The trade deadline came and went with the Habs being relatively quiet aside from some tinkering on the back end. Our writers discuss the Mete, Merrill, and Gustafsson moves.
Terry Costaris: There’s not much to say here. Are the Canadiens a better team now than prior to the trade deadline? Yes. But not by a significant margin.
I liken Bergevin’s deadline moves to him going to a casino with $10 to spend and leaving with $15.
No offence to either Jon Merrill or Erik Gustafsson but I sincerely doubt that there will be a huge run on fans purchasing their jerseys.
Merrill should give Montreal some additional defensive depth as the Habs’ brutal schedule starts to claim more injuries. However, I get a bit nervous anytime Bergevin trades with Steve Yzerman. There has to be a catch. Yzerman is “super trader” Bergevin’s kryptonite.
Gustafsson will help the power play. Maybe. He’s not the player that he was in Chicago but if Gustafsson can regain just half his former glory, then this will be a very good move.
As for Victor Mete, I like the kid. I feel that he has at least another 3-4 years of development potential in him. I haven’t seen much growth from this defenceman in the last year or two but if he commits to bulking up a bit more and hiring some skills coaches for his offensive game, he could earn a very good living as a journeyman defenceman in the NHL. If, not, playing in Europe and living the dream is not a bad way to experience a hockey career.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, the NHL’s owners need to fight the NHLPA on the CBA’s waiver rules. Ottawa gets someone who is about 70% developed for a minor waiver acquisition fee. No franchise should be put in a situation where they lose a 22-year-old through waivers. It’s a disincentive for teams in terms of investing in development costs. The return on investment for a club’s draft picks has to be higher.
Brian La Rose: While I’m not surprised that they added on the back end, I thought they would have looked to do something up front. Yes, the goals per game average isn’t bad but a lot of that came at the beginning of the year. Let’s take out the first ten games when they were scoring at an unsustainable rate. Since then, they’re at 2.63 which is below league average. With Brendan Gallagher – one of their better scorers – out for the rest of the year, not addressing that was risky.
In terms of what they did do, I like Merrill’s acquisition as someone that can play alongside Alexander Romanov and give that pairing some stability while letting Romanov play his natural side. Hayden Verbeek wasn’t getting a qualifying offer this summer so losing him is no big deal and a fifth-rounder is no big loss.
I’m intrigued with Gustafsson. As someone that is capable of putting up some points, that alone makes it interesting. I’m not sure how he fits, or if he fits for that matter but for that low of an acquisition cost, they don’t need to get much out of him to be worth it. He adds some extra depth so that Xavier Ouellet and Otto Leskinen don’t need to play if there are injuries. That works. And hey, if history repeats itself, the Habs could get that pick back anyway.
I’d have liked to have seen a late pick for Mete and I think they could have gotten that earlier in the season or even a few weeks ago. Waiting as long as he did, Bergevin didn’t have much choice but to part with him on waivers knowing the desire to bring other players in. I don’t think it’s a huge loss but Bergevin doesn’t have a great track record of selling high on his young players. Holding onto them too long to give them away for free or next to nothing is hardly ideal asset management.
Naqeeb Shaikh: An underwhelming trade deadline. I dislike the depth additions; it just masks the fundamental issues this team has in terms of how the team’s offence and defence are structured.
Offence – Management and coaching staff are adamant about making Danault, Tatar, and Gallagher the #1 line or at least giving them more ice time than required. Analytics wise and play wise it’s great in the short-term, but frankly not in the long-term. In addition, out of the three, Gallagher is the least streaky and more consistent offensive threat.
Drouin-Suzuki-Anderson was working earlier, but changes/injuries messed with the chemistry of that line. I think unloading Drouin at this trade deadline would have been great, but it needs to happen this offseason. Dominique Ducharme knows what kind of player Drouin is when at his best, and we are still not getting that consistently based on the contract value and the price paid (Mikhail Sergachev) who has won a Cup already which only adds insult to injury.
Like Alex Galchenyuk’s tenure and other prospects that came with an offensive potential reputation, Cole Caufield does not need to be rushed at all. Joel Bouchard, who I would like to see as the GM and Head Coach of the Habs next year (wishful thinking) is ideal for Montreal’s prospect development to succeed.
If Bouchard moves up to the main club, seeing Andre Tourigny as Head Coach of the Laval Rocket would be amazing.
Defence – This obsession and infatuation with Shea Weber is arresting the team’s growth and potential to be better than mediocre. It also highlights a lack of leadership on Weber’s part, he’s still going to get paid well so why not act like a leader put the team first and get deployed in a more reduced playing capacity with more strategic minutes rather than the 20-25 mins/game he regularly gets. He is not at that level anymore, why does it take losing streaks and ill-advised turnovers for him, the coaching staff, and management to reconcile and adjust.
The prospect pipeline is finally a bit more respectable, but when Bergevin first started off as GM, there were young pieces (Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban) that could play dynamically; just because of wanting an “attitude/culture change”, he reverted back to the ’90s when stay-at-home defenders were impactful with the Weber acquisition, even though as a former player was nothing but a depth journeyman defenceman.
Getting Eric Staal was a good move, how he’s being used in the lineup is not. Moving on from Mete was also a positive development.
It’s year nine, he chose not to tank/take the heat and the team that comfortably sits at the top of the North Division built the “right way” instead of “retool and reset”. They got proper senior management (Brendan Shanahan), a more progressive-minded and adaptable GM and Head Coach (Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe) and while it took time, the results speak for themselves.
Whether the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup or not is debatable, but they look poised to do so and are built better to have more consistent success in the playoffs now and in the future.
Norm Szcyrek: With respect, the Habs are very, very unlikely to miss Mete or even feel the wrath of him scoring a goal against the Habs while he is a Senator. When he first joined the Habs, I was impressed with his skating and puck carrying skills, and he can be good at using them to move the puck out of his own zone. It’s after that point, where his offensive game breaks down terribly. Nearly every time he does this, he turned over the puck or just could not generate any type of scoring chance. A couple of seasons ago, I thought he was going to develop that talent once he got more pro games under his belt. These past few seasons, he has dropped further in the lineup while not improving his play.
His defensive game was a lot to be desired. He was outmuscled by opponents constantly and often losing those battles gave the other team a good scoring chance, or worse, a goal against. I noticed this season in particular the other team would direct the play towards Mete’s side of the defensive zone so other teams knew he was a liability that could be exploited. He was benched late in the second period of the 4-2 loss to Winnipeg, and I am not sure of the exact reason, but I recall he was on the ice when the Habs were pinned in their own zone for about a minute.
I do expect the two defencemen joining the Habs will pick up the slack. Gustafsson scored 60 points in Chicago back in 2018-19 which is very impressive. He struggled after that season and hasn’t seemed to get his offensive game back on track, as he has not been as productive. He still remains a decent defender with mobility and an average shot. In Merrill, he represents a more polished veteran defender who has good size. When Ben Chiarot returns to the lineup from his injury, the team will have a logjam and rookie Romanov or Brett Kulak will be in the press box. It’s possible both will sit out, depending on if Coach Ducharme prefers to go with more experienced players.
Dave Woodward: Bergevin improved the depth of the back end by acquiring Merrill and Gustafsson. Each player brings a different skill set to the squad but, unless Gustafsson returns to the form of a few years (a 60-point season with Chicago), neither player moves the needle all that much. As for the loss of Mete to the Senators on waivers, the writing was on the wall on this move all season, particularly after Mete, through his agent, publicly sought a trade at a time when the team was performing well. And, in light of his offseason moves, Bergevin seems to have decided his team was not going to be physically manhandled any longer. For either or both reasons, Mete’s days in Montreal were numbered.
The lack of meaningful activity at the trade deadline was inevitable for the Canadiens since they have little to no cap flexibility. Just as importantly, despite spending to the cap this season, the Canadiens are not all that good and are most certainly inconsistent. While the team added inexpensive depth options to help them in the unlikely event they make some noise in the playoffs, no deadline acquisition was going to turn the Habs into a serious contender. Better to help the team make the playoffs with some depth moves rather than swing for the fences with a lineup that lacks upper-tier offensive talent.
There is a point that warrants comment. Bergevin has one year left on his contract and, if he does not get a new deal over the summer, he is likely a lame duck GM. For this reason, Bergevin had every reason to sacrifice the future to improve the club this year and hopefully position the team for a deep playoff run. He would not have been able to transform the Canadiens into a contender at the deadline but Bergevin could have sacrificed the future to acquire players that would have improved the chances of this borderline playoff team going on a bit of a run in the playoffs, thereby positioning himself for a new contract. Bergevin did nothing of the sort. The moves Bergevin made at the deadline did not sacrifice the future to help him secure a new deal. For that, Bergevin should be commended.