Montreal Canadiens Enter The Dark Ages
NHL Free Agents Shun Montreal
A lack of interest from free agents might be the most damning indictment of the Montreal Canadiens. None of the major UFAs reported interest in the franchise, including John Tavares, who chose to serve the Habs eternal rival instead. Paul Stastny accepted less money to move to Vegas.
There’s no denying that Montreal’s a destination of last resort for the current generation of unrestricted free agents in the NHL. Drafted talent like Price, Pacioretty and Gallagher remain loyal to the team, but GM Marc Bergevin maintains a hardline, “no negotiation” stance which caused Radulov and Markov to flee.
Winning begets winning players in the NHL, one of the main reasons why free agents haven’t defected to La Belle Province. The Canadiens don’t have a tax advantage like teams in Dallas and Vegas, forcing management to pay players a greater sum. Montreal’s a terrific city, but some players prefer a market with a less intense hockey culture and media presence – especially when the team doesn’t play well.
A large gulf separates top free agent destinations from organizations which struggle to capture the interest of valuable UFAs. Toronto’s a superb example of a club which rejuvenated their prestige, attracting Patrick Marleau and John Tavares, who spent their careers with a single club before moving north.
Until organizational change occurs, Montreal will remain estranged from the best talent on the free agent market. At least Tomas Plekanec agreed to return to Montreal.
Bergevin Deconstructed A Winner
Hindsight’s 20/20, but the beginning of the end felt like the P.K. Subban trade, which has proven disastrous. The Canadiens can’t even blame Weber, because he’s played well, anchoring the blueline. Instead of continuing to support a Norris Trophy winning defenseman, Marc Bergevin decided to swap for an older all-star.
This age difference ended up crucial: Weber’s last game played was December 16th due to a foot injury. Recent reports show that Weber will remain out of the lineup until December to recover from knee surgery. In the meantime, Subban received Norris praise for his 2018 campaign as a superstar with the west-leading Predators.
Last season, Bergevin decided to send Mikhail Sergachev to the Lightning for Drouin, a player who fell out of favor with Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman. Sergachev made an immediate impact as a scoring defenseman for the east-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. Mikhail’s superb rookie season promises to provide Tampa with another top four defender until Sergachev becomes a UFA, while Drouin will need to improve to compete against other top centers around the NHL.
Remember Lars Eller? The Canadiens received two second-round draft picks, while Washington scored a Stanley Cup winner who filled the skates of Nicklas Backstrom when the all-star pivot suffered an injury during the Capitals cup run.
The latest potential disaster involves Alex Galchenyuk, a talented forward with 30-goal, 60-point upside. His last two seasons have been tumultuous, partly due to injury and a circus-like environment. He was traded for Max Domi, a pass-first winger who’s been unable to recapture a strong rookie campaign. Arizona features a superb group of young talent which meshed well during the last half of the season, giving Alex a shot at a top-six role. Domi enters Montreal as the club struggles to cobble together a competitive lineup.
Weber might return to health and win a Norris; Domi could turn into an elite playmaker and Drouin might stake a claim as a top NHL scorer under the tutelage of coach Claude Julien. However, sending Subban, Eller, Sergachev and Galchenyuk to rivals for such little in return has devastated the Habs.
The irony: Bergevin’s been in “win-now” mode the entire time.
Ennui Envelops Historic Franchise
Indications suggest that the Montreal Canadiens are attempting a “reset” instead of a rebuild, suggesting that the franchise remains close to competing for a Stanley Cup. A quick look at the roster reveals thin forward depth and a defense which will miss Weber greatly for the first few months of the 2018-19 NHL season.
Even under optimal circumstances, the Canadiens don’t feature the personnel needed to conquer the best hockey teams on the planet. As such, this reset makes sense only under the context of GM Marc Bergevin’s attempts to win quickly, which have backfired spectacularly. Few would put money down on the Canadiens progressing deep into the playoffs.
Montreal fans like to chant ‘1967’ whenever they spot Toronto fans, reminding Leafs boosters of their team’s lengthy championship drought. Currently, the Canadiens franchise looks like the Maple Leafs of old, enveloped in a losing ennui. Soon, Toronto fans might be chanting ‘1993’, reminding Habs fanatics of a Stanley Cup drought which now spans a quarter of a century.
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