Marc Bergevin hasn’t hesitated to make big moves in recent years. With that in mind, our writers try to predict some of the big moves he could wind up making in the weeks to come.
Brian La Rose: I could see this offseason being a bit of a quiet one for the Habs. I think Bergevin will take a swing at landing a prominent free agent this time around but he’ll fall short and Montreal will have a lot of cap space sitting idle once again.
Instead of holding onto all of it this time around, my prediction is that he’ll use some of it to lock up Artturi Lehkonen to a long-term contract. I know some think he’s a player that could be expendable but I think in the eyes of the organization, he’s more of an untouchable than a lot of people believe.
Given his offensive struggles the last couple of years, a bridge deal wouldn’t be too costly and Bergevin would have to go above that to get him to give up some UFA-eligible seasons. To do that, he’ll need to go to the $3 million per season mark. It’s not the boldest of moves but a six-year, $18 million deal for Lehkonen would probably turn some heads and if Bergevin opts to stay the course, it could wind up being one of their biggest moves of the offseason.
Paul MacLeod: Bergevin trades Andrew Shaw and a 3rd round pick to Minnesota for Jason Zucker. Then, at the draft, he trades their first and a second rounder with Michael McCarron to Philadelphia for Shayne Gostisbehere. If the deal with Philadelphia falls through, he signs Erik Karlsson.
There are no trades, Karlsson and Jake Gardiner sign elsewhere and HabsWorld is filled with the wailing and gnashing of teeth of rightfully frustrated fans.
Norm Szcyrek: When it comes to Bergevin and the offseason, I like to say we fans should expect the unexpected. While I do not predict an earth-shattering move like the Subban/Weber trade, it’s possible something could still happen to boost Montreal’s roster.
There’s no secret the Habs biggest need is a left-shooting defenceman that could fit in the #2 slot alongside Shea Weber. There are recent rumours that Calgary is looking to move one of their veteran defencemen, and since T.J. Brodie shoots left, he may be a good match for the Habs. With the two teams making a minor trade last season that netted the Habs a decent defender in Brett Kulak, there’s a history that they can negotiate with each other to pull off a trade. To me, that’s important, because there are some team’s around the NHL whose GM’s do not make deals with each other for various reasons. Although Bergevin is rumoured to be one of the most active GM’s in terms of talking to his peers, I do not believe he is on good terms or shall we say even footing to make something happen with every other GM, and not for the typical reason of dealing with division rivals.
However, the price to pay for Brodie could be relatively steep, considering he was the team’s second-highest scoring defender with nine goals and 25 assists. Brodie is also very durable missing only 12 games in the last three seasons. T.J has only one season left in his contract, and if the rumours have started about possibly trading him, then either the negotiations are going extremely poorly, or his camp has stated he doesn’t intend to sign regardless. If these discussions are accurate, then perhaps the Habs could give up a second-round pick and a mid-tier prospect to acquire him, at or before the 2019 NHL draft begins later this month.
When it comes to potential UFA’s, maybe a player like Alex Edler would be attractive, particularly since he’s also a left side blueliner. In Edler’s case, he is used to handling big minutes and important responsibilities in Vancouver. He is 33 years old, so the length of a contract to give him would be a critical decision. The Habs last veteran UFA defenceman signing was Karl Alzner which was an atomic-sized bust, so Bergevin’s personal experiences as an NHL defenceman did not necessarily translate into a good evaluator of free agent’s at the position he once played. I have some doubt that Edler will be keen on coming to Montreal. From the player’s perspective, he may prefer a Swedish friendly environment like Detroit, or one of the southern tax-free states where his last big contract will go farther towards his eventual retirement. If he is interested in coming to Montreal, Bergevin should strongly consider signing him since he will help the team.
Dave Woodward: Although last year created some optimism, the Canadiens are not yet close to becoming a perennial contender. There is only one way to build a perennial contender and that is through the drafting and development of young players. In a salary cap world, a risky or imprudent free agent signing could set this effort back several years.
With this week’s report that Erik Karlsson is looking for offers from Montreal or Ottawa for family reasons, this may represent the best chance for the Canadiens to make a splash in free agency. However, the best opportunity is not necessarily a prudent move and signing Karlsson would certainly be a risky move. In this pundit’s view, Bergevin should not pursue Erik Karlsson for the following reasons:
- Karlsson’s health (Within the last two years, he had his ankle reconstructed and is just now coming off groin surgery.)
- The term and cap hit that Karlsson will command could cripple the Habs going forward if Karlsson’s health problems persist.
- Their need is on the left side of their defence corps and Karlsson plays the right side, a position of strength both on the big club and in Laval.
If Karlsson was to take a material discount and less term to play in Montreal, Bergevin may have to re-evaluate. That said, I doubt his wife is that homesick.
Matt Duchene is a much better fit based on the Canadiens’ needs. Duchene is from Haliburton, Ontario and enjoyed playing in Ottawa, despite the ongoing ownership issues. His performance in the playoffs with Columbus will increase his asking price but the Canadiens have the cap space to make Duchene a competitive offer. Of course, a competitive offer from Montreal will have to exceed other offers for tax reasons. Duchene is certainly worth pursuing but, at the end of the day, he may well opt for the higher after-tax returns, simpler life and better weather south of the border, as so many other free agents do. That may be for the best anyway as Duchene is unlikely to put the Canadiens over the top unless the club addresses the very weak left side of their defence corps.
A more prudent and attainable move would be a trade for a top four left side defenceman. One possibility is a trade with the Florida Panthers for LHD Mike Matheson. Matheson has in the past logged high-quality minutes (over 20 minutes per game) on the left side, an area of acute weakness for the Canadiens. Matheson has a $4.9M cap hit and is signed long term. One would expect a winger or a right-handed defender to go the other way in order to make the deal happen.
The Canadiens should also be in the market for a back-up goaltender either via free agency or trade. This has been the subject of other HabsWorld articles and there are a number of options that should be affordable such as Cam Talbot, Brian Elliott or even Curtis McElhinney. The Canadiens need a backup goaltender that is capable of playing around 25 games to ensure Carey Price is rested for the playoffs and to preserve Carey Price’s body for the remaining seven years of his contract.