By Sean Garland, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

(Photo by Eric Bolte / USA Today)
(Photo by Eric Bolte / USA Today)

MONTREAL, QC. — Rene Bourque couldn’t have been surprised when he was waived by the Montreal Canadiens. While there is the possibility of a return to the National Hockey League, it most certainly will not be with the Habs. Bourque almost confirmed that himself in his first scrum as a Hamilton Bulldog. Speaking to the media, Bourque said, “I think I still have a lot left and I know I do. I’ll get back to the NHL. It’s just a matter of when and where.” He came back to the same point later saying, “Whether it’s [Montreal] or somewhere else, my goal is to get back to the NHL and I’ll do whatever it takes to get back there.”

While a buyout may be a bit pricey for the Habs at this point, Bourque’s contract could be buried in the minors long enough for Bergevin to consider the thought this upcoming off-season.  After failing to live up to his miraculous playoff performance this past summer, Bourque’s play regressed to much of the same disappointment shown during his short time in Montreal. In three and a half years with the Habs, Bourque never scored twenty points in a season. He was being paid $3.33-million to be a bipolar scoring forward and who was under a similar ire to that of former salary cap nightmare Scott Gomez. Bergevin, realizing he could be facing a comparable situation, quickly dispatched Bourque’s contract and his lack of production down to Hamilton. Bergevin is trimming the fat contracts off Montreal’s salary cap.

Another example of Bergevin’s plan to gain cap space leeway can be seen in the Travis Moen trade. As speculated, Moen was in his last days with the Habs, with Bergevin wanting a young team led by a core of growing veterans. As such, Bergevin completed his second trade with the Dallas Stars with both teams feeling the trade is mutually beneficial. Bergevin has done a fabulous job of trading Moen for immediate blueline help and more financial flexibility in the busy summer, while the Stars acquire Moen to help their penalty kill. Moen and his salary were easily replaced by a larger contract in newly acquired defenseman Sergei Gonchar. With Gonchar’s expiring contract most likely not being retained, the Habs will free up $4.6-million off of their cap at season’s end.

Moen and his $1.85-million cap hit, while signed for another year at a reasonable price for a gritty vet, would cripple the Habs financially next season. Bergevin must deal with both Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher’s entry level contracts, which are due to expire on July 1st. Galchenyk and Gallagher are likely facing the same bridge deals that P.K. Subban and Carey Price endured, but at what cost to the cap space?

Gonchar, 40, is likely hoping for a run at the Stanley Cup with the Habs and will help on the powerplay. Keeping Gonchar on the organization’s playing roster allows for prospects Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu to spend more time in the minors developing their game. Gonchar has familiarity with head coach Michel Therrien, having played as a member of his coaching of the Pittsburgh Penguins for four years. Gonchar has played with Andrei Markov on Team Russia, and will certainly be instrumental in helping out fellow countryman defenseman Alexei Emelin. Bergevin’s view of his team is one that has young talent up front with a wiser and older blueline, and of course built around goaltender Carey Price.

Both Bourque and Moen were victimized for their age and their salaries, but other factors also caused their departures. For Bourque, he was never able to match the chemistry with Lars Eller the way Jiri Sekac has seamlessly done. Bourque also never managed to find his spot in the lineup, having been used mostly on the team’s third line for hitting purposes and generating little offense. Bourque showed flashes of being an effective power forward but his inconsistency was driving the Habs brass mad. Therrien, having previously praised Bourque for his energy in previous games, held no punches when describing the team’s decision to assign him to Hamilton.

“We were hoping he was capable of building on his playoff last year. He was a dominant player with his work ethic, with his passion. He was physical. Obviously the result was not quite there. And he was having a hard time to find his game. That’s the reason why he is going to the American Hockey League in Hamilton to try to find his game.” — Michel Therrien on Rene Bourque

Bourque needs to find himself as a player and regain his scoring touch, though perhaps his bridge back to Montreal is burnt much like the one of Scott Gomez. Still, the team is denying they’ve closed the door on Bourque returning to the NHL. On November 11th, the Habs’ official Twitter account tweeted a quote from Marc Bergevin: “I’m not shutting the door on Rene Bourque. If he plays with more consistency in Hamilton, he could come back up. I’m open to that.” While Bourque may still be a Montreal Canadien in the future, the same cannot be said for Travis Moen.

Moen, who was in his sixth year as a Montreal Canadien, was expendable because his role is replaceable in today’s NHL. Clubs look for a rotation of grinders who play depending on the lineup of their competition. While a capable defensive forward, Moen has slowed down and his experience was expendable for a speedy, sizable youngster. The trend is common amongst other NHL clubs and is part of their purge of costly contracts while keeping an eye on their future stars. Some teams though, for example the Dallas Stars, could use more grinding veterans on their roster but would likely seek to dispose more salary off their salary cap in return. The Habs, having the space freed up by waiving Bourque, were more than happy to oblige.

With the Habs now close to the salary ceiling for this season, this upcoming summer will be quite exciting to see how the team spends their cash. According to capgeek.com, the Habs are projected to have close to $13 million in cap space in the off-season.

Some key restricted free agents needing to be resigned include: Brenden Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi. Will those players accept reasonable bridge contracts, or are we expected to see another summer of nervous negotiations? Both Mike Weaver and Manny Malhotra will be unrestricted free agents, and should Bergevin have any space available for their services, may likely offer one year extensions. Although cheap contracts, Bergevin may also consider letting his veterans walk in hopes the Habs’ youth can become suitable replacements.

From what the fans have seen from Gonchar already this season, including reaching the 800 career point milestone, the oldest skater in Canadiens history will certainly help the team for the time being. His smooth passing and offensive smarts have been the saving grace for the Habs’ power play woes. The Habs have also recently displayed a competitive and dominant team on a nightly basis, rolling three lines that have great chemistry and can score on a variety of chances. The defensive pairs are mobile defensemen who can hit and clear the danger out of their defensive zone.

For the time being, the Canadiens may seem to be unstoppable but a smart GM such as Bergevin knows that scoring depth is vital for a strong playoff run. Bergevin also may be in the market to use whatever available cap he has this season to land a scoring forward, perhaps another trade deadline acquisition similar to last season in the form of Thomas Vanek. The approximate $3 million he currently has to work with will grow as the season progresses likely to be used for a rental player.

While the future looks bright for Montreal, their present is glowing with Stanley Cup potential. In his third season as general manager, Bergevin has brought the Habs out of the mismanaged days of predecessors Pierre Gauthier and Bob Gainey. Being first overall in the NHL only helps exemplify how Marc Bergevin has trimmed his team’s salary cap fat while maintaining a formidable roster.

Having helped in building the Chicago Blackhawks to the respectable club they are today, Marc Bergevin has done so for the Habs in three short seasons. The Canadiens have established a front office that knows today’s NHL well, from both a financial and player development perspective, perhaps paving the way for smart financial management that leads to another dynasty for the Montreal Canadiens.