of them.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying that he needs to trade Cole Caufield or Alexander Romanov for immediate help. I don’t mean he needs to be aggressive in a reckless, all-in kind of way. But he can’t keep folding waiting for pocket aces, either.
This is setting up to be a seller’s market. The New Jersey Devils got a first-round prospect (Nolan Foote), a first-round pick, and a second-round pick for Andy Greene and Blake Coleman. The Los Angeles Kings got a solid prospect (Tyler Madden) and a second-round pick for Tyler Toffoli.
The Canadiens have the pieces to get aggressive. They have the ability to get assets for expiring contracts. I’m not even advocating necessarily for the team to move all of their veterans. This team has a core to make a run for the playoffs as soon as next season, but they need help. They need a creative and proactive approach. Even the offer sheet to Sebastian Aho this summer was done in a way where it was an easy win for Montreal, and therefore an easy match for Carolina. It simply wasn’t aggressive enough.
If Bergevin and the team decide they want Ilya Kovalchuk long term, that’s great. He’s an unrestricted free agent on July 1. They can trade him, recoup some value and hope to sign him. And if you think that’s something outside of the realm of possibility, they did that two years ago with Tomas Plekanec.
To go back to the loss aversion theory when it comes to golf, Montreal has gotten some great par saves lately. They stood pat at the 2019 Draft and ended up with Cole Caufield. They waited until the last moment to trade Max Pacioretty and ended up with Nick Suzuki and Tomas Tatar. Domi for Galchenyuk turned into a master stroke. But as the results on the ice show, it simply isn’t enough.
Teams like Boston and Tampa Bay are continuously picking up birdies. If Marc Bergevin doesn’t take the driver out to make some eagles and birdies over the next week — or even into the summer — even if he avoids bogies, he’ll still be falling behind.
The Canadiens can’t rely on other teams falling back to them in order to make the playoffs. They have to make up ground on their own.
Patience and low-risk moves can only get you so far. It provided them with a solid base but now’s the time to push harder. Bergevin is fond of saying you need to give something to get something. It’s time for him to do that.