Constant changes, depth, and Price: How Canadiens were built

It’s settled: the Tampa Bay Lightning will face the Montreal Canadiens in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. So, how did each team get here? After covering how the Lightning were built, let’s move on to the Canadiens.

When it comes to judging how the Lightning were built, people can gripe about luck and LTIR, but almost everyone would agree that they’re one of the most well-run franchises in the NHL. Probably in all of sports. That opinion likely wouldn’t waver — people generally felt highly about the Lightning even after that shocking Blue Jackets sweep.

But the Canadiens and GM Marc Bergevin? Your opinion of their team structure, and his work as GM, might change as often as they once went through centers.

Bergevin’s seemingly been on the hot seat so often, you almost wonder if his stylish suits require heat-resistant pants. Yet, about nine years after leaving the Blackhawks to GM the Canadiens, here he is: the architect of a 2021 Stanley Cup Finalist.

Through the good and the bad, let’s give the Bergevin-era Canadiens this much: they’ve almost always been entertaining. It’s also been confusing charting the twists and turns, with Bergevin sometimes looking brilliant, and other times looking lost.

Let’s review how the Canadiens have been built.

Bergevin’s Canadiens: not afraid of change

There’s a quote attributed to Mark Twain that feels appropriate to how Marc Bergevin built, rebuilt, and re-rebuilt key elements of the Canadiens. “If you’d don’t like the weather (in New England? Texas? Who can say?), wait five minutes.”

Just ponder the Canadiens’ sweaty pursuit of centers, and you’ll get that vibe.

From Alex Galchenyuk to Jonathan Drouin to Max Domi, the Canadiens tried different center alignments. Those pursuits were often fruitless. Credit Bergevin for being willing to move on when that hasn’t worked; Galchenyuk and Domi both are in phases of their careers where they’re fighting for relevance. (Drouin’s still on the Canadiens’ salary structure … for now.)

[X-Factors for the 2021 Stanley Cup Final]

Truly, it feels a bit odd that Bergevin finished as a GM of the Year finalist during the same season that he fired his head coach. But that’s very much in the spirit of how the Canadiens have been built by Bergevin.

It takes courage to, arguably, keep throwing things at the wall until something sticks. Everything’s coming together well enough that the Canadiens made it to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, and you can’t just chalk it up to dumb luck.

Bergevin earned that GM of the Year nod with a busy offseason even by the standards of an executive who’s addicted to blockbuster trades.

Trades, free agent signings make for a transformative offseason

While some of his moves were polarizing, Bergevin definitely put together a bold offseason of trades, contract extensions, and a brilliant free agent signing.

  • He traded Domi for Josh Anderson in an eye-popping deal. Time will tell if it was wise to give Anderson a seven-year contract extension with a $5.5M AAV, but he’s served as an upgrade over Domi.
  • The Canadiens landed Tyler Toffoli on the sort of bargain free agent deal that justifiably had people wondering what, exactly, Jim Benning is/was doing in Vancouver.
  • Bergevin sought out Carey Price insurance by trading for Jake Allen. Like with Anderson, it remains to be seen if it was smart to give Allen an immediate extension, but the short-term boost was helpful. Allen helped keep the Habs afloat during another dicey Price regular season.
  • Corey Perry‘s a classic low-risk, nice-reward veteran pickup.
  • Will Joel Edmundson‘s contract look good down the line? Another maybe, another situation where the addition helped Montreal. Frankly, this was one of Montreal’s most surprising successes.

Edmundson was mediocre, if not bad, the previous three seasons for the Blues and Hurricanes:


Then became a revelation for the Habs (RAPM charts via Evolving Hockey):

Defensemen: they’re confusing!

Price became right

Speaking of confusing, some of the most dramatic changes have revolved around how key, expensive Canadiens have performed.

Carey Price is the most dramatic example. Over and over again, anonymous hockey executives and players ranked Price among the absolute elite goalies. Honestly, this mostly felt like people drinking the sweet nectar of nostalgia.

For three of the past four regular seasons, Price has put up backup-tier regular season numbers (save percentages of .909, .901, and .900, with a strong .918 thrown in from 2018-19). So, yeah, people thought that Price praise was rooted in more than a bit of stubbornness.

Really, it still feels a little silly to assume that Price just flips a light switch during playoff time. After all, if your $10.5M goalie flounders enough during the regular season, that playoff light switch won’t even be available.

But whatever way you slice it, Price has been spectacular during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and has managed a .933 save percentage or better during his past three postseasons.

It’s one thing for Price to shine in six playoff games back in 2016-17, and 10 contests last year. He’s kept playing at an incredible level through 17 playoff games so far this year, though, validating that praise. His work on the penalty kill, in particular, feels almost impossible.

Continuing with a theme from extensions for Anderson and Edmundson, the Price contract might again look like a disaster. But people are understandably puffing out their chests about praising Price now — and can you blame them?


Again, the Canadiens and Bergevin keep flipping the script.

Just look at the Shea WeberP.K. Subban trade. In Nashville, Subban was a Norris Trophy finalist, and made a trip to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. It seemed like a big Bergevin blunder, especially when people depicted Weber as teetering on the edge of retirement?

Now, Subban’s struggling miserably with the Devils, and Weber’s anchoring a defense that befuddled powerful offenses in the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights. Again, defensemen (and the Canadiens): they’re confusing!

Constant changes, depth, and Price: How the Canadiens were built Kotkaniemi Suzuki
(Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Finding those elusive centers

After years of toiling, the Canadiens now look good-to-great down the middle. It took Bergevin plenty of tries, but those might be where he’s been the most successful (beyond getting Toffoli at a better-than-Costco price.)

  • Facing a difficult situation where a Max Pacioretty trade was necessary, the Canadiens landed Tomas Tatar and Nick Suzuki.
  • Back in 2016, Bergevin traded Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise for hugely underrated center Phillip Danault, and a 38th pick he’d use to draft promising defenseman Alexander Romanov.
  • It’s not yet clear if Jesperi Kotkaniemi should’ve gone third overall in 2018, and his development hasn’t just been a straight climb upward. But Suzuki – Kotkaniemi – maybe Danault sure looks like the center group Bergevin’s been trying to build for years.
  • He’s not a center, but Cole Caufield sure fits nicely with Suzuki. People praised the Canadiens and roasted other teams for allowing Caufield to fall to 15th overall in 2019 when it happened, and that’s only looking sillier today. While some of this comes down to blunders by other teams, credit Bergevin with observing what the Lightning and others have too: being willing to ignore size questions for skill. Caufield, essentially, is a less extreme version of Alex DeBrincat not going in the first round.

Canadiens built to be deep, structured

A year from now, we might not feel as strongly about what Bergevin has built than we do heading into the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Will Montreal survive what could be a buzzsaw Atlantic featuring the Lightning, Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Panthers? Can Carey Price carry over this postseason run into above-average play during the regular season? For all Montreal’s done well reaching the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, they’ve frequently won by small margins. That style of play might still leave them where they’ve been in recent years: on the bubble.

Yet there’s plenty to like, too. This is a team that’s been an analytics power for a while, controlling the puck at even-strength. Sure, that’s part of why it seemed kind of unfair for Claude Julien to take the fall mid-season, but maybe they can maintain that style?

(Perhaps that hinges on what happens regarding Dominique Ducharme and/or Luke Richardson?)

Few teams have had the luxury to healthy-scratch someone as good as Tomas Tatar, and basically forget about Michael Frolik. But this Canadiens team is just that deep, and just that singularly focused on shutting opponents down.

While Lightning management strikes with precision, Bergevin’s built the Canadiens in more of a whirlwind style. At minimum, it’s made them a more fun team to cover. Lately, it’s made them a tough team to beat.

CANADIENS VS. LIGHTNING – series livestream link

Game 1: Mon. June 28: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 2: Wed. June 30: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3: Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC)

*if necessary

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    NHL top prospect Connor Bedard draws comparisons to Connor McDavid as draft approaches

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    Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The NHL is going to have another Connor to contend with very shortly.

    For everything two-time NHL MVP Connor McDavid has accomplished in Edmonton since being selected No. 1 in the 2015 draft, Connor Bedard is on the same trajectory in being pegged as this year’s top eligible draft prospect, Central Scouting director Dan Marr said Friday.

    “He’s right up there with Connor McDavid, it’s just the next generation,” Marr said in touting Bedard’s quickness, shot and ability to read and adapt. “So Connor McDavid started that trend, and Connor Bedard is going to lead it into the next trend.”

    The annual NHL pre-draft combine in Buffalo, New York, is resembling more of a coronation for the 17-year-old Bedard, who has spent the past two years putting up generational numbers with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League while also shining against his peers on the international stage.

    “I think you can use a lot of adjectives to describe it,” Regina coach John Paddock told The Associated Press recently in comparing Bedard’s production at the same age level to McDavid and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

    “That’s quite a high ceiling,” said Paddock, a former NHL coach and player. “But there’s no indication he’s not going to do that based on what he’s done to date.”

    The Chicago Blackhawks own the No. 1 pick, and are highly anticipated to use it on Bedard when the draft opens in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 28.

    Bedard held his latest meeting with the Blackhawks at the combine in a relationship that began at a top-prospects camp in Toronto last summer.

    Bedard’s arrival would coincide with the franchise in transition, with Chicago moving on from its aging core after trading 2007 No. 1 pick, Patrick Kane, and with captain Jonathan Toews’ future uncertain.

    “Yeah, it’d be awesome,” Bedard said of the possibility of being selected by the Blackhawks. “The history of that organization, that city with sports would be unbelievable. We’ll see what happens, but to be selected, that would be a huge honor.”

    Bedard said he’s following McDavid’s advice to stay in the moment and not peak too far ahead. He added, his dream to play in the NHL began no different than those of his colleagues: the moment he picked up a hockey stick growing up in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

    What separates Bedard, however, is his exceptional skating ability and a hard shot, which is even more lethal given his quick release.

    With Bedard the likely top pick, the intrigue at the draft is likely to revolve around who rounds out the remainder of the top five selections.

    University of Michigan’s Adam Fantilli is second among North American skaters on Central Scouting’s final list, followed by top American prospect, William Smith, who played for USA Hockey’s developmental program. The top two European skaters are also considered in the mix with Sweden’s Leo Carlsson and Russia’s Matvei Michkov.

    Anaheim is scheduled to pick second followed by Columbus, San Jose and Montreal.

    Marr gives the edge to Bedard while also being impressed with Fantilli – just the third freshman to win the Hobey Baker Trophy awarded to college hockey’s top players – in a draft class considered very deep with offensive-minded forwards.

    “You’re going to win with both,” Marr said. “And whoever gets these two players they’re going to help define a franchise.”

    What distinguishes Bedard, who doesn’t turn 18 until next month, has been his consistency.

    Last season, his 71 goals in just 57 games were the most in the WHL since Pavel Brendl scored 73 in 1998-99. Bedard’s 143 points were the most in the CHL since three players topped that mark in 1995-96. And it was a season in which he enjoyed 10 games with five or more points, and just five games in which he failed to register a point.

    In 2020-21, Bedard became just the third WHL 16-year-old to reach 100 points, and was the youngest to score 50 goals in finishing with 51.

    He’s also made a splash on the international stage. Bedard led Canada with nine goals and 23 points at the world juniors last winter, and his combined production of 17 goals and 36 points in just 16 games ranks fourth on the career tournament list.

    Bedard has honed his talent by spending countless hours practicing shots in his backyard, which he referred to as his “Happy Place.” He was so dedicated to work on his shot that he preferred practicing than joining his family for a vacation to Disneyland, and eventually vacationed in Hawaii but only after he was allowed to bring his inline skates and sticks to practice.

    Noted for being soft-spoken, Bedard said he’s not yet allowed himself to envision being drafted or making his NHL debut yet.

    “It’s hard kind of think of that. But of course, I’ll work as hard as I can to try to achieve that goal,” he said. “And hopefully I do.”

    Blue Jackets acquire D Damon Severson from Devils after he signs 8-year deal

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    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils on Friday after the veteran defenseman and soon-to-be free agent signed an eight-year $50 million contract.

    Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen sent a third-round pick, 80th overall, in this month’s draft to the Devils for Severson, who will be under contract through the 2030-31 NHL season.

    Severson had 58 goals and 205 assists in 647 career appearances with the Devils since making his NHL debut in 2014-15. He scored seven game-winning goals and averaged more than 21 minutes of playing time during his nine seasons. The 28-year-old had seven goals and 26 assists this season, including two game-winning goals, in 81 games.

    “Damon is a versatile defenseman who has great vision, moves the puck extremely well, has good size and can play heavy minutes at both ends of the ice,” Kekalainen said.

    The Canadian was selected in the second round in the 2012 draft. He has collected 30 or more points five times in his career and twice notched 11 or more goals. He played in every game in three straight seasons from 2018-21 and has played 80 or more contests four times in his career.

    With the addition of the third-round pick, New Jersey now has six selections in the draft, including its own picks in rounds two, four, five, six and seven.

    Matthew Tkachuk returns from big hit in Stanley Cup Final, adds more playoff heroics

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    Matthew Tkachuk was down, out briefly and then back with plenty of time to make a difference.

    The Florida Panthers star left early in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after a big hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, and he missed most of the first period and didn’t return immediately following intermission while being evaluated for a concussion. After looking as if he might be lost for the night, Tkachuk returned in the second and then came through with more of his now trademark playoff heroics.

    Tkachuk scored the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation, forcing overtime and giving the Panthers new life. He then provided the screen on Carter Verhaeghe‘s OT goal for a 3-2 victory that cut Florida’s series deficit to 2-1.

    The 25-year-old said he knew he was coming back when he left the game, pulled by concussion spotters. That absence felt like a long time ago in the aftermath of another big win he was largely responsible for.

    “I felt great – I feel great,” Tkachuk said. “I’m ready to go. Everybody’s excited that we’re in this position right now.”

    Florida is in this position rather than facing elimination in Game 4 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tkachuk, who also set up Brandon Montour‘s goal that opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

    Not long after, Tkachuk stumbled getting up after the hit from Kolesar and skated to the bench. He took a shift on Florida’s power play before going down the tunnel at the demand of concussion spotters mandated by NHL protocol.

    At that point, there was zero clarity, even on the Florida bench.

    “You’re not informed at all: It’s a complete shutdown,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You are completely in the dark on those. You don’t know when the player’s coming back. There’s not an update.”

    Players insist they were not worried. Montour called it a no-brainer.

    “He’s going to come back no matter what,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s really tough guy, and he’s going to battle through everything.”

    Tkachuk rejoined his teammates on the bench a few minutes into the second. When he stepped back onto the ice for his first shift since leaving, fans cheered and chanted, “Chucky! Chucky!”

    The crowd was even louder and threw rats when Tkachuk scored his biggest goal of many during this run to tie it. He didn’t get an assist on Verhaeghe’s goal but made it happen with a tape-to-tape pass in the neutral zone and was in front of Adin Hill when it happened.

    Asked if he was happy Tkachuk returned, Maurice joked that it was after midnight.

    “It was fine,” he quipped.

    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.