Usually, July means free agent signings but those won’t happen until November so instead, let’s look back at Montreal’s UFA acquisitions under Marc Bergevin. Our writers have selected their top three and provided some commentary on Bergevin’s UFA history.
Terry Costaris: This is a really tough question to answer. I would say “meh” when assessing both Bergevin’s best and worst free agent signings.
The word that I often like to use to describe the Montreal Canadiens organization as a whole is “mediocrity”. Aside from making great trades, they’re not spectacularly good or bad in their decision making.
Yes, Marc Bergevin pulled a rabbit out his hat and hit pay dirt with Alexander Radulov but he could only hold on to him for a year.
For me, the best free agent signing was and remains Jeff Petry – but he technically does not qualify since he was a Montreal Canadien when he was signed after playing a few months with the team.
The remaining free agents that Montreal has signed have not been game changers but they’ve also not been absolute duds carrying onerous Milan Lucic contracts – though Bergevin tried very hard to land him.
Sometimes the best moves a GM makes are no moves at all.
Allan Katz: Discussing Bergevin’s free agent record is tough because free agents are both Bergevin’s and Montreal Hockey’s Achilles’ Heel. The reasons for this are worth an article on its own, but the truth is most fans know most of the reasons why. Nonetheless, from 3rd to 1st let’s look at Bergevin’s best free agent signings:
#3 –Radulov – The fact that Comrade Rad is 3rd rather than 1st is because of two fatal mistakes made on this deal. Signing him for only one year was a mistake, but not re-signing him was worse. He really owed Montreal nothing. They brought him back on a deal constructed so they can dump him whenever they pleased. When he surpassed all of Bergevin’s expectations and was then treated poorly through the negotiations, it was time for Rad to do what was best for him. A good signing that could have been a great signing.
#2 – Ilya Kovalchuk – This is a slightly odd choice because of how little the Big K was with Montreal. The Habs were dying when the deal was signed. Hab fans were tying nooses and finding stools to stand on, and then the Big K happened. It was just a flash of lightning, but a badly needed one. Then the small b dealt the Big K and got a draft pick and left the door open for his return. If he does return he should be a breath of fresh air especially for the younger players. He won’t be as good as Radulov, but he might be beloved by a fan base dying to fall in love. And to think this all happened just before the world flipped upside down.
#1 – Ben Chiarot – Okay, calm down, take a breath, double your meds and let me explain. This article is about Bergevin’s best free agent signings. It is not about the Habs best free agent signings, but Bergevin’s. Mr. B’s best signings every year seem to be upgrades on their fourth line. Every year he signs a borderline talent that brings something to the table besides raw talent. The idea is to upgrade the depth of either the fourth line of the team or the bottom two of the defencemen. It rarely works. His specialty is signing 10% upgrades that either don’t pan out or barely pan out. Chiarot has panned out and is on a multi-year contract. He is possibly the team’s third-best defenceman and occasionally shows flashes of offence that we don’t expect. He’s big, strong, can fight, if it is called for, and has a great last name. He is paid a fair sum that he has earned. He is the DEFINITIVE best UFA signing of Bergevin’s career and that’s both good and not so good.
Brian La Rose: Going through this exercise is a bit of a harsh reminder about how the Habs haven’t had much luck on the open market for a long time. It makes the decision to stock up on draft picks that much wiser – if you can’t sign them, then just draft them. Here’s my top three:
1) Radulov – Not a lot really needs to be said here. He came in and earned a spot on the top line and did well in the playoffs as well. Not bad for a free asset. (I also don’t begrudge Bergevin for not giving him the long-term deal. It was a bad contract and from Day 1, I said Dallas would get two good years, one so-so year, and two bad years out of it. So far, that’s exactly how it has played out as Radulov’s offensive performance this year is similar to what Joel Armia produced with one costing a whole lot more than the other.)
2) Chiarot – At the time, I thought this was a huge overpayment (I had him getting closer to half of his contract) but it has held up well so far. Bergevin thought that Chiarot had another level in him and it turns out that he did. The top spot alongside Shea Weber isn’t the ideal role for him but even if he winds up settling in on the second pairing, that’s still a good pickup.
3) Tomas Fleischmann – The Habs didn’t get him in his prime but he was still an effective third liner while he was around and chipped in with 20 points in 57 games which is pretty good for someone making only $750,000. However, Bergevin made the most of that signing by including him along with Dale Weise in a deal with Chicago that netted Phillip Danault and the pick that yielded Alexander Radulov. Not a bad result for someone that came in on a PTO.
Norm Szcyrek: Easily the Radulov free agency signing has been Bergevin’s best move for his tenure in Montreal. Alex had an amazing attitude and never took a shift off. He was a top-line performer. His on-ice vision was impressive, and he was willing to play physical whenever he wanted, although sometimes he was needlessly aggressive.
Then there’s Chiarot. He appeared to be a bottom-six defenceman for the Habs but after a rough start adapting to the team’s system, Ben has risen to a top defenceman on the left side and has provided more offence than I expected he could while being a more than capable defender.
Manny Malhotra was a shrewd signing for the Habs and rounds out the top three. The team desperately needed a faceoff specialist and Manny was excellent in that role. His defensive game was still decent as he was near the end of his playing career, making Montreal his last professional season in hockey. He also provided a solid veteran presence on the team.
Dave Woodward: The Canadiens have had little recent success signing UFAs during Bergevin’s tenure. High taxes, higher (and unreasonable) expectations, stifling media scrutiny, lousy weather, language issues and a mediocre team has made Montreal a destination most UFAs would rather avoid. With the exception of the team’s performance, most of this is entirely out of Bergevin’s control. As a result, he has faced formidable headwinds in his efforts to round out his roster with some July 1st signings and, in a few instances, he has had to overpay to get even mid-level veteran talent. However, Bergevin has had a few successful signings. My top three are in order:
1) Radulov- a stroke of genius signed him and a streak of stubbornness (first come, first served, if you want loyalty, buy a dog) lost him.
2) Chiarot – a solid left defender on a team with no other solid left defenceman. Well worth the $3.5M cap hit when one considers the team’s lack of depth at the position.
3) Peter Budaj – a solid backup for Carey at a reasonable Price. With the problems the Canadiens have had finding a backup goaltender, Budaj’s value is clear.
Of course, Budaj also makes the list due to Bergevin’s failure to successfully sign UFAs over his tenure. Pretty slim pickings for quality UFA signings.