The highs and lows of the Marc Bergevin era in Montreal

Montreal Canadiens
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The Montreal Canadiens made sweeping changes to their organization this weekend, firing general manager Marc Bergevin on Sunday afternoon.

It closes the book on an up-and-down chapter of Canadiens history that had a little bit of success, a lot of mediocrity, and a disappointing start to the 2021-22 season.

During Bergevin’s tenure the Canadiens compiled a .557 points percentage that placed them 18th in the league (including the Vegas and Seattle starts), accurately defining the past decade of Canadiens hockey. Rarely great, rarely awful, just always kind of existing.

When the Canadiens did make the playoffs they did find a bit more success, winning 37 games during Bergevin’s tenure, the 10th most in the league during that stretch. That includes a trip to the Eastern Conference Final during the 2013-14 season and a stunning trip to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final that was only made possible by the reconfigured divisions for that season (and a stunning playoff performance from starting goalie Carey Price).

[Related: Canadiens fire general manager Marc Bergevin]

Along the way there were a lot of trades and free agent signings that helped shaped the Canadiens.

Let us now take a look back at some of the moves that defined the Bergevin era.

Best move: The Jeff Petry trade

Honestly, this might not even be close. This trade turned out to be that good for Montreal. The Edmonton Oilers had no idea what they had in Petry (or maybe they just did not care?) and sent him to Montreal for a second-and fourth-round draft pick in 2015. All Petry has done since is become one of the league’s steadiest all-around defenders, blending strong defensive zone play, great possession driving ability, and top-pairing offense together to give Montreal one of its best players. He turned that into two long-term contract extensions with Montreal, netting him more than $58 million in total. While his current deal might not retain its value the entire way through, his initial six-year, $33 million deal was one of the league’s best bargains.

Honorable mentions: Signing Tyler Toffoli to a four-year, $17 million contract in 2021; trading Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise for Phillip Danault.

Boldest move(s): The week of June 26-July 1, 2016

This was quite a week in Montreal Canadiens history.

A quick rundown of everything that happened.

  • June 24, 2016: Traded Lars Eller to the Washington Capitals for 2017 and 2018 second-round draft picks
  • June 24, 2016: Acquired Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Blackhawks for two 2016 second-round draft picks
  • June 29, 2016: Traded P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber
  • July 1, 2016: Signed Alexander Radulov to a one-year, $5.75 million contract

Now that is an overhaul.

The Canadiens did end up making the playoffs that season, losing in the first round, but there are a lot of mixed results in here.

Signing Radulov turned out to be a steal for that season, but they were unable to keep him from leaving in free agency the following season.

Shaw was not bad, but he was not really somebody that moved the needle in a meaningful way, either. Plus, one of those second-round draft picks that went to Chicago? Turned out to be Alex DeBrincat.

Eller went on to be a key cog in the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup win, while Montreal was unable to turn those draft picks into anything.

Then there is the blockbuster trade: Subban for Weber. That one sent shockwaves throughout the league and ended in a couple of years of speculation about Subban’s future in Montreal. In the immediate aftermath? It seemed like a clear loss for Montreal. Subban was younger, the better player, and had a better contract while Weber looked to be breaking down physically.

Subban went to Nashville and immediately helped the Predators reach the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

But within a couple of years Subban’s play began to rapidly decline out of nowhere and Nashville was at a point where it was willing to give him away just to get out from under his contract. There was a strong argument to be made the past couple of years that Weber had actually been the better player, and then helped lead Montreal on its stunning Stanley Cup Final run a year ago.

Now, though, Weber’s career looks to be over and his contract still has another four years remaining with a $7.8 million cap hit.

Move that looked good and backfired: The Jonathan Drouin trade

After the 2016-17 season the Canadiens traded Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay for Jonathan Drouin. I get the mindset here. Sergachev had big potential, but he was still a prospect that was an unknown. Drouin was a former top-three pick that had started to find his game in Tampa Bay, was still only 21 years old, and looked like he had a chance to be a big-time, impact player.

It just has not worked out.

Sergachev developed into a top-pairing defender in Tampa Bay for a back-to-back Stanley Cup winner.

Move that turned out better than expected: The Max Pacioretty trade

Pacioretty was an outstanding player in Montreal, and probably under appreciated for much of his tenure there. Trading him was no small choice. But if they had to do it, they did pretty good on the return getting Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar, and a secod-round pick in return from the Vegas Golden Knights.

Tatar (speaking of under appreciated and under utilized) was Montreal’s leading scorer in his three years with the team and part of a dominant line alongside Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher that was one of the league’s best.

Suzuki, meanwhile, looks like he has a chance to be a core player for years in Montreal.

Did Montreal win that trade? Probably not. Tough to win a trade where you are giving up the best player. But the Canadiens did well here.

Move that seemed bad and turned out bad: The Karl Alzner signing

Sometimes a move gets made and you just know, right away, that it is not going to work. This is one of those moves. Alzner was already looking like a fraction of his former self in his final year in Washington, while the NHL was pretty clearly drifting away from traditional stay-at-home defenders in favor of more mobile, puck-moving players. The Canadiens, undeterred by both of these things variables, powered forward with a five-year, $23.125 million contract. Alzner played just 95 games with the Canadiens over three seasons while his contract was eventually bought out.

Worst move: Drafting Logan Mailloux

Here is how Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson responded to this pick in the days after it was made.

I understand that you expect more from us and we let you down. The Montreal Canadiens are more than a hockey team. Logan’s actions do not reflect the values of our organization and I apologize for the pain this selection has caused.

When your owner has to say that, while announcing your top pick will not be attending rookie camp or training camp with the team, you know you made an awful pick and an indefensible decision.

Mailloux told teams before the draft that he wanted to be excluded from the draft following a 2020 conviction while playing in Sweden for taking and circulating a photo of a woman performing a sex act without her consent.

Despite that, the Canadiens not only selected him. They used their top pick on him. It was the cherry on top of a brutal offseason that saw the Canadiens lose Danault, Tatar, and Kotkaniemi, while Weber was lost for the season.

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    Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

    Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

    There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

    While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

    Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

    Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

    “It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

    Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

    The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

    “I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

    It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

    “This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

    Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

    Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

    “The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

    Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

    “We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

    UP NEXT

    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.