It’s almost time, Habs fans.
That centre you’ve longed for is almost ripe for the picking.
The NHL free agent pool this upcoming offseason will be crowded, headlined by 2009’s first overall pick, John Tavares. And if Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin can find a way to sign him, it’ll cover up a lot of mistakes.
The gaping hole at centre is nothing new. Elite middle men are hard to find, and consequently Montreal hasn’t been able to acquire one.
While the Habs’ playoffs hopes look grim, they could retool for the future with one tremendous move in the upcoming offseason.
Tavares is a true first line centre, a point producer, and a respected leader. He’ll be 28 years old by the start of the 2018 season and would allow Jonathan Drouin to shift back to his natural position on the wing. He’s the one potentially available player that has the potential to turn the goal-hungry Canadiens into a lethal first line attack.
Tavares broke into the NHL as a 19-year-old and has scored at least 20 goals in every season while averaging just under a point-per-game (0.93) for his career. He notched career highs in goals (38) and points (86) in 2014-15 but is poised to better them both this season. He’s sporting a 22-29-51 line through 43 games.
Bergevin has been peppered with questions about the Canadiens weaknesses at centre since he took the job in 2012, a problem that persisted long before he started. He’s been insistent that elite centres are not easily acquired.
Remember back in 2015 when he quipped that the NHL isn’t like Playstation?
“My reality, it might not be the same as the PlayStation that I play at night,” he said. “I made a trade last night (on PlayStation), called the GM this morning and he hung up on me. So, to get that top centre, I’d love to get him, but I don’t see that happening.”
Or when he was adamant that it’s not easy trading for a number one centre?
“Do you want me to trade Carey Price? That’s what it costs to get a big centre.”
Flash-forward to three years and two disappointing seasons later where Bergevin won’t have to trade for that “big centre” – he just has to sign him.
The Canadiens have an $8.5 million salary cap surplus, excluding Tomas Plekanec’s $6 million dollar salary which expires at season’s end. They can fire a Garda truck-load worth of money towards Tavares.
But it’s more than the Canadiens wanting to sign Tavares – they need to.
Bergevin, and Habs fans alike, believed they addressed their depth at centre by drafting Alex Galchenyuk in 2012. But in the five years since, Bergevin has closed the door on using the young Russian at centre.
#Habs Bergevin: “Until further notice Galchenyuk will play wing and we will experiment with Drouin at centre.”
— John Lu (@JohnLuTSNMtl) September 11, 2017
What’s worse is that the cupboards are bare – the Canadiens don’t have any centremen coming up through the system and who knows when another free agent centre will hit the market.
With the Habs hovering around the basement in the Atlantic division however, they could also swipe a top five draft pick at this summer’s entry draft.
Imagine a Rasmus Dahlin and John Tavares improved club to start 2018? All of a sudden, a lost 2017 season doesn’t seem so bad…