Earlier this week, our writers took a look back at Marc Bergevin’s best free agent signings since taking over as Montreal’s GM. Today, we flip the script and look at his worst pickups.
Terry Costaris: For the most part, Bergevin’s worst free agent signings have cost the Habs a bit in terms of cap implications but only marginally on the team’s offence and defence. His main blunder, despite having both Sean Burke and Stephane Waite on staff, has been in finding backup goaltenders.
An aging Daniel Briere and a misused David Desharnais were among his biggest offensive disappointments during his tenure but their negative impact on Montreal was not devastating. Neither player put Montreal in salary cap hell or led to the team’s demise.
And yes, Karl Alzner was a huge mistake but the Habs still had/have plenty of cap space to correct this error.
No, the greatest blunder that Marc Bergevin has committed, and it’s an ongoing one, has to be in landing a solid backup goaltender. This has been the chief factor in explaining why Montreal has failed to make the playoffs these last few years.
Unfortunately, no one of game-breaking significance wants to sign with Montreal. At best, Montreal has been a second-tier free agent signing destination.
Overall though, just like his best free agent signings, I would rate Bergevin’s overall performance in this category as a “meh.”
Allan Katz: Choosing the three worst free agent signings, in the Bergevin era, is an exercise in cruelty. It’s like trying to rank your favourite villains from WWII. There are no shortages of lousy, disgusting, sick choices. So to be considered in the hallowed trio of the three worst free agent Bergevin pickups we need special extenuating circumstances. So here it goes:
#3 –Alzner – I like this guy. True he fell into a wormhole when he was signed, one he, management and fans will always regret, but his willingness to deal with it like a man sets a great example for everyone in life. The money stings for the Habs, but not for me and the fans. Fact is Alzner’s salary has never been a real burden for this team because they never get close to the ceiling of the hard cap. Would everyone, including Karl, take this all back? Most likely (though Karl is now set for life and might have the maturity to be a great coach, so he might suffer with the money).
#2 – Keith Kinkaid – With so many goalies available and so much money available, under the cap, how did Bergevin sign such an over the hill talent? This falls squarely on the management team and its leader for absolutely fouling up. This does not bode well for the team and the upcoming season. The Habs have to put up a goalie for the expansion draft, it could be Charlie Lindgren if he’s extended or it could be a new signing, but something tells me this might not go well. Cayden Primeau needs another season in the AHL, which might or might not play next season. Wonky times no doubt.
#1 – Alexander Radulov – Let me set the scene… I start dating this gorgeous woman who is better on every level than I could have ever hoped for. After one wonderful year she leaves me and it’s my fault. My friends, my family, my therapist, my parole officer, my dry cleaner are all devastated for me and themselves. Here they thought I finally found the one and I blew it. She leaves me for an American and I am dust in the wind. Maybe it would have been better to have never held her in my arms rather than to live down this disheartening disappointment. Yeah, so Rad is the woman… deal with it.
Honourable mention – THE TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN HOCKEY PLAYER – the fact is this issue might never change for Montreal no matter who is GM. Unless it’s a washed-up veteran I rarely know who these players are that Bergevin signs and ultimately throws away after a futile attempt to develop them into a solid asset. The team is rarely in contention for name talent and we just might have to accept this. Thus the plethora of draft picks. My only wish is that the team hires an Academy worth of talent to develop the youngsters in every way imaginable. This Academy can have world-class, highly paid coaches, supervising, through the internet and eventually personal visits. Diet, inner motivation (RE: Killer Instinct), and speed skating seem to be areas that investment might pay off. As I kneel in front of THE TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN HOCKEY PLAYER I cannot help but think, “It’s not easy being a Habs fan.”
Postscript: Conflicting views, complete opposites can both be true. Yes, I chose Radulov as among the best and the worst of Bergevin’ s UFA signings. Gold would have been a two-year deal that would have paid him better, but also would have been less than what he left for, and we’d have his last prime years skating for the Habs. A bronze was signing him at all like they did. But the downside was being teased by a talent and then watching him leave, it really hurt.
Brian La Rose: Just like there haven’t been many good free agent pickups by the Habs, there haven’t been many truly bad ones either but here are some of the worst ones.
1) Alzner – Admittedly, I didn’t hate this signing like most. I thought he’d be a good partner for Jeff Petry, a stable stay-at-home option that would allow Petry to jump up into the play offensively. I also thought he’d be a good penalty killer. Clearly, that didn’t work out as intended. Lots of people want to see a buyout but from a cap standpoint, I’m not sure that’s the most ideal option unless they have a lot of spending planned in the offseason this fall.
2) Briere – The Habs gave him $8 million over two years in the hopes that he’d rebound from a tough year in Philadelphia the season before. He played in more games than the preceding year but that’s about the only thing that went right. He didn’t fit in – that much was clear quickly. That they had to take on a player with two years left to unload Briere (P-A Parenteau) didn’t help as they wound up buying out Parenteau a year later (where he went to Toronto and remembered how to score). The two years for Briere turned into two bad performances (one from each player) and two more years of a payout for Parenteau to not play for the Habs.
3) Douglas Murray – Another move I didn’t hate at the time, Murray’s physicality was supposed to bring another dimension to a Montreal back end that, quite frankly, wasn’t loaded with grit. And Murray did hit a lot of people…when he could catch them. The problem was, he couldn’t catch forwards with enough consistency as he was blown by early and often to the point where he was borderline unplayable some nights. It was only a one-year deal thankfully but Murray’s presence came at a time where the team was pretty good (this is when they made the Eastern Conference Final) and when it counted the most, he was in the press box.
Norm Szcyrek: Signing Alexander Semin was a terrible, terrible decision by Bergevin. The veteran forward had wrist surgery one year prior to coming to Montreal, and his offensive production was already on a sharp decline. Bergevin dreamed Semin would rebound and find a place in the top two forward lines. It was evident right away that he could not shoot the puck with any accuracy or velocity and his wrist shot used to be his best offensive weapon. The one-dimensional Semin lasted only 15 games before Bergevin got rid of him. Alexander went to play in the KHL for the last twenty games of the season, and produced five goals and nine assists in 20 games.
Alzner was another disappointing unrestricted free agent signing by Bergevin. Alzner was reported to have slowed his play during his last season in Washington and he had been dropped in the lineup as a result. There were rumours of a nagging injury that caused this, and that must have been the reason Bergevin ignored his play on the ice that last season for the Capitals. Marc was hoping Alzner could step in as a number two defenceman, but he struggled immediately to the pace of the game and after being shifted around the pairings, became a healthy scratch. The decision to move him to the AHL was a wise one. Since that time it’s been reported that Alzner lost weight to help with his lack of speed, and when he has had short stints back in Montreal, he has looked average at best in the 6th position. There is still talk in the media and by Habs fans, that Bergevin will buy out the remaining two seasons of his contract.
The signing of Ales Hemsky was another big gamble made by Bergevin that ended up craps. Hemsky was trying a comeback from a major hip injury that caused him to miss most of the 2016-17 season, just before becoming a UFA. Most of the NHL general managers knew this and avoided Hemsky but Bergevin once again showing a combination of desperation and ignorance of a player’s recent history, decided to give Hemsky a one-year contract. He played only seven games for Montreal before suffering another concussion in 2017, something he had a history of while playing in Edmonton. He tried to launch a comeback but the injuries set him back too far, and he announced his retirement from hockey in May 2020.
Dave Woodward: The list of Bergevin’s UFA signings over the years features very few impactful signings, good or bad. Of course, any list of bad signings is compiled with the benefit of hindsight which is unfair to any GM. However, the three worst signings of the Bergevin era in this scribblers view are, in order:
1) Alzner – Let’s not beat this one to death. Enough said.
2) Mark Streit – a forgotten signing by many, Streit’s second stint with the Canadiens barely lasted the preseason. Streit was part of the patchwork crew that constituted Bergevin’s clumsy rebuild of the left side of Montreal’s defence after he lost Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin and Nathan Beaulieu and traded away Mikhail Sergachev in the same offseason. Bergevin is still trying to clean up that mess.
3) Hemsky – a low risk signing from the bargain bin (where Bergevin often sniffs around) that did not work out.
Honourable mention: Semin – see item 3.