The Canadiens have been great this season, but Marc Bergevin needs to act before the trade deadline to shore up trouble spots.
The next two weeks are going to be crucial for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin.
What he does, or doesn’t do, before the 3 p.m. National Hockey League trade deadline on Feb. 25 will go a long way to resolving the debate about this controversial manager. Bergevin needs to make a couple of significant moves before that deadline if this Habs team wants even a shot at winning a playoff series.
And let’s make this clear right away: Trading to get Dale Weise back is not the kind of trade I’m talking about. That is a minor, marginal move. All you need to know is that the Dutch Gretzky didn’t find a home on a weak Philadelphia Flyers team. End of story. Like everyone else, I loved Weise when he was here and maybe he’ll help our under-achieving fourth line, but he’s lost his legs.
Bergevin has to bring in some quality help for a fourth line that simply isn’t good enough to play in tight-collar situations like the second half of that thrilling Canadiens-Leafs match Saturday night. Many fans and some journalists have been touting the narrative that Bergevin is a great deal-maker, so now is the time for the Canadiens’ hockey boss to prove that he deserves the accolades.
As I was writing Monday, Bergevin made another move, snatching forward Nate Thompson from the Los Angeles Kings in return for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 entry draft. Montreal also nabs a fifth-round pick in 2019 as part of the deal. At first glance, this looks like a good deal for the Habs given that Thompson can likely take over the centre position on the Habs’ troubled fourth line. But — yes, there’s a but — Bergevin still needs to do more.
It’s not only the fourth line that needs help. You might have noticed that the power play needs shock therapy. Montreal lost the game against Toronto because it blew two huge power-play opportunities. The Habs had a four-minute man-advantage in the first period and got one shot — pathetic. Then at the end of the game, they were handed a golden opportunity with Nikita Zaitsev’s delay-of-game call, getting a whopping 1:28 of 4-3 time to begin overtime.
They didn’t even get a shot during that 4-3 time in OT. And then the Leafs’ stars did what they do so well — making their opponents look like peewee players, with Mitch Marner flipping the puck over to John Tavares and Tavares rocketing it past Carey Price.
The Canadiens’ power play is an embarrassment and until it starts working, I won’t be taking part in any of the celebrations for head coach Claude Julien. It’s on him. I like what Joel Armia brings to this team, but he has never scored a power-play goal in his career. Think about that for a second. So the PP needs to be fixed and soon. Can Bergevin find someone to help there? He better be looking hard.
The same goes for the blue line. The defence is playing far better than anyone expected but in a tough seven-game war against, say, the Toronto Maple Leafs, it needs to be better. Christian Folin, who came over in the four-player swap with the Flyers on Saturday, isn’t a difference-maker. The Canadiens need someone to play with Shea Weber. And by the way, have you noticed the Man Mountain is looking more flat-footed the past little while? Weber lost his man on the first goal Saturday, as Zach Hyman succeeded in making his way around the net to try a wraparound, a play that resulted in Andreas Johnsson’s goal.
So if the aim is to not just make the playoffs but to win at least one series, Bergevin needs to do something during the next two weeks. I’m not sure Bergevin is up to that challenge, which is why I am not buying into this storyline that he is some kind of genius. If he gets a couple of quality players and the Habs end up in the conference final, I’ll be feeling more upbeat. But Montreal is only in a wild-card spot, so let’s not go crazy.
How far the bar has been lowered in Montreal hockey circles. Back in the day, it was the Cup or nothing. Or, at the very least, some competitive playoff series. Remember what Price said a couple of years back: “They don’t hang conference banners from the rafters here, they raise Stanley Cup banners.”
Amen. I love watching the Habs this season, but you don’t evaluate the GM by comparing to last season, one of the most disastrous in the storied history of the Canadiens. You evaluate his seven years on the job and it’s impossible not to conclude that he started out with a team with some amazing players and blew it. He’s just starting to build the team again, and this season’s a big step in the right direction, but you don’t win awards by finishing in the first wild-card spot.
Let’s talk again about Bergevin late afternoon on Feb. 25.