Bergevin’s offseason moves translate to results on the ice
Somewhere in Montreal right now, Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin is smiling. After years of craftsmanship and engineering of the draft, free agency, and the trade market, Bergevin has finally sculpted the Canadiens into the team that he envisioned when he arrived in 2012.
Despite recent struggles, the Canadiens remain amongst the top teams in their division with a 9-5-3 record. When you consider the assets that Bergevin has brought in, and the rate at which they have been producing, you can’t help but think he is amongst the leading candidates for the NHL General Manager of the Year Award.
A mix of veterans and budding youngsters has shaped what is arguably one of the deepest Habs rosters in recent memory. Offensively, the Canadiens are scoring at an impressive rate, averaging 3.35 goals per game on 33.9 shots per night — good for top 10 in the league. On the blueline and between the pipes, they are allowing a respectable 2.71 goals per game, which ranks them just outside the top 10 in the NHL.
This year’s version of the Canadiens has been in the making for years. In his nine seasons at the helm of team management, Bergevin has been under fire seemingly every year. Despite the backlash, however, he’s stayed true to himself, and trusted the process that helped him land the team we’re seeing today.
Some will say they’ve only played 17 games so far, which is a fair point. It was only five years ago that we saw the Habs establish a franchise record 9-0-1 season start, but lose in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Rangers.
But there’s something about this team that just feels different. They have a balanced four-line offence, a shutdown defensive group capable of producing goals, and one of the best goaltending duos in Carey Price and Jake Allen.
TAKE YOUR PICK
In recent history, Stanley Cup champions have proven that the NHL Entry Draft is a launching point for the construction of any championship-calibre team. Building within your organization first, then complementing the foundation with outside pieces is the strategy of most general managers, which has repeatedly proven successful.
The Chicago Blackhawks’ dynasty was built off the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated for years down the middle with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning, the winners of two of the past three Stanley Cups, have also benefited from the common denominator in that equation: homegrown superstars.
The Canadiens variant stems from a pair of players out of British Columbia: Price and Brendan Gallagher. Of course, there haven’t been any Stanley Cups to show for it, but still, the cornerstones of this roster were established via the draft.
Aside from Price, Jesperi Kotkaniemi is the only other first-round pick on the roster that was selected by the organization themselves. In fact, no first-round pick between 2006 and 2016 even remains in the system. Whether they simply didn’t develop as expected, or were used as key pieces in trades, first rounders have not fared well for the club in past years.
Instead, the Habs have found value in the rounds subsequent for their supporting cast: Alexander Romanov, a second-round pick; Artturi Lehkonen, also a second rounder; Victor Mete, a fourth round-pick; and Jake Evans, a seventh-round selection.
SIGNED, SEALED AND DELIVERED
July 1 — typically the day in which the free agency opens in the NHL — is always an exciting day for hockey fans. The rumours that float around in the days and weeks prior are finally made official as general managers jump into the free agent market. This past year, it was Bergevin making the biggest splash.
Entering the offseason, the Canadiens’ needs were clear: a quality backup goaltender, a top-four defenceman and a scoring winger. Bergevin got them all and more. Allen (acquired in a trade and signed), Joel Edmundson and Tyler Toffoli joined the team as immediate impact players, while veterans Corey Perry and Michael Frolik were added as depth moves. Bergevin and the Habs were also able to re-sign Jeff Petry and Gallagher to long-term deals, as they were set to become free agents at the end of the season.
Bergevin has remained quieter on the free agent front in previous years, but has steadily brought in profitable pieces in players like Paul Byron (claimed off waivers and then re-signed), Ben Chiarot, and Joel Armia who have quietly proved their worth in the Canadiens lineup.
A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
One area where Bergevin has excelled is on the trade market. Whether with a minor deal like Brett Kulak, or a blockbuster trade like P.K. Subban for Shea Weber, Bergevin has never shied away from making a move. You look back at some of the deals Bergevin has made during his tenure as general manager with the Canadiens and can’t help but laugh. In hindsight, some of these trades have been straight highway robberies.
Phillip Danault’s acquisition is probably Bergevin’s best via the trade market. The former first-round pick was acquired when the Habs sent Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for the Quebec-native and a second-round pick. That second round pick was then used to select Romanov.
A few months after acquiring Danault, the Canadiens made one of the most monumental trades in franchise history by landing Weber. Weber was born to play in a market like Montreal, and the captain letter on his jersey shows it. His leadership, poise and veteran demeanor is second to none, and is noticed by every player that walks in and out of that locker room.
When Nick Suzuki landed in Montreal in the Max Pacioretty deal, it was known to fans that the Canadiens were getting a highly-skilled forward — but to what extent? In only his second season in the NHL, Suzuki is turning into the Habs’ number one centre, if he hasn’t already. This is the player that the Habs wanted; the player that they needed. The London, Ont., native is wise beyond his years and has fans raving about his ceiling. Throw Tomas Tatar and a second-round pick into the mix and this emerges as another win for Bergevin .
On Oct. 6, Bergevin acquired Josh Anderson in exchange for Max Domi and a third-round pick. Anderson’s size, speed and scoring ability is what the Canadiens were hoping for, and with nine goals in 17 games, that’s exactly what they are getting.
ONLY TIME WILL TELL
Because of this modified season bothered by COVID-19, we won’t truly know just how good this Canadiens team is until the Conference Finals at the very least, where they would see the league’s top teams from the United States. What we do know, however, is that they have 20 players that are willing to buy into Claude Julien’s system on a daily basis, and that is a recipe for sweet success, no matter the opponent.