The Habs and the trade deadline

This is the year where the Montreal Canadiens should be buyers

It’s been a while since the Montreal Canadiens have had such an opportunity to go deep in the playoffs. With the realigned divisions for the 2020‒21 National Hockey League (NHL) season, the Habs are only playing fellow Canadian opponents in the regular season.

The best four of their seven-team division will qualify for the playoffs, and with those teams only playing each other until the Stanley Cup semi-finals, the chance to make it past the first two rounds is there for the Habs.

The Canadiens have started the season strong, but have had some trouble in the past month, even firing their head coach. Yet, they’re still in a playoff spot and seem confident on the ice against pretty much all their opponents. It would be fair to think that this season, for the first time in years, General Manager Marc Bergevin would try to improve his team by the NHL trade deadline, with hopes to shock the hockey world and win the Stanley Cup.

After adding key players Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson last offseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bergevin add depth for his third and fourth lines. Bergevin doesn’t often make trades, but when he does, he rarely fails to improve his roster, either in the short-term or long-term.

An important player who could be traded is Phillip Danault. Despite being a great centreman and good defensively, Danault is in the last year of his contract, and hasn’t offered much offensively this season. Any team looking for depth at this position would give a lot for him, especially at the trade deadline, when teams often overpay.


Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion


Marc Bergevin: early General Manager of the Year candidate

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



Graphic @the_beta_lab


An offseason to remember for the Montreal Canadiens

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


Colour Commentary: The importance of asset management

The past couple of weeks included a big stretch of games for the Montreal Canadiens.

They played a back-to-back against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, then went to Carolina to play the Hurricanes on New Year’s Eve, and back home for another game against Tampa on Thursday night.

They needed to win at least two of those games to remain comfortably in the playoff chase. Well, they went 0/4. That is what we, in the sports world, call “not good.”

With a multitude of players out of the lineup due to injuries and fans calling for change, the Canadiens General Manager, Marc Bergevin, went out and made two notable acquisitions.

First, he traded a fourth-round pick for NDG-native Marco Scandella, a left-handed defenceman — something the Canadiens lack. Bergevin also signed an aging Ilya Kovalchuk to a one year, US $700,000 contract.

Will these moves save the Canadiens’ season and catapult them into the playoffs? Probably not. But what Bergevin is doing is flexing his asset management skills — something a lot of Canadiens fans fail to see.

Scandella is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, meaning come the trade deadline, teams will be lining up to give up an asset for him for their playoff chase. This is what, in the business, is called a “rental player.”

Kovalchuk, who turns 37 in April, is an interesting one. He signed a contract two summers ago with the LA Kings, figuring he wanted to play with a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Well, the Kings are anything but that, so in December they mutually decided to part ways.

According to many hockey analysts, Kovalchuk is still very motivated and wants to play. Bergevin said himself in a press conference that this move may work, or it may not, but it’s totally up to the player.

If the move works, Kovalchuk will likely get dealt again at the trade deadline should the Canadiens still be out of the playoff picture at that point. If not, they terminate his contract and everyone goes on with their lives.

Trading Kovalchuk at the deadline, should he pick up his play, would literally be Bergevin creating something out of nothing, when it comes to assets.

A lot of people are calling for Bergevin’s head saying that this was a desperate move. I think it was an incredibly savvy move on his part.

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