Of the restricted free agent contracts that must be negotiated by the Canadiens this offseason, most of the attention has been focused on twenty-five-year-old Max Domi. However, Victor Mete, 21, is also a restricted free agent after this season.
If you think it is a little early for Mete to have completed his entry-level contract, you can be forgiven. Mete was expected to return to the London Knights for the 2017-18 season but a stellar training camp and a dearth of defenceman on the left side – after Marc Bergevin lost Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, and Nathan Beaulieu in the summer of 2017- conspired to make the 2016 fourth-round pick (100th overall) a Montreal Canadien far earlier than expected.
The depth chart on the left side of the Canadiens’ blue line was so thin the Habs, for a time, had the 18-year-old playing on the first pairing with Shea Weber. Predictably, Mete’s play declined after training camp and he was used mostly on the second and third pairings after the season’s early going. With no better options, the Habs kept Mete in the lineup for more than ten games, thereby burning a year of his entry-level contract. Recognizing that his development was better served by playing in the World Juniors, Mete played for Team Canada’s 2018 Gold Medal winning team.
By that point, it was clear to everyone except the Habs’ brain trust that (1) the season was a disaster; and (2) Mete should be returned to the Knights to further the prospect’s development. However, with no other options, Mete was back with the Habs and played in a total of more than 40 games, thereby allowing him to qualify a year earlier than he otherwise would have for unrestricted free agency. A few more games passed and Mete sustained a leg injury that prematurely ended his season, a season that was one of the Habs’ worst ever.
In 2018-19, Mete’s inconsistent play lead to a demotion to the Laval Rocket. After spending time under the tutelage of Joel Bouchard, the young defenceman’s play improved and he was a fixture in the team’s blue line the rest of the year.
This past season, Mete’s play was solid but underwhelming until another leg injury ended his season during a February 18th game at Little Caesars’ Arena in Detroit. While his season was not a total disappointment, it appears that the twenty-one-year-old’s development as an NHL player has plateaued, or at least stalled.
One cannot help but shake their head at the development path for this player. As an 18-year old, Mete did not belong on the left side of Weber playing against the opposition’s top-six forwards. He should have been in the OHL developing his game. But after the depletion, perhaps the decimation, of the left side of the blue line, the Canadiens had no one else.
From a contract or asset management perspective, the handling of Victor Mete is even more disconcerting. By decimating the defence’s left side in the 2017 offseason, Marc Bergevin has stunted the development of one of the team’s better prospects at the time. He needlessly burned not only a year of the entry-level contract but has also lost an additional year of club control by allowing Mete to qualify for unrestricted free agency a year earlier.
The development path and contract management of Victor Mete can best be described as Houleian given the lack of foresight and the mistakes that lead to this player’s stalled development. This whole scenario smacks of the Harold Ballard years in Toronto, bringing in a talented young player prematurely and assigning significant responsibilities far earlier than prudence or the player’s experience warrant. While it is unfair to judge all the team’s development efforts in the last few years by these decisions alone, Victor Mete’s career has been badly handled by the Canadiens.