When viewing fine art, it is often recommended to take a few steps back in order to truly understand and appreciate the creation in front of you, allowing us to see the entire piece all at once. Come to think of it, managing a hockey team can also be called an art as well.
PENTICTON, BC. – Following the Zack Kassian incident, the Montreal Canadiens found themselves in a situation which they were not expecting when making their final roster decisions. While the crisis may have changed the numbers on the jerseys, it didn’t change the plan that General Manager Marc Bergevin and his team had for the upcoming season.
As we know, Bergevin took two relatively low risk gambles this off-season. He signed Alexander Semin to a great one-year contract with minimal cap hit, then traded fan favourite Brandon Prust to the Vancouver Canucks for young forward Kassian.
While experts agreed that the balance seemed to be tilted in the Canadiens’ favour in that trade, some might change their mind after Kassian was entered into stage two of the NHL’s substance abuse program a few days before the start of the season. But that did not change Bergevin’s plans for this upcoming season, something we’ll touch on a bit later.
CAMP WINNERS AND LOSERS
If fans and media have listened to Bergevin since he took over the job in Montreal, he has always repeated that players make the decisions for him, challenging the young prospects to force him to make room for them. Young Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher did just that three years ago and Bergevin kept his word.
This year, only one prospect shone more than the veterans and that is why goaltender Mike Condon made the team at the risk of losing Dustin Tokarski to waivers. Condon totally outplayed his counterpart who allowed eight goals on 37 shots in exhibition games.
Another example of that is veteran Thomas Fleischmann, who was offered a PTO to attend training camp and who won his battle, earning himself a one-year NHL contract with the team. He outplayed rookie forwards Nikita Scherbak, Michael McCarron, Charles Hudon, Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas, amongst others.
One exception might be Jarred Tinordi who, as we know, would have had to clear waivers in order to be sent to St. John’s, something management (and many experts) felt the former first round pick would not have cleared without being claimed by another team. Between the two, they preferred risking losing Mark Barberio, who had a good camp, to losing an asset like Tinordi.
But what is Marc Bergevin’s plan? When the team announced that they had claimed diminutive centre Paul Byron from the Calgary Flames, Twitter exploded with fans questioning the need for another small player, especially that the announcement was followed by the news that Jacob De la Rose was sent down to the IceCaps. The claim was that many of the team’s prospects were better than Byron (and they are right), and questioned why not give a young player a chance?
The answer is quite clear. Had Kassian not acted irresponsibly as he did, De La Rose would have still been cut. It’s Fleischmann who stole his job. It’s Lars Eller working out on left-wing beside Galchenuk and Semin, who stole his job. It’s not Byron.
You see, Byron is 26 years old and he is a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Further, he counts for $900,000 on the cap and since Kassian’s salary ($1.75M) doesn’t count against the cap while he is suspended, the team is saving the equivalent of $850,000 pro-rated in the meantime.
But that’s only one of the reasons for picking him up. He was one of the last players cut in Calgary and while he’s no All-Star, he can play. The main reason however is that the Habs’ brass prefers having guys like Byron and Brian Flynn as the 12-13th forwards and see their young talents have quality minutes in the AHL. That is why, in my opinion, they picked-up Byron.
Further, according to our friends at Capfriendly.com, this cap saving means that the team is starting the season with over $3.6 million below the salary cap, good for 17th in the NHL. This leaves tons of flexibility to Bergevin if a player becomes available during the course of the season to make a major acquisition if the situation presents itself, something not all contenders can do.
Which leads us to Tinordi… he has not impressed at camp, at least not enough to earn himself a spot on the Canadiens’ blue line. By keeping him with the big club in order not to lose him, the Habs will be starting the season with eight healthy defensemen, including young Greg Pateryn. As Bergevin has shown that he doesn’t like sitting young players in the press box for extended periods of time, this could easily lead us to believe that he might be looking at trading someone. It might be Tinordi, but I wouldn’t be so quick at jumping to that conclusion. Although coach Michel Therrien seems to like him, Tom Gilbert could also be a trade bait although the return wouldn’t be that great. Let’s not forget that right-handed defensemen seem to be in high demand around the league these days.
This seems to be the roster to start the season but remember folks: it’s a long season and Bergevin is always looking at ways to improve his team. Stay tuned and enjoy the ride.
Go Habs Go!