Constantly mentioned are the positive effect of Bergevin’s trades that brought Dustin Tokarski, Michael Ryder, Tomas Vanek, Dale Weise, Mike Weaver and P.A. Parenteau to the team. The drafting of Alex Galchenyuk; the signing of free agents Jiri Sekac and Manny Malhotra plus the successful contract negotiations with Pacioretty, Subban, Eller and Gallagher.
We prefer to forget that at one point Bergevin really coveted Vincent Lecavalier and when he couldn’t sign him brought Daniel Briere to Montreal. There were also those contracts he handed George Parros and Douglas Murray. We forget them because he was able to get out of them with no long-term damage to the franchise.
At the beginning of this season Bergevin made the mistake of thinking the Canadiens farm system was ready to supply the talent to retool the defense. With rookies Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi seemingly ready to step up, Bergevin let go, in various ways Josh Gorges, Francis Bouillon and Murray to make room.
Bergevin’s best laid plans didn’t work out. Neither Beaulieu nor Tinordi was ready to play at the NHL level and are now back in Hamilton and Bergevin was forced to dive into the trade market for replacements acquiring in a nine day span power play speciallist Sergei Gonchar from Dallas in return for Travis Moen and then 6’4″ Bryan Allen from Anaheim in return for Rene Bourque.
The acquisition of two NHL veterans with a combined 35 years of experience to replace two struggling rookies with less than a full NHL season between them, had on the surface the looks of a win-win.
But here’s the thing. Tinordi and Beaulieu are both 22 years of age. Gonchar is 40 and Allen 34. Within two weeks the average age of the Canadiens defense went from the middle of the pack with four of the seven under the age of 30 to, by far the oldest in the league at an average of 32.7 years. Not just the oldest in the league but they have 4 1/2 years on second-ranked New Jersey’s 28.3. To bring this further into perspective the oldest defense in NHL history was the 1927-28 Toronto Maple Leafs at 34.6.
Four members of the Canadiens seven man group are over 34 and only two, Emelin and Subban are under 30. In addition the Habs persona has always been based on speed. At the back end, outside of Subban, that commodity has all but disappeared. Age has slowed Gonchar. The skating of both Markov and Emelin has been diminished by serious knee injuries and Allen was never blessed with speed to begin with. Gilbert and Weaver remain on the fringes.
Give Bergevin credit for thinking on the fly when it was clear Tinordi and Beaulieu were overmatched in the league at this stage of their development. But there is a down-side to replacing youth with age. The Canadiens are a team, like most of the good ones in the league, who depend on support from the forwards in the defensive zone. Their efforts to help out are going to be even more intense as the season unfolds. In a month or two we’ll know whether experience and hockey sense will be enough to overcome the age liabilities, which one might expect would include weariness as the season heads into the month of April. But by then, who knows what cards Bergevin might have up his sleeve.