Over the past few weeks, we have had a keen eye on the busiest time of year for NHL management teams. This year, a wrinkle was added in the form of the NHL Expansion Draft for the newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights.
Marc Bergevin has the summer to add all of the missing ingredients to an already good club. He must find a way to add quality at center, and upgrade scoring to get this team over the top, and into contender status. This seems odd to say of the team that finished seventh overall in the NHL last season.
Last season, the club relied heavily on the NHL’s fourth best defence, allowing just 200 goals against (GA) on their way to winning the Atlantic Division title. As the season wore on, the offence sputtered producing one 35-goal scorer in Max Pacioretty and a 21-goal scorer in Paul Byron. They were the only two players on the roster to crack the 20 goal mark. This left the team at the average of the NHL in offence at 15th with 226 goals for (GF).
Knowing this, Marc Bergevin swung for the fences to kick off this off season. He dealt away the 2016 ninth overall selection, Mikhail Sergachev, to Tampa Bay, and received 22 year old Quebec native, Jonathan Drouin, in return.
Drouin signed a six-year 33 million dollar deal ($5.5M AAV). This blockbuster deal instantly upgraded the Canadiens offence by adding a young dynamic playmaker who is also a scoring threat.
Bergevin then signed fan favorite Charles Hudon to a two-year deal worth $650,000 per season. When asked about Hudon’s chance of making the team, Claude Julien stated, “What I can say is he will have every chance in the world to make the team….(Hudon) will have to earn that spot….work for that spot.”
That said, he has his work cut out for him to earn a top nine spot when looking at the depth on left wing. Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Drouin, Artturi Lehkonen, Paul Byron, and Andreas Martinsen all sit above Hudon.
Bergevin’s moves helped address the lack of offence but have to be viewed in context of the departures such as Alex Radulov, Nathan Beaulieu, Mikhail Sergachev and, at time of writing, Andrei Markov.
The Expansion Draft
With the Expansion Draft, Bergevin had to face some difficult choices. It was apparent that Jordie Benn had passed Nathan Beaulieu on the depth chart, meaning the 23-year-old was likely to be targeted by Vegas.
This left Bergevin to get any return for the enigmatic young defenseman, resulting in Beaulieu being traded to Buffalo for a 2017 third round pick (68th-Scott Walford). This move was immediately panned by some in the media, and others on social media.
In the Expansion Draft, the Canadiens lost veteran defenceman Alexei Emelin. Losing the veteran defenceman hurt the Canadiens depth chart on the left side of the blue line, but it provided $4.1M in cap savings.
However, that pain was somewhat alleviated with the addition of David Schlemko. He is a solid bottom pair defenseman capable of playing up the lineup when needed. Schlemko is also mobile and capable of helping the transition game as well as playing on either side.
Prior to the Expansion Draft, had the choice been made to lose Beaulieu in the draft, and trade Emelin for a third round pick, many of those same voices would have been satisfied with the outcome.
The NHL Entry Draft
With the Expansion Draft behind him, Bergevin had to focus on the Entry Draft in which he held five selections in the top 90. Many had high hopes that he would use these assets in trades to land that elusive top six center. However, that trade never came to fruition.
Instead, Bergevin and staff used their picks to select two high potential centers, four quality defensive prospects, and a high quality late pick in a goaltender. It was a draft selection that produced compliments from other professional scouts.
— Grant McCagg (@grantmccagg) June 25, 2017
Bergevin has the self-inflicted pressure of adding quality local talent through the draft. However, it is difficult to do so when there is better talent available at his selections. This argument rings somewhat hollow as the Canadiens are stocked with local talent.
Currently, there are 36 players under NHL contracts with the Canadiens. Of those 36, 11 are francophone or Quebecois players. That is nearly one third of the franchise. The Canadiens released their development camp invitees, which includes 13 francophones, accounting for nearly one-third of the roster.
The outcry by the Quebec-based media demanding more local talent always seemed to ignore the addition of Jonathan Drouin, the most talented francophone acquisition since Vincent Damphousse.
Bergevin went out on July first and landed a top four mobile, solid shutdown defenseman who can play heavy minutes in Karl Alzner.
With close to 21 million dollars available under the cap on July first to spend, Bergevin budgeted for Galchenyuk and wanted to keep one of, if not both, Andrei Markov and Alex Radulov. Yet salary and term demands caused issues.
Markov, as of the writing of this article has not signed. Bergevin has bolstered the blueline with the additions of defencemen Jakub Jerabek and Joe Morrow both of whom have puck-moving abilities. This allows options for Julien to manage some of Markov’s minutes over the course of the long NHL season if he is re-signed. With both sides being comfortable with each other and knowing what each can offer, it is still likely Markov returns for another season.
Radulov signed a five-year $31.25M ($6.25M AAV) from Dallas. Although some say he was offered the same from Montreal, Radulov says not. The final result is Radulov and his 18 goals and 54 points are no longer with Montreal.
Drouin may replace the lost offence coming off a 21 goal and 53 point season, for less of a cap hit. Bergevin also added Ales Hemsky in the hopes he can rekindle his play and provide a top nine talent and offence. The much larger issue of a solid two-way, top-six remains for Bergevin to address.
While Galchenyuk’s future in Montreal is far from certain, his imminent exit is less likely than it was in June. Should coach Julien be able to restore Galchenyuk’s game, and if the 23-year old can do that as a number one centre, Bergevin can be praised for signing his young star to a relatively frugal $14.7 million contract.
All in all, Bergevin has had a busy and productive off-season. He still has much work ahead of him to retain his current roster of restricted and unrestricted free agents (RFA/UFA). However, Bergevin ensured that there will be no need for a goaltender in Montreal for eight more seasons after signing Carey Price to an extension.
The summer is a long period. Fans should try to hold off judging the roster as it is now built in July and wait for the start of training camp. In that time span, Bergevin must find a way to bring in that coveted top six centerman, as well as re-sign Markov or another left handed top four capable defenceman to compliment Shea Weber.
Bergevin has $9.16 million in cap space left to spend.
Will he be creative in his approach? Will he leave fans expecting the unexpected? If he is unable to address the team’s needs early on in the off season, the heat felt by Bergevin will be more than just the sun on his face. It will be the hot flames of the torches all around him with fans and the some members of the media preparing for his exit.