As I dig out my septic field I can’t help but think of the Canadiens 2017-18 season circling the drain. There has been discussion on TV, radio, and social media all trying to figure out if Marc Bergevin has a plan.
Let us be clear, success requires the execution of a solid plan. Just having a plan doesn’t guarantee success, but I guarantee you won’t have success unless you have a plan.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
― Abraham Lincoln
However, to guess at Bergevin’s plan for what comes next you have to know what the team needs are. There is no real need to guess, it’s clear what those needs are and we will list them here.
1. Clear out excess veterans
Clearing out the excess brush to allow roots to grow is necessary in gardening, and the same can be true of developing youth.
Even with all the veterans yet to be named, the Canadiens are still a young team at only an average of 26.8 years. Compare that to a team like Toronto who is perceived to be a young group and you see they match up well as the Leafs are actually older at 27.6 years. The concern for the Habs being too old is a perception that is unfounded.
That is why it is important to keep some of the veteran players, but not all. There is an excess of number five or six defenseman, players such as David Schlemko, Jordie Benn, and Joe Morrow can fill that role adequately.
The decision must be made on which ones to move out by the deadline. With the season now in a tailspin, moving two out for mid to late round picks each is realistic. Players such as Noah Juulsen and Brett Lernout can be called up to fill in for the remainder of the season to further develop their game.
At forward there are some difficult choices to make. One that shouldn’t be difficult to make is to move Tomas Plekanec for as high a return you can get. If Bergevin is willing to take on 50 percent of the cap hit he could possibly get as high as a second round pick from teams like Pittsburgh who are in need of a third line shutdown center.
There is a serious log jam on the wings. It may be time to allow Daniel Carr a full time role and allow for former first round picks such as Nikita Scherbak and Michael McCarron to step into NHL roles they are suited for.
2. Improve the prospect pool and add picks
How can the prospect pool be improved? Simple, yet not easy, add more top 60 picks and try to acquire another team’s top prospect or two. Having a team play this poorly and sitting at 28th in the NHL standings also means that their top pick is currently a top five selection.
Wingers such as Paul Byron and Max Pacioretty could fetch quality assets. Byron could land a second round pick in the right situation. Pacioretty’s value is the more impactful one for the Canadiens going forward. Not only does his value mean that Bergevin could net a top prospect and a first round selection (maybe more in a bidding war), but it is also his top resource to finally acquire a centerman who can eventually grow into a top line role.
Teams in need of added scoring who are in a Cup contention window that have a top center prospect may be tempted to answer Bergevin’s call. Teams with an open window this season and could use some added scoring are Winnipeg, the L.A. Kings and St. Louis Blues. Other teams with quality youthful assets that could fill Habs needs such as Calgary, Carolina, Florida, even the N.Y. Islanders could be in search of added scoring to take a step towards clinching playoff berths in hopes of making deep playoff runs.
3. Find a partner for Shea Weber
There are several options that can be taken for this missing piece. The first is to win the NHL Draft Lottery and land Rasmus Dahlin. That one is a difficult task. The second is to use that top five selection to get a highly skilled defenceman such as Adam Boqvist, Evan Bouchard or Quinn Hughes.
The third option in the search for a defensive partner is to wait for unrestricted free agency (UFA). The UFA pool is not spectacular, but has several names that could fit well with Weber. Jack Johnson will be looking to sign a long term deal and his skating ability and passing would greatly help the Canadiens transition game. Calvin DeHaan is a low maintenance puck-mover who’s highly mobile and capable of playing heavy minutes in all situations. He would also be a good fit with Weber. Another option is via trade.
4. Add scoring
This may seem odd to mention after stating that a trade of last season’s two top goal scorers are needed to help improve the team long term. Losing their scoring would mean the burden would fall to others who remain on the roster. It would also fall to whichever top prospect could be acquired, or the Habs top pick in 2018 if he were a forward such as Brady Tkachuk or Filip Zadina.
Improving the blueline, not just their transition play but their scoring, will go a long way in maximizing the scoring for the Canadiens. However the largest improvement in increasing scoring will have to be seen at center.
5. Find a top six center, or two
It has become painfully clear that the Canadiens center depth is not a pool of candidates, but a puddle. As dedicated as Jonathan Drouin has been in his apprenticeship at center, he was set up for failure. It is also unfair to see him as a prototypical top line center. Even Bergevin has stated “(Drouin is) probably a better option would be on the wing but, in the situation we’re in, it’s not possible. In a perfect world, if we had that No. 1 centre, that guy who can make plays, a high-end centre, he’d probably be on the wing.”
“he’D probably be on the wing.” — Marc Bergevin
This is where the trade of captain Max Pacioretty becomes so important, the return must include a top prospect who is projected to be a top six, maybe even top line, center. Without that return the ideal situation Bergevin spoke of with Drouin on the wing will never occur.
Adding a proven top six center, even if all the above happens, is still achievable. With the Canadiens looking at $10 million or more in cap space this summer adding that player can be done via trade without the need to even out cap hits. Players such as Ryan O’Reilly, Derek Stepan, even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could be excellent fits for the Canadiens needs.
Free agency is another option as well with all that cap space. There will be several quality centers available this summer. The main one at the moment is John Tavares, a pipe dream but we are allowed to dream big. Other more realistic names are, Michael Backlund and Paul Stastny.
When you have a team as young as the Canadiens with a solid yet incomplete core group sometimes managers will graft on pieces in hopes of saving their jobs. But that only applies to those in danger of losing their job because of team performance. In Bergevin’s case, his job rests with his ability to acquire centermen, a need that has plagued the franchise for decades.
Bergevin has at his disposal all the tools he needs to find the missing pieces. He has a healthy amount of cap space next season. He currently has a top five draft pick among four top 60 picks in hand. He also has a highly coveted scorer in Max Pacioretty who he can deal away to fill a need. All these assets combined should be more than enough for a shrewd manager to fill all the team’s needs, and done so in very short order.
All signs point to Bergevin being given the opportunity to right the ship and steer it back on course this off season. Yet the question remains, what is his plan and will it lead to success or will he miss on finding that proven center or fail at improving this team in short order leaving Geoff Molson looking for a new general manager for this franchise?