NHL GMs normally build their teams over the summer. With the salary cap and the parity resulting therefrom, successful midseason adjustments are more and more difficult. For the Canadiens’ Marc Bergevin, the summer of 2018 was the best of times and the 2017 offseason was the worst of times.
Montreal fans can be excused for failing to fathom the divergence in Bergevin’s performance these past two offseasons. In 2017, the following transactions occurred:
1. The signing of Karl Alzner;
2. Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin;
3. The failure to re-sign either of Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov;
4. The loss of the entire left side of the Canadiens’ defence corps (Markov, Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin) along with their top left-handed prospect (Mikhail Sergachev); and
5. The David Schlemko deal.
In the summer of 2018, Bergevin made the following moves:
a. Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk;
b. Max Pacioretty for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki, and a second-round pick;
c. Acquiring Joel Armia and Steve Mason (and his contract which was promptly bought out) plus two draft picks from Winnipeg for Simon Bourque (a shrewd use of cap space);
d. Brett Kulak for a pair of AHL defencemen in Rinat Valiev and Matt Taormina; and
e. Selecting Jesperi Kotkaniemi 3rd overall.
Perhaps most impressively, with his job on the line, Bergevin did not make a single move that would compromise the future. That approach was both in the long-term interest of the franchise and admirable on Bergevin’s part.
Even during last season, Bergevin acquired Christian Folin and Dale Weise for Byron Froese and Schlemko. Nate Thompson was acquired for the Canadiens and LA Kings flipping 4th and 5th round picks and, most significantly, Jordan Weal was acquired for Michael Chaput. None of the in-season acquisitions were groundbreaking but the deals all made sense and improved the club, unlike everything Bergevin did in 2017.
Detailed analysis of each 2017 and 2018 deal has been chronicled elsewhere but the moves speak volumes on their own (admittedly with the benefit of hindsight).
In sports, the recent performances of players, managers and coaches always overshadow longer-term trends. After a 25-point improvement from the 2017-18 season, the 2018-19 campaign was an exciting season. Although they were expected to be a lottery team, the Habs were entertaining and narrowly missed the playoffs. Expectations and optimism for the 2019 offseason moves (and for next season) are high.
However, the overall performance of St. Henri’s favourite son should not engender such blind optimism. The Canadiens still have a lot of needs such as an elite offensive forward, a backup goaltender, and at least one top four left-handed defenceman (the latter of which is a hangover from the Sergachev-Drouin deal). That’s a busy shopping list for any GM. The last two offseasons, Bergevin showed us that he is capable of anything…either way. Rather than getting caught up in the recent past, fans should be asking themselves which version of Bergevin will perform in 2019.