It’s been said many times that Montreal is the best place to play when your hockey team is winning, and the worst place to be when it’s not. Missing the playoffs each of the last two seasons, it appeared that the Canadiens had taken a step in the right direction towards a return this year.
After going 2-5-3 in their last 10 games (including an eight-game losing streak), they’ve fallen to fourth in the Atlantic and are on the outside looking in. The hashtag #FireBergevin was trending for good reason.
But despite the slide, all is not lost. They sit four points out of a wild card spot, and just three points behind third-place Buffalo in the division.
But the battle remains quite an uphill one for the playoffs. Last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners in Tampa Bay have three games in hand on the Habs, and sit just one point behind them, while Toronto sits tied in points with one more game played.
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If the Canadiens have any hope in salvaging their season, and perhaps more importantly, the future of their franchise, they should fire general manager Marc Bergevin immediately.
Fragile drafting and development
While they sometimes vary along the path to get there, almost all NHL rebuilds follow the same basic first step: draft high a few years in a row. Obviously, not every impactful NHLer will be a top-five pick, but Bergevin’s drafts have been a mixed bag of results.
Two of Bergevin’s top-10 draft picks in Alex Galchenyuk (2012) and Mikhail Sergachev (2017) have brought back Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi in trades.
But other than that, Jesperi Kotkaniemi (2018) is the only Bergevin first-round pick that is currently on the Canadiens’ NHL roster.
Elsewhere, Nikita Scherbak (2014) was waived in 2017, while Michael McCarron (2013), Noah Juulsen (2015) and Ryan Poehling (2017) are toiling away in the AHL with Laval.
All things considered, Bergevin’s track record hasn’t been great at the top of the draft, but it’s nothing great at the lower rounds, either. Just five players to suit up this season were Bergevin draft picks: Kotkaniemi, Victor Mete, Cale Fleury, Charles Hudon, and Artturi Lehkonen.
While there are some young players slated to play larger roles in the coming seasons, such as Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki, 19 and 20 years of age, respectively, the majority of this core is already in or exiting their prime NHL age.
Among the forward group, Tomas Tatar is 29, Brendan Gallagher is 27, and Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin are both 24. On defence, captain Shea Weber is 34 while Jeff Petry turns 32 next week. And in net, arguably the most important piece the Canadiens in Carey Price is also 32.
If we follow a standard NHL aging curve, none of these players should be expected to make some sort of massive leap in their game. They are simply about what they are, and as a collective, that hasn’t been nearly good enough to compete in a tough Atlantic Division.
Offensive dearth under Bergevin
Montreal’s biggest downfall over Bergevin’s tenure has easily been its offence, or lack thereof. Since 2012, Bergevin’s Habs have finished 20th in the NHL in goal scoring. Even in the best three-year stretch (2012-13 to 2014-15), Bergevin’s teams only managed to finish 16th in that category in the league.
Domi’s 72 points last year were the highest of any Bergevin player in a single season in his tenure. He finished tied for 46th in league scoring.
Bergevin’s inability to attract free agents to supplement the roster have been well-documented. The most productive season from a free agent signing in Bergevin’s tenure was Alexander Radulov’s 54-point output in 2016-17, but he eventually skipped town after one year and signed a long-term deal with Dallas.
The Peter Chiarelli and Paul Fenton warning
The biggest damage in holding onto Bergevin longer than necessary would be the moves he could make while trying to save his job.
Two cases last season provide cautionary tales: Edmonton’s Peter Chiarelli and Minnesota’s Paul Fenton. Chiarelli lasted a little under four years as the Oilers’ GM, getting the axe this past January. Meanwhile, Fenton was fired this offseason after just one year as the Wild’s GM.
In Chiarelli’s case, three moves were typically pointed to as avoidable: the signing of unproven goaltender Mikko Koskinen to a three-year, $13.5 million deal one day before his firing, and a pair of trades on the same day for two defencemen in Alex Petrovic and Brandon Manning just over three weeks before his firing.
Petrovic was a frequent healthy scratch following Chiarelli’s departure last year, while Manning is finding himself in that role this season. Koskinen has proved worthy of the deal thus far with a .921 save percentage in 16 appearances, but there is caution that he could return to his much more average form of .906 in 2018-19.
In Fenton’s case, a Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask trade was the avoidable move. Both players had been performing below their peak, but Rask, a centre, had put up just one goal in 26 games in Carolina to begin the year.
Niederreiter went on a tear as soon as he joined the Hurricanes, putting up 30 points in 36 games. Rask, meanwhile, produced just three points in 23 games in Minnesota in 2018-19.
Bergevin’s never been a shy one to make a move, as PK Subban, Max Pacioretty, and Alex Galchenyuk have all departed within the last four offseasons.
Montreal’s season could go in any number of directions from here on out. But it’s not hard to imagine that both the team’s short and long-term future could be best served taking away the reins from Marc Bergevin.