The Montreal Canadiens are a complete mess right now. There is not much debate about that. For a team that is (supposedly) built to win now, the fact that the team will likely miss the playoffs for the second time in three years is unacceptable. Sure the Habs have been dealing with some injury issues this year but the reality is that this team was not built for success. This team is a mess. It’s Marc Bergevin‘s mess.
Marc Bergevin’s Mess
Recently, Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said he trusted general manager Marc Bergevin to clean up his mess. It is unclear why the owner feels this way, but fans should expect Bergevin to be the GM through the season. Looking back at Bergevin’s tenure, especially his recent roster moves its hard to believe he is capable of cleaning up his mess. A closer look at the Habs roster also shows that cleaning up this mess is going to take some time.
One thing that has become quite clear is that Marc Bergevin struggles to negotiate contracts. Either that or he puts his faith in the wrong players. Taking a quick look at the Canadiens roster and there are several contracts signed or taken on that will be tied to the team for some time.
Based on cap friendly, the Canadiens have seven players signed through 2020-21. Seeing as these are the seven players signed long-term (for now), they make up Bergevin’s core.
- Jonathan Drouin ($5.5M, signed through 2022-23)
- Brendan Gallagher ($3.75M, signed through 2020-21)
- Andrew Shaw ($3.9M, signed through 2021-22)
- Shea Weber ($7.857M, signed through 2025-26)
- Jeff Petry ($5.5M, signed through 2020-21)
- Karl Alzner ($4.625M, signed through 2021-22)
- Carey Price ($10.5M, signed through 2025-26)
These seven players are signed for a combined cap hit of $41,632,143M. This essentially makes up the long-term core of the roster for the next four years. What sticks out is the three defencemen. Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Karl Alzner are going to be with the Canadiens for a long time. Based on how the Canadiens have struggled on defence this year, seeing that the Habs are locked into these three players for at least three more season’s is terrifying. While a roster is constantly in flux, these contracts are going to be extremely difficult move on from. Even if they can move these players, it’s not likely to bring much of return.
This core is nothing worth writing home about. It lacks a centre and relies more on grit and physicality over speed and skill. If this were 2003, this might be something, but in the modern NHL speed and skill are at a premium.
Marc Bergevin has also developed a bit of a spotty reputation dealing with re-signing his own players. He did get Max Pacioretty to sign a (well) below market value contract (six-years $27 million) back in 2012. That was a huge win. A constant 30-goal-scorer signed for under $5 million per season is a steal. The rest of his dealings have been questionable at best. He signed Pacioretty’s running mate, David Desharnais to a four-year $14 million contract in 2013. Desharnais and Pacioretty did have good chemistry, but Desharnais was not a $3.5 million player.
He, inexplicably, signed Alexei Emelin to a four year $16.4 million contract in 2013 while Emelin was recovering from knee surgery. He extended Emelin before even seeing him play. The result was disastrous as Emelin struggled to find consistency in his game for the rest of his tenure in Montreal.
The Canadiens forward with the highest cap hit right now is Tomas Plekanec, making $6 million. Bergevin signed him to a two-year, $12 million contract in 2015. Since signing that extension, Plekanec’s offensive game has disappeared. At the time of the signing, Plekanec was a week shy of his 33rd birthday. His play was starting to deteriorate, but the reality is nobody saw Plekanec’s play falling off this much. Still, offering big money to a player on the decline is not good managerial practice.
Bergevin got burnt with these deals, but they also seem to have influenced his practices moving forward. This past off-season, Bergevin was in contract negotiations with Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov. Bergevin lost out in re-signing both players and left the Habs with huge holes in their roster.
Negotiating With Talent
Possibly Marc Bergevin‘s biggest issue is how he negotiates. He is more than willing to offer long-term contracts to injured players (see, Emelin) or gritty players (see, Andre Shaw) but digs in on skilled players. His standoff with P.K. Subban is well known. Right away Bergevin was at odds with Subban. After the 2012 lockout ended, Subban, a restricted free agent at the time, was locked in a bitter contract dispute with Bergevin. Subban eventually signed a ‘bridge deal’ for two years. It backfired as Subban won the Norris trophy in 2013 and his play continued to improve. It was obvious that after this current deal, Subban was in for a big payday.
After the bridge deal expired, Subban and Bergevin were engaged in another contract dispute. It was a PR nightmare for the Habs general and the team. Subban took the Canadiens to arbitration. Rather than wait and see what the arbitrator would decide, Canadiens owner Geoff Molson intervened and Subban was signed to an eight-year, $72 million contract. Unfortunately, signing this contract was the beginning of the end for Subban in Montreal (more on that later).
He also dug in on the aforementioned Markov and Radulov, losing both to free agency. Even worse was his lack of a fall back plan in case he lost out on either or both.
Marc Bergevin’s free agent record doesn’t leave much to be desired. While it is difficult to entice free-agents to play in Montreal, he still has done a poor job of bringing in players. Here are the notable free agents acquired by Marc Bergevin:
Not exactly a murders row of talent. Bergevin uses free agency more to build the depth of his roster, which is not a bad strategy but his team also lacks talent. The only real win for Bergevin of this group was Radulov. And, again, he was unwilling to commit long-term after Radulov surpassed expectations in Montreal. Briere and Semin were attempts at helping the offence on the cheap that didn’t pan out. Prust was brought in to help with team toughness, an obsession of the general manager. None of these moves have helped the Canadiens long-term in any way.
The name that sticks out on the list, is Alzner. This is the player Bergevin actually offered big money and term. He invested heavily in a stay at home defender when his team was lacking in other areas. When he lost Radulov and Markov in free agency he had no contingency plan. He rushed to sign Mark Streit and Ales Hemsky to replace them and it has not gone well. To top this off, Bergevin was left with over $8 million in unused cap space heading into the year.
Again, free agency is not the best way to build a team, but if done right it can help. While there are external issues working against him, Bergevin has consistently not been able to take advantage of the free agent market to improve the Canadiens. In fact, he tends to make them worse.
Trading might be Marc Bergevin’s greatest asset and flaw. He is able to acquire fringe players that end up being key contributors. Dale Weise, Paul Byron (waiver claim), Phillip Danault, and Nicolas Deslauriers, were all acquired on the cheap and have been great players for the Habs. It is really quite amazing when you think of it. The unfortunate part of this is that none of these players is anything more than a bottom six. Sure sometimes they play higher roles but that is more because the Canadiens lack talent overall rather than it is their best position in the lineup.
Where Bergevin seems to stumble is when he makes big trades. He traded P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber. While on name value alone this looks like a decent trade, when you factor in age, contract and the direction the NHL is heading, it was a major loss for the Habs. He followed that up by trading Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa for Jonathan Drouin. While the jury is still out on this one, it has been a rough first season for Drouin in Montreal, while Sergachev has been excelling with the Lightning.
The problem with these two major trades is that they did not address the biggest issue on the team, centre ice. Sure, the Habs are playing Drouin at centre, but he is a natural winger. So they are using their prized offseason acquisition, out of position and expecting great things.
At The Deadline
Another issue Bergevin has is the trade deadline when the Habs are heading into the playoffs. The Canadiens have lacked scoring depth (among other things) during his tenure. Still, the Habs have, mostly, managed to overcome and make the playoffs. Still, to compete it was obvious the Habs needed some help. The one time he did get them help, 2014 when he acquired Thomas Vanek, the Habs went on a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Since then, Bergevin has only acquired depth for the Habs going into the playoffs. Players like Torrey Mitchell, Brian Flynn, Steve Ott, Dwight King and Andreas Martinsen are brought in on the cheap, but the Habs have won only one playoff series since 2014.
Can’t Have It Both Ways
Marc Bergevin’s team building philosophy is curious at best. He seems to ignore the issue with his roster and always is looking for a cheap fix. It hasn’t been working. While Canadiens owner Geoff Molson tasked Bergevin with making the playoffs ASAP when he was hired in 2012, Bergevin has been trying to rebuild and compete at the same time.
While it is always important to have a long-term outlook for the team, Bergevin needed to decide if this team was going all in or not. Unfortunately, he tried to do both and it has created this situation. A floundering team with an ageing roster. It’s not pretty. Someone needs to clean up this up. Normally you want the person that created the problem to clean it up, but what has Marc Bergevin done to show us he is capable of cleaning anything up. All he has done is make a complete mess of the Montreal Canadiens.