According to Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports, Montreal Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin is interested in bringing back depth defenseman Victor Bartley and tough guy Mike Brown for the 2016-17 season. Bartley and Brown are both set to become unrestricted free agents in July.
Brown, 30, was acquired by the Canadiens at the trade deadline this past season, off of waivers. The move foreshadowed an eventual trade that would see Devante Smith-Pelly traded to the New Jersey Devils for reclamation project Stefan Matteau. Brown was thought of as a warm body to fill out the roster, but the physical player saw action in 14 games in a Habs uniform, notching two points and dropping the gloves three times, while more-talented prospects like Sven Andrighetto were seated in the press box.
The biggest assets Brown provides to the Canadiens is his willingness to fight, his aggressive forecheck and the belief that the team plays bigger when he is dressed. A few problems with this though, as the Canadiens already have a surplus of bottom-six players that can do most of these things, while fighting remains an element that is used among a dwindling minority of players that believe it’s still part of the game, so they can remain relevant in the league. With players like Torey Mitchell, Paul Byron, Brian Flynn and Stefan Matteau all under contract, and restricted free agents Phillip Danault, Daniel Carr, Lucas Lessio and Sven Andrighetto all looking for new contracts and a spot on the team, one could argue that there simply isn’t room for Brown on this team.
Unfortunately, the need to flex muscles and pound faces is still alive and well in the National Hockey League, and until that changes, players like Brown will hover around and arguments will be made that if he drops the gloves, players like Nathan Beaulieu and Mike McCarron can concentrate on their game instead of fighting. However, Beaulieu is a tough kid that doesn’t back down from a challenge regardless of who is in the line-up, and McCarron himself believes fighting needs to be a part of his game in order to stay up with the big club, and his physical style leads to a line of challengers ready to take him on any time he lays a big hit. So again, is there really room for Brown on this team?
On a team that has more than enough bottom-six players already locked to deals, and a few RFAs that could challenge for spots, the $1 million or so spent on a player like Mike Brown cold go towards something the Habs actually need, like say, oh I don’t know, a top-six forward or two?
The other name that is popping up is that of Victor Bartley, a depth defenseman that was part of the trade that sent prospect Jarred Tinordi to Arizona. The Canadiens also received All-Star MVP John Scott in the deal, where he played the majority of his time in the AHL, as part of the St. John’s IceCaps.
The 28-year-old blue-liner made $666,666 and ironically looks like former Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk, and spent nine games with the Canadiens and 10 games with the IceCaps. He provides depth to the Canadiens crop of defenseman and his assets beyond that pretty much end there. He’s a decent spot-filler to have if some of the younger defensemen aren’t prepared to make the jump next season, like a Ryan Johnston, Joel Hanley or Darren Dietz, all of whom saw playing time with the Habs this past season.
There are also prospects in the pipeline itching to move up the radar like Noah Juulsen, Dalton Thrower and Brett Lernout, so Bartley could be swapped in and out of the line-up, and sent to St. John’s if needed, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing. There’s also Mark Barberio who could serve this role quite well and he wouldn’t charge too much for his services either. The hometown kid played 30 games in Montreal, put up 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) and served well in his time in the AHL, where he put up 20 points (2 goals, 18 assists) in 26 games.
They could also sign both because, as Marc Bergevin believes, there is no such thing as too much depth. Especially on the blue-line.
The Canadiens also closed the chapter on defenseman Tom Gilbert and goaltender Ben Scrivens, to the surprise of just about nobody. Gilbert was brought in for the 2014-15 campaign on a two-year deal as a cost-effective move, which came directly after the trade of Josh Gorges. He put up 14 points in 117 games with the Canadiens, and was rumored to be on the trade block at last season’s trade deadline, however a knee injury put an end to that possibility and the 33-year-old missed the remainder of the season.
Finally, Ben Scrivens saw his time in Montreal (and possibly the NHL) come to an end when he couldn’t keep his spot, or his balance, in the line-up, losing his spot to prospect Charlie Lindgren, a 22-year-old NCHC goaltender who appeared in one game with the Habs and secured a win after surrendering just two goals on 26 shots.
Scrivens was acquired from Edmonton’s goaltender cemetery in exchange for disgruntled and troubled forward Zack Kassian, at a time when the Canadiens management couldn’t figure out a solution to why they weren’t scoring as many goals as they hoped. Montreal had hope that the 29-year-old would aid Mike Condon in guarding the Canadiens goal while Carey Price was sidelined, but after a 5-8-0 record in 15 starts and a .906 save percentage to show for it, Scrivens was buried in the minors and forgotten about.