A commendable offseason for the Montreal Canadiens and general manager Marc Bergevin
Montreal Canadiens General Manager (GM) Marc Bergevin has perhaps the toughest task of all in terms of satisfying Habs fans, who are still looking for future playoff success despite a Stanley Cup drought of over 25 years.
But Bergevin is probably having his most productive offseason with the Habs, starting things off by trading Max Domi to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Josh Anderson on the National Hockey League (NHL) Entry Draft day. The terms of the deal were settled shortly after reports started to surface early in the day; the Canadiens sent Domi and a third-round pick in exchange for power forward Anderson.
Statistics from Anderson’s 2019–20 season could stir some doubt among fans, considering he finished with a meager one goal and three assists in his 26 games played. In comparison, Domi totalled 44 points in 71 games. However, the former Blue Jacket suffered a shoulder injury in December, eventually undergoing surgery in early March, which suggests he probably played through the injury throughout the regular season.
Apart from Anderson’s unfortunately derailed 2019–20 season, he has been a force to be reckoned with. Over a three-year span from 2016 to 2019, Anderson was ranked 22nd in the NHL for 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes of ice time, ahead of marquee names such as Sidney Crosby (34th) and Nathan MacKinnon (35th).
Shortly after the trade, Bergevin wasted no time in signing the 26-year-old to a seven-year contract worth a total of $38.5 million. Anderson’s new deal will count as $5.5 million per year to the team’s cap hit.
Barring injuries, Anderson is an imposing figure that will provide some needed physicality to a team that is otherwise lacking. The Burlington native provides great protection for the young core, and a nice scoring touch at his size.
The Canadiens also used their first-round pick in the draft to select Kaiden Guhle, a defenseman coming off a rousing success of a season with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Prince Albert Raiders.
Fans were largely critical of the decision, imploring the Habs management to draft a higher risk player at that stage in the draft. With the NHL’s recent explosion of young, exciting defensive talent, such as Colorado Avalanche’s Cale Makar, Vancouver Canucks’ Quinn Hughes and Buffalo Sabres’ Rasmus Dahlin, many fans are looking for flashy, offensive-minded defense over solid fundamentals and consistency.
Fans are willingly obstinate when they are being spoiled with extravagant plays like this league-wide on a nightly basis. Regardless, it would be overly skeptical to fault the Habs management in the draft choice. A reliable and sizable (six-foot-two, 190 pounds) defenceman who likes to play physical, Guhle should have no problems adjusting to NHL level.
The Habs made their first major free agency acquisition on Oct. 12, announcing the signing of Tyler Toffoli to a four-year contract with an average annual value of $4.25 million. The 28-year-old winger split playing time between the Los Angeles Kings and the Canucks in 2019–20, tallying 44 points in 68 games.
Toffoli will bring offence to the Canadiens without sacrificing defensive awareness and positioning. He has a knack for finding the back of the net, and will add another scoring option from the wing no matter which forward line he ends up on.
The Canadiens’ offseason objectives were clear from the onset, and by mid-October, Bergevin accomplished everything he sought to do.
Bergevin acquired and signed backup goaltender Jake Allen to alleviate pressure from Carey Price. He also acquired and signed defenceman Joel Edmundson to a four-year deal. He addressed the need for a power forward and a scoring winger with the acquisitions of Anderson and Toffoli, respectively. Bergevin added further stability to the blue line in re-signing Habs defenceman Jeff Petry for four more years.
For many Habs fans, the GM had one more task to complete. Long-time Canadien and current alternate captain, Brendan Gallagher, was set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2020–21. The entire Habs offseason would be for naught if the Canadiens management couldn’t lock in the right-winger for the future.
Undoubtedly, he is the most prominent gear in the Canadiens complex system, a sentiment no rational Habs fan could dispute. Contract negotiations briefly reached an impasse that sparked drama for Habs fans, but later reports affirmed the delays resulted from a simple misunderstanding between Bergevin and Gallagher’s agent Gerry Johannson. Canadiens fans collectively breathed a sigh of relief as Gallagher’s contract was eventually extended by six years, totalling $39 million over the span.
The only thing left to do is wait hopefully and see if the seedlings that Bergevin has planted in 2020 will bear fruit.
Graphic by Taylor Reddam