by Gregorio Lentini, Guest Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine
If you didn’t believe it before, have no more doubt, Marc Bergevin is not afraid to make changes.
Heading into the off-season, the Canadiens really needed a true, No. 1 centre, who, in addition to being offensively gifted, is defensively sound. Though acquiring a top line centre is no easy task, it could be argued that it was the only missing piece from the Habs’ lineup.
Many expected Bergevin to sign free agents Alex Radulov, the Canadiens second-best point-producer and Andrei Markov, the team’s best left-defenceman.
However, as we know, things don’t always go according to script.
Bergevin acquired, superstar-in-the-making, Jonathan Drouin for blue-chip prospect Mikhail Sergachev. The Canadiens general manager signed one of the top free-agent defenseman in Karl Alzner.
Bergevin then went on to make several depth moves including the additions of forward Ales Hemsky as well as defensemen, Mark Streit and David Schlemko.
Unfortunately, any good that came this summer continues to be overshadowed by the departures of two particular impact players from the 2016-’17 roster namely, Radulov and Markov. Radulov signed a $31.25 million, five-year contract with Dallas on July 2nd. Markov inked a two-year deal with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL on July 27th. Currently, the Habs have over eight million dollars in projected cap space.
The question is: was it a disappointing off-season or should Habs fans be encouraged?
At first glance it appears that Bergevin has failed to improve the team. The Canadiens general manager let Radulov, the team’s best playoff performer as well as a lifetime Hab Markov walk away for nothing. Though he may have made up for the departure of Radulov with the acquisition of Drouin, in doing so, he lost Montreal’s most valuable trading chip for a winger instead of a center. In short, Bergevin still hasn’t addressed the issue at centre and he created another hole at the No. 1 left-defenceman position.
But before making any conclusions, let’s take a closer look at the departures.
It became clear during negotiations with Radulov that the sticking point was term. Bergevin has boxed himself into a cap problem and could not afford a fair value for Radulov over the long term.
That said, Radulov plays an aggressive style of hockey. He uses his speed and body to guard the puck and to shed defenders. His style is extremely effective and will likely remain effective for the next few years. But can he continue to be an impact player over the duration of his contract?
I have found solace in Bergevin’s decision by concluding that, like Tomas Plekanec, Radulov’s production could drop towards the end of his deal. Radulov would be receiving a salary at the top end of Canadiens forwards without a guarantee that he can maintain his production. Radulov’s energy and charisma will certainly be missed, but the bottom line is that Bergevin could not afford to retain him.
It’s clear that Markov’s would have preferred a two-year contract. However, the veteran defenceman confirmed that he would have accepted one year deal in the neighborhood of $6 million. Given that Bergevin believes that he can still add a No. 1 centre, he wasn’t able to re-sign Markov.
Though Markov is defensively responsible and has phenomenal passing ability, he is about to turn 39. His ice time has been declining over the past few seasons, and so too have his points. In my estimation, Markov will only continue to regress from this point.
It’s easy to become disillusioned by the significant departures, but keep in mind that there is still a lot to look forward to with this club.
The Canadiens have a consistent 30-goal-scorer in Max Pacioretty, a world-class goalie in Carey Price and an extraordinary defenseman in Shea Weber. Beyond Pacioretty, the Habs have a youthful top-six under 26 years-of-age. It could be argued that many of the team’s best forwards haven’t reached their full potential yet. I expect Phillip Danault, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Artturi Lehkonen and Drouin to make significant improvements this season.
When you view the team in those terms, it may not be all gloom-and-doom. So, here is my verdict on the Canadiens off-season.
At present, I would argue that the Habs are just as good or slightly better than last season. We can expect that Drouin will likely top Radulov’s scoring numbers. Alzner will not come close to producing Markov-like statistics but he may help with goals against. I think there may be some surprises from the depth players added like Peter Holland, Jakub Jerabek, David Schlemko and Ales Hemsky.
I believe that it comes down to what Bergevin will do with the $8.4 million of projected cap space. If no major moves are made, it’s safe to say that either Markov or Radulov should have been brought back. However, if Bergevin can be successful in acquiring a No. 1 centre, then it can be called a successful off-season.