As we sit back and review the Montreal Canadiens trade deadline, it’s easy to understand what Marc Bergevin is focused on. Despite being just six points back of third in the Atlantic Division, Bergevin elected to sell off essentially all of his pending unrestricted free agents for draft picks. However, he decided to hold onto Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry, his two biggest trade chips. Some fans on social media have expressed their frustration from this and question how this helps the team. However, the explanation is pretty straight forward. The Montreal Canadiens trade deadline moves have the future in mind.
Montreal Canadiens Trade Deadline Moves Focus on the Future
The biggest key for the Habs to compete in the future is asset management. This is why the Montreal Canadiens trade deadline moves consisted of trading Ilya Kovalchuk, Nate Thompson, Marco Scandella and Nick Cousins. All these players were heading to free agency in the offseason. With a team that is most likely going to miss the postseason, it is better to move these players and get draft picks in return.
Of the four, Nick Cousins was the only player who was not unrestricted at the end of the season, meaning the other three could have just walked away for nothing. For a non-playoff team, this is not something you can let happen. Hence the moves.
However, after the interview with Kovalchuk, as he was leaving, it sounds like there’s a possibility of his return. Kovalchuk spoke of how much he enjoyed his time in Montreal. He said the team is like a family and signing in Montreal was the best decision he ever made. He also said that if he were to talk to other free agents, he would assure them that they are wrong about Montreal. Montreal is one of the best places in the world to play. As Kovalchuk said, “It’s not goodbye, for sure.”
We saw a move similar to this after the Habs traded Tomas Plekanec to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade deadline in 2018. The Habs picked up two players and a second-round pick in return for Plekanec. Plekanec then elected to re-sign with the Habs in the offseason. This is certainly a strong possibility for Kovalchuk. As well as a possibility for Scandella and Thompson, if Bergevin sees them as players that can help them next season.
Why Hold onto Petry and Tatar then?
Bergevin explained that he wants to compete next year. Rightfully so. Who doesn’t? Trading Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry would create two holes that Bergevin then needs to fill in the offseason. Why create a hole in the lineup when you don’t need to? Who is going to fill in 24 minutes of ice time per night for Jeff Petry? The Habs certainly can’t expect a youngster like Cale Fleury or Josh Brook to jump into the top four and log those type of minutes. That would not be good for their development whatsoever. They’re not ready to take on that type of load. Bergevin would then need to go out and use the parts he acquired for Petry, in order to get another Jeff Petry. It sounds like a pointless lateral move to me. Again, this is asset management.
Given both players still have a year remaining on their contract, the Habs still have the opportunity to move both those players in the offseason or trade deadline next season. This would be the case IF the Habs do not compete next season or if a hockey deal presents itself in the offseason. See, when draft day comes, you get more suitors for players. Teams evaluate and try to make moves to improve their teams for the upcoming season, rather than just teams trying to bolster their lineups for a playoff run. Teams are more willing to do hockey deals at this point, rather than just move picks and prospects for certain players.
We all remember the infuriated fans when the Habs did not move Max Pacioretty at the trade deadline in 2018. How did that turn out? Bergevin managed to get an excellent return before the season opener in 2018 where he received Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a second-round pick in exchange for Pacioretty. Trades don’t end at the deadline when the player is not a UFA. If Bergevin gets an offer in the offseason that helps better his club, he will surely make it.
How Does That Prove His Vision is on the Future?
The definition of the word future is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as follows: The events that will happen after the present time. A lot of fans get confused and think that when a general manager speaks of the future, he automatically means three or four years down the road. That’s not the case here. Tomorrow is the future. In Marc Bergevin’s case, the draft is the future. Next season is the future. This is what Marc Bergevin is talking about. He wants to build his team through the draft, as he has shown. Bergevin has made 21 selections over the past two drafts. He currently holds 14 picks at the 2020 draft and another 10 at the 2021 draft. That’s a total of 45 selections over four years. Over a four year span, teams would normally start with 28.
Because of this, Bergevin has managed to build up what many are calling a top-five prospect pool in the NHL. Scott Wheeler of The Athletic recently put the Habs at number two.
So not only do the Canadiens have the parts in place to be competitive down the road, holding on to players like Tatar and Petry only better their chances for next season. And because they have built such an impressive prospect pool lead by players like Cole Caufield, Alexander Romanov and Cayden Primeau, they now hold solid trade chips to better their club even further. I’m not suggesting trading the players I just mentioned. However, with the number of prospects and picks the Canadiens have available, not all of them can make the roster. Marc Bergevin now has the tools needed to make big trades as early as this coming offseason to better his club and make them competitive for next season.
What’s Next for the Habs?
Now that the trade deadline is over, it’s time for Bergevin to focus on the draft and the offseason. He has to put his money where his mouth is. Bergevin stresses he wants to compete next year. He held onto Petry and Tatar to give him a better chance to do so. So now it’s time to make the necessary moves to show that is the plan.
We all know he tried last year. He signed Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet that was matched. He also tried to sign Matt Duchene. However, Duchene chose Nashville. As a colleague of mine has said “I don’t want to hear about trying. He has been trying for eight years. He needs to DO.”
He’s right. You can’t turn hope and dreams or attempts to make big moves into Stanley Cups. You need to actually make the big move. Bergevin has shown over his time as general manager that he is not afraid to make them. Luring free agents has not been his strong suit. Trades, on the other hand, have been. Pierre LeBrun wrote in a recent article after the trade deadline that after speaking with colleagues of Bergevin over the past few weeks, they expect Bergevin to be swinging for the fences this offseason.
In a recent piece written by Stu Cowan for the Montreal Gazette, Coach Claude Julien also mentions that every move Bergevin made is strategic.
“Everything Marc has done is strategic. There’s reasons for and, unfortunately, not everybody knows everything and, unfortunately, we can’t divulge everything. There’s conversations, there’s non-conversations, there’s reasons for different things. But, at the end of the day, it’s all strategic and that’s where the trust has to come into play and whether it’s from the fan base, from the players, etc.”
That’s exciting news for Habs fans. This team and its fan base deserve playoffs. This group has worked hard night in and night out to try to get them there. However, the lack of talent and injuries stifled them.
If Bergevin wants to win with Carey Price and Shea Weber, it’s time for him to use his cap space, picks and prospects in order to put the final touches on this team and make them into a true Stanley Cup contender. And he needs to do it, starting this offseason.