by Corey Desormeaux , Managing Editor, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Photo by: Pierre-Paul Poulin / Agence QMI
(Photo by: Pierre-Paul Poulin / Agence QMI)

OTTAWA, ON. — Marc Bergevin loves depth on defence. It’s been a primary focus since his arrival.

Each season, in some form or fashion, he seems to acquire depth at the position. Think of Douglas Murray, Sergei Gonchar, Bryan Allen, Jeff Petry and Tom Gilbert. This past offseason, Mark Barberio was included in his hunt. Bergevin approached the Montreal native after a successful 52 game season with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Barberio signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Montreal Canadiens that will result in restricted free agency status at season’s end and currently counts for $600,000 against the cap. If being a part of the organization he idolised as a kid wasn’t enough incentive, the hometown kid now has an opportunity to earn his next contract with the beloved CH. He’s become a pleasant addition to the Habs lineup and at just 25 years old may just be hitting his stride as he heads into his prime athletic years.

With a plethora of defenceman and the Canadiens unable to send both Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn to the AHL without waivers, Barbeiro began his season in the AHL. In 26 games with the IceCaps, Barberio managed top minutes, scoring 20 points while facing tough opposition talent.

Fast forward to December with the Habs facing one of their worst slumps in their history and an injury to Tom Gilbert, an opportunity for Barberio to step up presented itself. With the coach desperate to shake things up, Barberio jumped over Pateryn and Tinordi to get into his first game as a Hab and is yet to be removed from the lineup. He’s now played six NHL games, racking up two points and looking more and more comfortable as the games go by.

Now, here comes the tricky part. Gilbert has been skating this week, meaning he is close to returning to the lineup and a roster decision will need to be made to make room for Gilbert. The Habs don’t want to risk losing Tinordi or Pateryn via waivers so let’s assume that those two are staying put. And at this point, is anyone convinced that Barberio doesn’t deserve to stay in the lineup?

Tom Gilbert was signed nearly two seasons ago as a depth two-way defender. At the time, there was a great emphasis within the media being made about his possession driving stats while with the Florida Panthers. With the Habs not being a very strong possession team at the time, many fans were pleased to see this signing. Simply put, Gilbert hasn’t really found his mojo with the Habs. In fact, the Montreal Canadiens have become a good puck possession team and he is the only defenceman (with at least 5 NHL games), and one of only three players on the team with a Corsi for percentage that is below 50 per cent.

Although a small sample size, Barberio leads all Habs defenceman with a Corsi for percentage of 57.89, and has two assists at 5-on-5 play in six games. Gilbert is yet to record a point at 5-on-5 with 36 games under his belt this season. With Gilbert becoming an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and many NHL teams looking for defensive depth, Bergevin could look to move Gilbert.

The Habs’ GM has developed a reputation of making small, methodical moves. He’s already pulled a few this season. He’s traded Thomas for Lessio, Kassian for Scrivens and the latest move where he swapped Dustin Tokarski for Max Friberg are all examples of Bergevin moving unneeded pieces for potential assets.

With several NHL ready defencemen and waivers hand-cuffing Bergevin, the opportunity to make another small, methodical move has presented itself. Moving Gilbert could be a move Bergevin is looking to make. The return would be minimal, and I can assure you that Bergevin would have to seek suitors for Gilbert rather than waiting for calls on him. That said, this is the GM that traded Raphael Diaz for Dale Weise so in the great words of Kevin Garnett, “anything is possibbbllllleeeeeee!”

On the other hand, Barberio’s emergence has opened Bergevin’s playbook just a little bit more on the trade front. There have been multiple reports this week from credible sources of major media outlets saying that Bergevin’s team isn’t well suited to make a major move. All I can say is that if Barberio can continue to play the way his is currently, that it may entice Bergevin to package a young defenceman to make a statement move. Not saying he will, just saying that Barberio’s play increases his options.

All Habs colleague Marc Lescoutre and I launched a new videocast called Habs Banter this week. In our first episode we touched on the Habs’ trade front including the overload of defenceman that the Habs have.

So what do you think? Does Barberio deserve to stay in the lineup? Should Bergevin move Gilbert? Or Should he hold on and make a big splash?