Another NHL trade deadline has come and gone. Some teams sold off assets to assist with their rebuilds, while others went on shopping sprees to bolster their rosters for the playoffs. Many rosters will look a little different when they get back to action, depending on which camp that team was in.
Then you have Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens, who were firmly in the first camp, but barely did anything of note.
It was more than the actual nothing that Bergevin did at last year’s deadline, but it left much to be desired for a team in need of a drastic makeover. In this, his eighth season as general manager, it is high time that the organization show him the door.
This will be three straight seasons, and four of the last five, without playoff hockey in Montreal. It will mean that Bergevin has missed the playoffs for 50% of his tenure. There are those who will advocate for patience, but after nearly a decade, he has gotten more patience than most people could hope for in his role.
Looking at the individual moves Bergevin made on Monday, they were all fine in and of themselves. The problem is that they were just fine. Nothing he did on deadline day gives any legitimate cause to believe that the future is any brighter than it was a week ago.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Nick Cousins, and Nate Thompson were dealt for third, fourth, and fifth-round picks respectively. I think it’s fair to include the earlier deal that sent Marco Scandella to the Blues for a second, and conditional fourth-round pick. That was Bergevin’s total haul for this failure of a season; five picks, one of which is conditional, none of which are higher than the second round, and the fourth for Cousins doesn’t come until 2021.
Oh, and Matthew Peca was traded for an AHL body and a seventh-rounder. Ho-hum.
None of these deals are problematic, they’re just woefully insufficient. They were the modus operandi of Marc Bergevin incarnate: acquire depth players for reasonable cost, and trade them for mid-to-late draft picks. Very little risk, and similarly little reward.
It is possible to find good players with those picks, but extremely hard to find elite players, and virtually impossible to find anyone who will help the team in the next couple of years. Unless Bergevin can somehow package his bevy of seconds and thirds for a shot at Alexis Lafrenière or Quinton Byfield, they’re years away from seeing any NHL production from those picks, if they ever do at all. In essence, they bought a few lottery tickets, and not the kind that give you a shot at Lafrenière.
This is perhaps a pessimistic view to take, but I’m trying to be realistic. The picks they added are more likely to fetch decent depth players, which is exactly what he traded to get them. He basically just procrastinated on rebuilding this team, and he’ll have to find a new supporting cast for his existing core, while hoping he hits the jackpot with one of those picks.
What should have happened?
Again, I don’t have a problem with the moves Bergevin made. He shed some bodies that won’t be vital to future competitiveness — Kovalchuk seems likely to return for that matter — and having a lot of draft picks gives them chances to find a diamond in the rough. I wouldn’t undo any of the moves he made.
My issue is with the moves he didn’t make. Why not take the king’s ransom that was sure to be there for Tomas Tatar? After Chris Kreider signed an extension in New York, it seems that his already high value would have reached its peak. We’ll never know now, but I’d bet any money that the returning package would do more for this team than that bevy of picks he added elsewhere.
What about Jeff Petry? Max Domi? Anyone with legitimate value? Bergevin has some big names, with which he could have made a big splash, but he didn’t pull the trigger. Maybe the right offer wasn’t there, but I find that hard to believe on a day when Barclay Goodrow fetched a first-round pick.
I understand that players like Petry, Domi, and Tatar are important to varying degrees, but they’re just examples of players that Bergevin could have turned into two or more productive assets by trading them now. This team isn’t competitive, so it makes sense to move some of it’s core for multiple assets that would form a stronger core in the future.
When he addressed the media after the deadline, he was quick to make excuses. He blamed bad luck and injuries, not himself or his coaching staff. He sounded exasperated at times, which is somewhat hilarious considering just how exasperated the fan base is getting with his half measures.
I heard Bergevin blame luck. I heard Bergevin blame his leadership core. I heard Bergevin blame injuries.— Jared Book (@jaredbook) February 24, 2020
He didn't blame his coaching staff. He didn't blame his scouts. He didn't blame his development team.
What's the GMs job again?
He said it made no sense to trade the likes of Petry or Tatar for picks, despite noting the importance of building through the draft. If building through the draft is your path to success, it seems extremely odd to handcuff yourself by refusing to deal the players that would likely net you the best picks, and perhaps prospects to boot.
Where is Geoff Molson in all of this?
Well, Geoff Molson needs to wake up and smell the coffee. The monarch of Habs land says he bleeds bleu, blanc, et rouge the same way that a peasant such as myself does. I don’t believe him anymore, because he seems more concerned with building a new Bell Centre VIP section that costs $17,000 per head, per year, than building a winning hockey team.
He seems more interested in catering to Montreal’s elite than a frustrated peasant, hammering away at a keyboard in his Longueuil condo, starved of playoff hockey for what will soon be three years.
I’d honestly root for another team at this point if I had it in me, but I fell in love with this team as a child, so I’m here for the long run. I wonder if Molson has simply determined that the Bergevin era of mediocrity hasn’t hurt his bottom line enough to make a change. I wonder if the sheer devotion of fans such as myself has assured he can stay in the black forever. I don’t know his books, but I’d venture to guess he’d act if this mediocrity was hurting him financially.
Maybe he’s hung up on some of the great moves Bergevin has made. There’s no denying that the Max Pacioretty trade was brilliant. The trade for Phillip Danault perhaps even more so. I’ll even admit that I personally overreacted to the Shea Weber for PK Subban trade, as it didn’t come close to crippling the team like I thought it would back in 2016.
But the impressive moves he has made cannot distract from his half measures that put the team in the position they’re currently in. They need a proper rebuild, and trading middling players for middling picks will not accomplish that.
They can’t keep playing it safe. They can’t keep waltzing into every season with enough cap space to buy about 500 of those VIP seats. Someone must exist out there that can take the necessary risks to put this team in a position to succeed. Someone who cares enough to not keep doing the same things, but expecting different results.
Molson has the power to change things, so if he truly does bleed the same colours as the fans, he will. He’ll get someone who will do what Marc Bergevin either can’t, or won’t. Or we’ll be right back here next year, and the year after that, and the year after that and...
Well, it’s the song that never ends. Until someone takes the reigns that is also willing to take some risks, the Canadiens will remain doomed to their mediocrity.