The Montreal Canadiens’ next big move is the most important

The margin for error is now nil for the franchise.

The fortunes of the Montreal Canadiens under Marc Bergevin’s leadership have had an up-and-down feel. There have been some highs, some lows, and the process hasn’t always matched up with the results.

Some odd moves have turned out pretty good (Jordie Benn), some good moves have turned out unsuccessful (Thomas Vanek), and of course there are the moves which were obviously good or bad from the outset (Phillip Danault, Andreas Martinsen).

At the moment, the Canadiens fan base is highly polarized: people will latch onto Bergevin’s successes or focus solely on his failures. Regardless of which side of the divide one falls on, one thing is for certain: the next big move this organization makes will determine its foreseeable future.

I’m not talking about moves like Torrey Mitchell for a draft pick or swapping Peter Holland with Adam Cracknell. I’m talking about a piece of the Canadiens core - or future core - being moved, or a management change altogether.

We could argue for and against the moves that the Canadiens have made under Marc Bergevin. We could even argue whether Bergevin should be the one to make the next big move. That’s not what I am doing here.

What Bergevin has already done is in the past. Instead, I am focusing on the team as it stands today - not what a hypothetical team could have looked like today or what the team looked like three years ago. There’s also no sense in speculating over the mindset of a Bergevin replacement when we don’t even know who that replacement would be, when the replacement would occur, or the state of the team that would be inherited.

At present, this team has definite pieces to build around. Carey Price will be a cornerstone for the next eight years. He is not going anywhere. So if you have committed to Price, you aren’t going to go through a rebuild.

The good news is this team doesn’t need a rebuild.

Jonathan Drouin, for all the hand-wringing about his position or who he was traded for, is a building block. Brendan Gallagher has re-emerged as one, too. The Canadiens also have other complimentary players who have enjoyed success everywhere they have played at the NHL level.

The big names circulating in rumours are Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty. The odds that one of these players are part of the next big move is higher than anyone else on the roster.

I personally feel those players can help any NHL team and the criticisms against them are exaggerated.

Having said that, the only rule regarding the Canadiens’ next move is simple: it has to work.

The line between good and bad has blurred within the last few years. A winning streak while being outshot takes away some of the giddiness of success. A losing streak with positive signs allows you to be more optimistic. But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is winning.

And that’s what the Canadiens need if they make a big move: a win.

Unfortunately, the big moves in the recent past - acquiring Shea Weber, acquiring Jonathan Drouin, and deciding to let Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov walk in order to sign Karl Alzner - have not worked to the degree that Bergevin has hoped. These moves aren’t the only issues with the team (although there is a major underlying theme of losing puck-moving defencemen), but they didn’t help the team either.

Bergevin - or Molson - needs to improve the outlook of this team, and it’s definitely not going to be easy. I think that both Galchenyuk and Pacioretty have more actual value to the Canadiens than trade value to other teams, and for the Canadiens to win any trade involving one or both of the duo, they will need to get lucky.

It’s also very hard for the Canadiens to use their biggest trade asset - cap space - during the season. As a result, fans hoping for a big change may have to wait for the off-season.

The go-to move for a GM in this situation is to fire the coach, but that’s already happened, and it hasn’t had the desired effect. Claude Julien is undoubtedly one of the better coaches available, but even if the coach was Scotty Bowman or Dick Irvin, a team will struggle with a subpar roster (despite offseason claims to the contrary from the GM) and subpar goaltending. You can live with one of those things but not both.

Bergevin is in a really tough situation. He knows he has to do something to help his team. But even he has admitted that when teams call him they are looking to take advantage of his situation, not get him out of it.

I don’t envy him at all. He has a large section of the fan base calling for a big move. Another part of it is calling for him to lose his job. The moves he has made don’t look good right now. They have potentially harmed the future and they haven’t helped the present.

The margin for error is gone. Bergevin’s next bad move could put the franchise on a path that would be hard to reverse.

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