Marc Bergevin

Bergevin has Canadiens back on right track

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Although it’s not official just yet, it looks like the Montreal Canadiens will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. But this time, there will be more of a positive feeling heading into the offseason.

Coming into last season, expectations were high for this Canadiens team. They had been bounced in the first of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New York Rangers and fans were expecting the team to take the next step. Unfortunately, Carey Price was injured and the team completely fell apart.

General manager Marc Bergevin’s seat appeared to be incredibly hot going into last summer. The pressure was on. With lowered expectations, the Habs found a way to compete for a playoff spot until the very end of the season. What’s even more impressive, is that captain Shea Weber missed the first two months of the season and franchise goalie Carey Price had a rocky start to the season.

How did they manage to stay in the race? Well, their GM bounced back in a big way.

Bergevin had a very strong off-season.

It started with selecting Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall in the NHL Entry Draft. No one expected him to stick with the team all year, but he proved that he was ready. Even though he’s faded down the stretch, he showed that he has the potential to be a special player for years.

The Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk trade wasn’t well received by most Canadiens fans and media at first, but those doubts quickly faded as it became clear that Domi was made for a hockey market like Montreal. Heading into the final game of the season, the 24-year-old has 28 goals and 71 points in 81 games. As of this moment, it looks like the Habs won that deal.

On June 30th, Bergervin decided to eat Steve Mason’s cap hit (he was bought out by the Habs) in order to acquire Joel Armia from the Winnipeg Jets. Armia proved to be a useful bottom-six player with size (the Canadiens don’t have many big bodies, especially up front).

A day before training camp, they shipped Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki, and Columbus’ second-round pick in 2019. Although things didn’t work out for Tatar in Vegas, he fit in like a glove in Montreal, as he spent most of the year on the team’s top line with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. Tatar has 25 goals and 58 points in 79 games. On the flip side, Pacioretty has 22 goals and 40 points in 65 games with the Golden Knights. Again, that’s a win for Bergevin.

On Oct. 1, the Canadiens and Calgary Flames made a minor swap involving three defensemen. Montreal sent Rinat Valiev and Matt Taormina to Calgary in exchange for Brett Kulak. Both players acquired by the Flames failed to play in an NHL game this season. As for Kulak, he started the year in the minors, but quickly emerged as a top-four defender for the Candaiens this season. The pending restricted free agent will surely get a raise (he made less than a million dollars this year) going into next season.

Even at this year’s trade deadline, Bergevin sent Michael Chaput to Arizona for Jordan Weal, who fit in nicely with his new team. Weal played on the power play and he added more depth offense to a team that relies on all four of its lines to chip in. The 26-year-old has picked up a respectable eight points in 15 games since joining the Canadiens.

Whether the Canadiens get into the playoffs are not, they’re miles ahead of where they were at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. Yes, their past struggles were created by Bergevin, but he’s found a way to get the organization back on the rails. Now, the challenge will be to built upon the season they just had.

They have cap space and plenty of needs. And this time, not making the playoffs won’t be an option. Bergevin has to find a way to improve the left side of the defense and he has to add some more scoring punch to this group. He deserves the benefit of the doubt based on his body of work in 2018-19, but this is another huge year for him and his legacy in Montreal.

So as crushing as the loss to the Washington Capitals was last night, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this organization is heading in the right direction again.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL on NBCSN: Bergevin’s patient approach is right one for Canadiens

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday night’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Canadiens were bad last year. Really bad. Most owners would’ve parted ways with everyone in the front office, but team president Geoff Molson decided to stick with his general manager, Marc Bergevin. As you’d imagine, expectations weren’t very high coming into this year. Not only have the Habs exceeded those expectations, they’ve managed to keep themselves in the playoff mix, and a lot of that is because of the work Bergevin put in over the summer.

Trading Alex Galchenyuk for Max Domi, shipping Max Pacioretty to Vegas for a package that included Tomas Tatar (help today), Nick Suzuki (help tomorrow) and a draft pick, and drafting Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall in June have all been wins for Bergevin.

Domi and Kotkaniemi make up two of Montreal’s top three centermen and Tatar is tied for second on the team in goals.

After spending a couple of weeks in British Columbia at the IIHF World Junior Championship, Bergevin met the media back at the Bell Center last week. Not only did he touch on the performance of some of his top prospects at the tournament, he also shed some more light on the current state of his team.

Even though the Habs are pushing for a playoff spot, it’s clear that he won’t be making any trades that involve his young prospects. No giving up draft picks for rentals, either.

“I’m always going to be listening to options, but the goal is to build for the future. Just to give up assets for the short-term, I’m not going to do it. It would have to be very appealing,” said Bergevin. “If there are young players available, assets have to go. I get that. But, I don’t think I’ll be in the rental business.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

“Based on what I saw in Vancouver, the future of the Canadiens is very bright. I’m not going to start mortgaging the future. I know what’s coming with the World Juniors, who they’re going to be asking for, and I’m not moving these kids. It’s going to be a short conversation, I think… If we drafted these kids, it’s because we believe they have some potential. That came to the forefront in Vancouver with our prospects that really stepped up their games.”

What he’s saying is, Suzuki, Ryan Poehling, Josh Brook, Jesse Ylonen, Alexander Romanov, Cayden Primeau, Cale Fleury and a few others aren’t going anywhere if the return is only a short-term gain. But as Bergevin pointed out, if there’s a hockey trade to be made, he won’t shy away from pulling the trigger if it means his team is better for it in the long run.

Bergevin’s slow and steady approach is the right one. Even though his team has a chance to get into the postseason, there are too many big holes on the roster to make them a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. They still need help down the middle and they’re lacking a left-shooting defenseman that can play big minutes on the top pairing with Shea Weber.

Those aren’t pieces that become available too often, so it’s unlikely that Bergevin will be able to fill those holes with an in-season trade or two. So, although getting into the playoffs with a healthy Weber and Carey Price would be a bonus, it shouldn’t affect the way the GM views his team right now.

Patience is key. Canadiens fans should appreciate that their front office realizes that.

John Forslund (play-by-play), AJ Mleczko (analyst) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from TD Garden in Boston, Mass.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

No big moves needed as Predators primed for another Cup run

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Another summer is here, and the warm months wouldn’t be complete without hearing fresh P.K. Subban trade rumors.

This isn’t exactly all that surprising, of course. The Nashville Predators’ defenseman is one of the league’s premier rearguards and comes with the possibility of quite the haul in return in any deal swung for him. And he just seems to have this knack for working his way into the rumor mill

Case and point: he’s on TSN’s Trade Bait board this year, and he’s inside the Top 10, just for good measure.

But while it might not come as a shock to the hockey world to see Subban’s name being thrown around in the trade winds again, there’s absolutely no reason why the Predators would want to trade one of the league’s top defenseman away from a team that remains so well-positioned in the Central Division, the Western Conference and the NHL as a whole.

Let’s review: Subban is a great defenseman that’s sound in puck possession, shot suppression and putting up points.

Naturally, Predators general manager David Poile has subsequently shot down the rumors regarding Subban, who has four years remaining on a seven year, $72 million deal with an annual cap hit of $9 million.

“You see tweets from different places, but that’s not happening,” Poile told The Athletic‘s Pierre LeBrun. “P.K. played terrific this year. He played really well. He’s a really good player. He’s one of the three candidates for the Norris Trophy. I really don’t know where this comes from.”

We’ve seen this song and dance before.

But while Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin couldn’t ultimately be believed in the end, there’s no reason to think Poile would drop that bomb in his defensive corps, one that is largely staying the same aside from Alexei Emelin becoming a unrestricted free agent.

That vaunted core on the back end — arguably the best in the NHL with Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis (a UFA after next season) — is all under contract

Let’s not forget that the Predators are one year removed from the Stanley Cup Final, and that they lost a tight series to the Winnipeg Jets in second round this season. And most importantly, let’s not lose track of the fact that Nashville is still in prime position to make another run this upcoming season.

Scott Hartnell is gone, but the Predators only have two other players searching for new deals — Ryan Hartman and Miikka Salomaki, both restricted free agents and filler pieces rather than key cogs. Everyone else is under contract and the Predators can look forward to Eeli Tolvanen entering the lineup next season.

Juuse Saros is an RFA in goal (and you’d have to think the Predators will want to square that one away ASAP with 35-year-old Pekka Rinne set to become a UFA next offseason) but their lineup will look quite similar to that of this past season, one which led the Predators to the 117 points and the Presidents’ Trophy during the regular season.

The Predators are sitting pretty, too, under the cap, with $7.5 million to give in its current state — a number that is expected to rise with next season’s cap being projected in the $78 million to $82 million range.

If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it. And that cliche certainly applies to the Predators this summer.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Does Canadiens locker room really need attitude adjustment?

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If you listened to the year-end press conferences in Montreal on Monday, you noticed that general manager Marc Bergevin and owner Geoff Molson used the word “attitude” several times throughout their hour-long media availability. For those of you that are familiar with Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens, you probably realized that it sounded a lot like the “lack of character” speech he delivered after the 2015-16 season. What happened that summer? The Canadiens traded P.K. Subban. So what’s going to happen this time around?

Bergevin made it abundantly clear that, in his mind, adding all the talent in the world wouldn’t matter much if the players coming into the locker room didn’t have a better attitude than the group that’s in there right now.

“It was a disappointing season from start to finish, and that was unacceptable,” Bergevin said in his opening remarks. “The overall attitude of our team needs to change. We will do a complete assessment of our hockey operations and as the general manager I take my share of responsibilities for the season, but we’re all in this together.

“I believe that an attitude can change a lot of things. Players? of course, players can make things better, but if you have good players that don’t have the right attitude- I could bring anybody here and if the attitude is not better, we’re going to be in the same spot. And it’s my job to address that and it started today.”

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

With one breath, Bergevin took some of the blame for what happened in Montreal this year, with another breath, he made sure to mention the attitude problem countless times. But let’s be real, the players’ poor attitude didn’t sign Karl Alzner to a rich five-year contract, the players’ poor attitude didn’t sign Ales Hemsky and Mark Streit to replace Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov. Yes, the Hemsky and Streit signings were low-risk, but those two veterans were expected to contribute.

That’s not to say that Bergevin hasn’t made good moves during his tenure as GM (he acquired Jeff Petry via trade, he stole Phillip Danault from Chicago), but he’s had a bit more of a difficult time over the last couple of years. Sure, a better attitude may have helped the Canadiens win a few more games this season, but having better players on their roster would have had more of an impact on the win column in 2017-18.

Since acquiring Shea Weber two years ago, the Canadiens still haven’t found a left-handed defenseman to play with him. Prior to the start of training camp, Bergevin mentioned David Schlemko and Jordie Benn as possible partners for their number one blue liner. As most would’ve expected, that didn’t work out too well.

Then, there’s the hole(s) down the middle that they haven’t been able to fill. Heading into the offseason, there’s a legitimate case to be made that they need a first line center and a second line center to be competitive. Of course, there’s a unique opportunity to land a player like John Tavares should he decide to hit unrestricted free agency. But if that doesn’t work out, where will that leave them?

Does going after 32-year-olds like Paul Stastny or Tyler Bozak make sense? Probably, but landing free agents isn’t easy. They’ll probably have to pay way over market value for older players who play the position, but they have no choice if they want to be competitive again.

That leads us to our last question. Is patching up holes with veterans a better alternative to rebuilding from the ground up? The organization doesn’t seem to think so. We’ll see if the decision proves to be right or wrong over the next few years.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Marc Bergevin a firm believer Canadiens can turn season around

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Hours before the Montreal Canadiens won their second in a row with a 5-2 dispatching of the Vancouver Canucks Sunday night, general manager Marc Bergevin held court with the media and stated he wasn’t ready to begin thinking about the draft lottery.

“As of now we haven’t thrown in the towel,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do to get into the playoffs, and for the next 41 games we’ll evaluate the team closely and make the necessary decisions for the good of the organization in the short and long term. I believe it’s possible [to make the playoffs], but I also believe a lot of things have to change for us to do it. If we keep on the same pattern as the first half, it’s not going to be possible, but I believe.”

With the win Sunday night the Canadiens are seven points out of an Eastern Conference wild card spot, which is probably their only lifeline given that they are 12 points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for third in the Atlantic Division. Seeing how competitive the Metropolitan Division has been, the Habs are going to have to go on several hot streaks over the final 40 games of their season to have a shot at a postseason berth.

It hasn’t been an easy year for the Canadiens. Carey Price missed time. Shea Weber has been out since mid-December and only played 26 games. Jonathan Drouin is still finding his way while his GM says his long-term future is probably on the wing, but the team needs him at center.

“A lot of things have to change,” which, according to Bergevin, means that help will need to come from the players on the roster and not from the outside.

“In the perfect world, would I love to add a piece to help them? Of course,” Bergevin said. “But to sacrifice the future and be taking a major risk to hurt the organization for the long term? I’m not ready to do that. And to be honest with you, the short-term solution, there’s nobody out there that I’m aware of that’s going to come and turn this thing around.”

In the meantime, Habs fans will look at the seasons of Drouin and free agent acquisition Karl Alzner and then peer over at what Alex Radulov and Mikhail Sergachev are doing in Dallas and Tampa Bay, respectively, and want to reach for the pitch forks. The last two seasons have seen Montreal miss the playoffs and exit in the first round after a 103-point, division-winning campaign. Blame has already been placed on one coach and he’s gone (Michel Therrien). The hottest seat has since resided in Bergevin’s office.

“I think it starts with me, to the coaches, to the players,” Bergevin said. “I think we’re all in this together and we all have to take responsibility.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.