Sitting in a playoff spot with a 15-10-5 record, the Montreal Canadiens are performing better than expected. For that, general manager Marc Bergevin deserves credit for a trio of offseason moves that have changed the complexion of his team.
In truth, Bergevin’s recent track record could well have cost him his job. The P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade, for example, was one that didn’t look good from the moment it was announced. Further to that, the decision to trade Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin also resulted in a healthy measure of scrutiny.
Those decisions are well in the past, so instead we ask “what have you done for me lately?” In that light, Bergevin’s shine has returned a bit, and three offseason moves in particular are giving fans a few glimmers of hope.
1. Max return for Galchenyuk
This one-for-one deal left many scratching their heads at the time. The early reaction in Montreal was not kind, as evidenced by a piece in the Gazette that argued: “the brutal reality is that Bergevin is destroying this team, one valuable piece at a time,” citing the trades mentioned above. “But in some ways,” it went on, “the Galchenyuk trade is the worst of the bunch.”
That assessment was based on Galchenyuk being selected third overall by Bergevin early in his tenure as GM, the promise of him being established as a bona fide No. 1 centre, and a 30-goal season potted in his career. Domi, on the other hand, was coming off a nine-goal season and didn’t have much centre experience of his own to speak of. At best, it seemed like a lateral move, with the player with the higher ceiling being sent the other way.
But lo and behold, Domi has been thriving in a top-six centre role for the Canadiens, leading the team in scoring with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) through 30 games. Meanwhile, Galchenyuk – who began the season on the injured list – has been limited to three goals and eight assists in 21 appearances, and has already been shifted to the wing after being given another shot down the middle.
Credit Bergevin for getting a max return for a player who didn’t pan out as he anticipated.
2. Vegas jackpot
Back in September, captain Max Pacioretty was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for forward Tomas Tatar, forward prospect Nick Suzuki, and a second-round pick at the 2019 NHL Draft. The writing had been on the wall for a while here, as the relationship between Pacioretty and the club had become as frosty as an A&W root beer mug, and it was later revealed he had requested a trade last season.
Tatar has endeared himself to the “bleu, blanc et rouge” with 12 goals and 12 assists, displaying the scoring consistency that convinced Vegas to part with trio of draft picks (including a 2018 first-round pick) prior to last season’s trade deadline.
Suzuki was no throw in here. The 19-year-old was selected 13th overall by Vegas in 2017, and he continues to dominate at the junior level.
Look for Suzuki to shine for Team Canada at the 2019 World Junior Championships beginning Dec. 26. In the future, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll turn into one of those scoring centres this team has been looking for.
Pacioretty, by the way, has been good for 10 goals and eight assists through 27 games as a Golden Knight.
3. Believing in Jesperi
As late as June, the International Scouting Service (ISS) had Jesperi Kotkaniemi ranked 16th heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, but the buzz surrounding this Finnish forward had been growing louder for months.
While Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov were long thought to be the consensus top two picks, there was some question as to what the Canadiens would do with the third selection.
Would they opt for a talented, high-rated winger like Filip Zadina or Brady Tkachuk, or take a shot on the projected top-line centre in Kotkaniemi? Bergevin and company opted for the latter, and the kid who turned 18 days prior to the selection process ended up sticking with the NHL team out of training camp.
Kotkaniemi has recorded three goals and 12 assists in a somewhat limited role as the league’s youngest player, but his importance to the team’s success grows with every game and he’s not likely to be loaned out for the World Juniors.
“He plays on our power play, he’s a centre, he’s gradually getting better in the faceoff circle, he’s maturing…but most of all he deserves to be here,” Bergevin said Saturday, per The Athletics’s Marc Godin. “It’s not so much that we have a lack of centres, it’s more so that he’s earned his spot in the lineup. He’s done good work so far.”
At present, Bergevin’s team is in a playoff spot, and his seat definitely isn’t as warm as it was not too long ago.