How Marc Bergevin turned Tim Bozon into Nikita Nesterov

Within a couple of months, Montreal’s general manager turned an ECHLer into a top-six defenceman.

On January 26, the Montreal Canadiens traded Jonathan Racine and a sixth-round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Nikita Nesterov. The trade was seen largely as a success for the Canadiens right off the bat, and reinforced with Nesterov’s debut match with the Canadiens against the Buffalo Sabres. He followed that up with a goal in his second game two nights later.

The way the Canadiens got to that point was quite a feat of shrewd management, and you need to go back to the summer of 2016 to get the full picture.

Tim Bozon struggled in his rookie professional season in 2015-16 with the St. John’s IceCaps, and spent numerous weeks in the ECHL with the Brampton Beast as a result. He never really clicked with either squad, showing just momentary flashes of the talent he displayed regularly in the junior ranks. Whether it was a difficult transition to pro hockey or lingering physical ailment from the devastating bout with meningitis, Bozon was clearly having difficulty establishing his offensive game.

Bozon was not on the list of players invited to the Canadiens’ development camp in July, an absence which was explained by his participation on the French National Team’s Olympic qualification games. But even with his native squad he struggled to find a starting role, and found himself scratched from the lineup on more than one occasion.

Then came the Canadiens rookie camp, and once again Bozon’s name was missing from the list of attendees, this time not so easily explained.

He started his season with the Canadiens main roster camp on “Team C”: a group consisting of ECHLers and tryouts. He was quickly cut to the IceCaps, and, given their depth at forward, probably would have started the season in the ECHL.

At the same time rumours began circulating about an offer from a Swiss team to come to Europe, coupled with his father saying that the ECHL was “not the best place to develop.” If one were to read between the lines, an ECHL assignment would have probably signalled the end of Bozon in North America.

So prior to the regular season starting in the AHL, Marc Bergevin traded Bozon to the Florida Panthers for defenceman Jonathan Racine.

Depth on defence was questionable for the IceCaps, so this was seen as a good move at the time to acquire a tough and chippy blue-liner with experience. Racine had just signed a contract extension during the summer after running out his entry-level deal.

He initially began as a regular on the IceCaps blue line, but slowly and surely started losing his ice time to emerging rookie Tom Parisi and newcomer Julien Brouillette. In January he only played in half of St. John’s games, being a healthy scratch otherwise. He led all defenceman on the team in penalty minutes.

Meanwhile, the Lightning were a team struggling this season, due to injuries mainly. Nikita Nesterov — a promising young left-handed, puck-moving defenceman — was struggling to cope with the added workload, and was making turnovers and generally was viewed as not giving a full effort. He became vilified by the fans. There were calls for the team to play Slater Koekkoek instead. With the season seemingly lost, the Lightning turned into sellers, and Nesterov’s value was pretty low.

Bergevin saw this opportunity to pounce and picked up the young Russian for pennies on the dollar, offering Racine — a fringe AHL defenceman — and a sixth-round pick (likely so late as to essentially be a seventh-rounder) in 2017.

Bergevin got the left-handed, puck-moving defenceman he publicly announced he was looking for a week earlier.

Adding it all up, Bergevin took a player he was going to send to the ECHL — and possibly lose entirely — and a late sixth-round pick and got a high-potential NHL bottom-pairing defenceman down on his luck.

This is an example of the hallmark Bergevin trade: low-risk, high-reward. We’ve seen it on numerous occasions. Daniel Briere for P.A. Parenteau. Sebastian Collberg and a pick for Thomas Vanek. Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann for Phillip Danault. Sometimes these trades pan out, sometimes they don’t, but the Canadiens usually give up very little to make it happen.

As the saying goes “you have to give up something to get something,” and therefore in order to build a competitor in a level playing field, the only way to succeed is to identify a target with untapped potential, build up value on your own assets, try to make a trade between the two, and hope to get lucky. The typical ‘buy low/sell high’ scenario.

Listen to Andrew weekly on TSN 690 Radio Sundays at 8:05am on Habs Breakfast, part of Weekend Game Plan.

Top of comments section | Top of article | Homepage