It was a busy summer for Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin, as much on the contract negotiation front as it was on the composition of his team for the upcoming season, free agency included. Some decisions were rather easy to predict, others were much tougher and some of those decisions, he even managed to catch many people by surprise!
PENTICTON, BC. – Most people expected that Bergevin would not be offering contracts to pending unrestricted free agents Douglas Murray and concussed heavyweight George Parros. Bergevin faced tougher decisions when it came to other UFA’s such as Andrei Markov, team captain Brian Gionta and trade deadline acquisitions Thomas Vanek and, to a lesser degree, Mike Weaver.
Bergevin and Gionta publically said that they wanted to have a deal done, even if it meant a lesser role at a lower salary cap. But the offer from the Buffalo Sabres was just too rich for the Canadiens, who now find themselves looking for a new captain.
Andrei Markov was healthy all year after having problems with his knee which kept him out of the line-up for most of the previous two seasons. While he has lost a few steps in foot speed, his vision of the ice and his hockey IQ helped him have a very good season. As we know, Bergevin granted him another three year deal at the same salary as his previous two contracts, $5.75M per season.
Thomas Vanek was a tougher decision. During the regular season playing alongside Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, the trio formed one of the most productive lines in the entire NHL. That’s until the playoffs hit and Vanek became totally invisible, even forcing coach Michel Therrien to demote him to the fourth line at times. We don’t know if Vanek had genuine interest in coming back to Montreal but we do know that Bergevin did not even offer him a contract.
Mike Weaver was a great addition to the Habs at the trade deadline as the team only had one right-handed defenseman at the time, namely P.K. Subban. Weaver helped balance the line-up while doing a good job on the penalty-kill and in the shot blocking department. Signing him to a one-year, $1.75M contract is a low-risk and potentially good reward move.
Perhaps the most surprising move of them all was Josh Gorges being traded. Few saw it coming as Gorges is a warrior, playing through injuries, an undisputed leader and one of the league’s top shot blockers. He’s also Carey Price’s best friend, which is not something to ignore. Gorges was apparently first traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for right-handed defenseman Cody Franson, before Josh nipped the trade due to his limited no-trade clause. Bergevin then traded him to the Sabres in exchange for a second round pick.
It was then clear that Bergevin was looking at making room on the left side for Alexei Emelin, a position where he had the most success, and for youngsters Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, and it became particularly clear when he signed UFA right-hander Tom Gilbert to a two-year contract.
Bergevin wasn’t done. He recognized his mistake in signing Daniel Brière, who had one more year remaining on his contract, and traded him to the Colorado Avalanche for younger and bigger P-A Parenteau, who found himself out of favour with coach Patrick Roy in Denver.
Bergevin made two other somewhat surprising decisions in trading former first round pick and fan favourite Louis Leblanc to the Anaheim Ducks and not offering a contract to pending RFA and rugged centerman Ryan White, who then signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Bergevin also signed UFA veteran centerman and faceoff specialist Manny Malhotra and Czech UFA winger Jiri Sekac who became an instant hit at the rookie camp this summer. No decision has been made yet about UFA Francis Bouillon, who is patiently waiting.
What to expect from this group?
After the dust settles, here’s what the team should look like pending surprises at camp or other transactions completed by Bergevin. Of course, the lines are not necessarily what we’ll see from Therrien as he will have a lot of flexibility with this line-up.
Pacioretty – Desharnais – Parenteau
Bourque – Plekanec – Sekac
Galchenyuk – Eller – Gallagher
Prust – Malhotra – Weise
Bournival – Moen
Markov – Subban
Emelin – Gilbert
Beaulieu – Weaver
While there are a few question marks in this line-up, it appears to be a more balanced roster, especially on defense. Missing from last year is a heavyweight enforcer and it remains to be seen if the Bergevin and Therrien duo will feel the need to fill that role at some point.
I believe that in spite of the loss of Josh Gorges, the Canadiens’ defense will be better than last year. For one thing, Alexei Emelin really looked awkward playing on the right side. I was talking to former NHL defenseman Cory Cross who said that people often don’t realize how tough it is at this level to learn to play on the “wrong side,” and said that he found it very difficult when the Oilers asked him to do that towards the end of his career. Emelin will benefit from returning to his natural left side.
Tom Gilbert is a good addition as a quality top four defenseman who can log some big minutes behind Subban. He can be used on the second power-play unit and he can play short-handed. Gilbert is a good skater, is mobile and moves the puck quickly and effectively. With Subban, Gilbert and Weaver on the right side, the Canadiens are better and tougher to get through.
It will be interesting to see what kind of season P.A. Parenteau will have. Not known for his consistency or his effort, he says that he is ready at this stage in his career to face the pressure of playing in Montreal. Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, the guy who got traded for him said the same thing a year ago. While Parenteau won’t have to replace Brière, he is taking Brian Gionta’s spot in the line-up and must provide offense in order to help his team win games. He’s capable of doing it, but so were Brière and Rene Bourque.
Manny Malhotra is perhaps the most underrated acquisition of the summer, flying under many fans’ radar. The guy is a good skater, a leader and a try competitor. Malholtra is very reliable defensively but he can also provide some offense and will be on the ice for key faceoffs in the defensive zone, something that was highly lacking for many years in Montreal. He is in the mold of Guy Carbonneau and Doug Jarvis, for those who have seen them play.
If Jiri Sekac develops chemistry with Tomas Plekanec and lives up to expectations as a player capable of playing as an effective top nine forward, he could be a great asset. Sekac seems fast and his wrist shot is deceiving. Plekanec compared him to Pacioretty. If he’s better than Bourque, fans will be happy.
Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk will be playing their third season in the NHL and if they can stay healthy, this is the year when they should start taking some bigger roles offensively on the team. They know the NHL schedule, they know the opposition, they understand what it takes to play at this level and they are eager to have a good season, with both of them scheduled to become RFAs at the end of the season.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on some of the young prospects who will be pushing for a job from training camp, wanting to force Bergevin to find room for them like Gallagher did a couple of years ago. Forwards Sven Andrighetto, Jacob De La Rose, Gabriel Dumont, Patrick Holland and Christian Thomas will be ready to compete. On defense, don’t count out the Bulldogs’ top defenseman last season in Greg Pateryn, while Mac Bennett and Magnus Nygren will be battling hard for a spot.
As we can see, there are several question marks with this roster but Marc Bergevin did a good job balancing his line-up and managing the team’s salary cap, even after giving $9 million to Subban. As it stands right now, according to capgeek.com, the Canadiens are still $2.6M under the cap ceiling so they should have some flexibility throughout the season to make some adjustments.
Go Habs Go!