While the Canadiens continue to have many holes to fill before they can realistically contend, the most significant deficiency in the Canadiens lineup is the left side of their defence corps. How did the Canadiens end up with such a glaring weakness? It all arose from Marc Bergevin’s 2017 offseason, the summer of all knowledgeable Habs’ fans discontent.
While a full review of Bergevin’s “epic” 2017 offseason decisions is beyond the scope of this article, the loss of the Canadiens’ entire left side occurred that summer. At the time, Andrei Markov, Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin constituted the core of the left-handed defenders. The team’s top prospect was Mikhail Sergachev, also a left-handed defenceman.
For fear of losing Nathan Beaulieu in the expansion draft to Gerard Gallant (Beaulieu’s former Junior Coach) and the Vegas Golden Knights, Beaulieu was traded to Buffalo for a third-round pick. The Golden Knights proceeded to select Alexei Emelin in the expansion draft. Bergevin, with no other returning left-handed defencemen, then played a game of poker with Andrei Markov (complete with his “if you want loyalty, buy a dog” schtick) and everybody lost (especially the Canadiens), other than perhaps Alexander Radulov.
To make matters even worse, Bergevin traded away the Habs’ top prospect, left-handed defenceman Mikhail Sergachev, for the enigmatic and perpetually inconsistent Jonathan Drouin. As for the reinforcements at the time (Karl Alzner and David Schlemko), let’s not discuss it.
Bergevin made a number of good moves in the subsequent 2018 offseason. But this body of work (and the following disastrous 2017-18 season) quite fairly led to calls for his departure after 2017-18. And these decisions have had a ripple effect through the organization’s prospects who play this position. Was Victor Mete really ready to play with Shea Weber on the top pairing in 2017-18? Should Mete have played in Montreal that season? And Mete ended up playing over 40 games in the lost 2017-18 season. This not only burned a year in his entry-level contract but it also allows him to qualify as an unrestricted free agent a year early. Enough said.
Since these moves, Bergevin has failed to land a legitimate first pairing left-handed defender to play with Shea Weber. One could also quite legitimately take the position that a second pairing defenceman on the left side is needed, although the recent play of Ben Chariot has been encouraging (this after looking like Karl Alzner 2.0 in the first ten games of the season). The Canadiens have tried Brett Kulak, the now-departed Mike Reilly, Gustav Olofsson, Otto Leskinen and now, Marco Scandella on the left side this season. After playing well last season, Kulak had a rough start to this season, although he has improved recently. Olofsson and Leskinen are simply not NHL-ready at this time. Reilly rivals Drouin in the consistency department and his turnovers add more than a touch of grey to the hair Coach Julien has left. Scandella at least provides a third left-handed defenceman who belongs in the NHL. However, Scandella – while an upgrade on the mistake-prone Reilly – is not the first-pairing left-handed defender that the Canadiens badly need.
The recent injury to Mete has highlighted this glaring weakness for all to see. The Canadiens lack a bona fide first pairing left-handed defenceman and, prior to Scandella’s acquisition, did not have sufficient depth on the left side to insert into the lineup three capable, consistent left-handed defenders.
Bergevin tried to sign Jake Gardiner to fix the problem he created but the former Maple Leaf Gardiner decided he had enough of the spotlight in a hockey-mad market and signed for less money in Carolina. This mess was created by GM Bergevin in the summer of 2017 and he has been trying ever since, and without success, to try and fix it.