Marc Bergevin’s midseason presser earlier this month did nothing to excite hopes that a quick turnaround is imminent. Which it isn’t, of course. Not with this team, and certainly not on his watch. The $7.5 million kitty he has to play around with remains unspent—a vivid testament to the corner into which he painted himself when he was unable to sign Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov. Yet somehow the Habs GM found a way to deflect responsibility for the apparent lack of a backup plan by suggesting (incredibly) that the situation was beyond his control.
Codswallop. Letting them walk was an egregious mistake.
The Canadiens, it’s clear, are not the same team without them.
Bergevin’s insistence on a one-year deal, in Markov’s case, came back to hurt the Habs, when the right thing to do would have been to give the taciturn Russian an extra year of term for distinguished service to the organization. The Moscow-born defenceman, it bears recalling, returned to play after back-to-back ACL tears – a feat seldom accomplished in all of professional sports – and was the Canadiens’ most complete defenceman for the better part of 17 years.
Markov, the consummate mensch, bowed out quietly, electing to play in the KHL rather than sign with another NHL club (and based on the Markovian numbers he’s put up thus far this season, it’s clear the former Hab has still got some game). If anyone deserves a place of honour in the team’s crowded pantheon of greats, delivered with the pomp and circumstance only the Canadiens are capable of, surely, it’s Andrei Markov.
In the meantime, a rash of midseason injuries has forced Claude Julien to juggle his roster. The ongoing carousel across the lineup has done nothing, on most nights, to ignite the team’s sagging offence. But the Habs have shown signs of coming around, even in back-to-back overtime losses to the Bruins and Islanders last week. There are fewer passengers, and in the absence of several regulars, Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and Charles Hudon have stepped up their play, Jeff Petry has rediscovered his speed game, and Jakub Jerabek has begun to show why he was among the KHL’s top-scoring defencemen before making the jump to the NHL. Perhaps most heartening, for Habs fans, is that Julien has got the team playing with a greater sense of urgency (at least until Wednesday, when they marked his Beantown homecoming with an atrocious effort).
Wins are what’s needed at this stage—at a clip that would shock even the most sanguine Habs fan.
Within a few weeks, the organization will confirm what we pretty much know already, and that’s that the Habs are entering a rebuild (possibly disguised as a retool) by shedding some assets, starting with Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and Andrew Shaw. You can probably include Jordie Benn and Joe Morrow in that group, and Karl Alzner, too, though the Habs would have to shoulder part of his contract—a dream scenario at best. You have to wonder whether all those hard minutes and shot blocks have finally begun to catch up with the former Washington Capital, who stands fifth among NHL ironmen with 470 consecutive games played. On a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, Alzner is no more than a depth defenceman—a very expensive one at that.
The growing consensus, among the punditry, is that Galchenyuk deserves a fresh start—an idea most would have considered preposterous only a few years ago, after his breakout 30-goal season. How did it come to this? For one, Galchenyuk was fast-tracked to the NHL, bypassing the AHL altogether after missing all but a handful of games during his final full OHL season. Like others before him – Guillaume Latendresse, Jarred Tinordi and Louis Leblanc come to mind – his development was rushed to fill a desperate organizational need.
In the meantime, the never-ending debate about whether he’s a centre or a wing has metastasized to another roster player, Jonathan Drouin. In both cases, the Habs failed to properly evaluate the player, leaving holes in their lineup that you could drive a fleet of Zambonis through. With Drouin best served as a winger, the Habs, for all intents and purposes, have two legitimate centres on their first three lines, and one of them – Phillip Danault – is out indefinitely with a concussion.
The consequences, like the injuries, are piling up, and the Habs’ train-wreck 2017-2018 season is about to take a turn for the worse, with the unofficial start of a limited fire sale.
The road to redemption, for the Habs, ultimately leads directly through Geoff Molson’s office. He, more than anyone, holds the keys to the future, and some tough choices lie ahead. Here’s to hoping he has the stomach to make the right moves—none bigger than the decision to hand over the reins to a new GM.
Is Julien BriseBois still available?