May 11th, 2017 | By | Category: Canadiens, Latest News

Is there anyone, anywhere who isn’t convinced that whatever ails the Canadiens starts and ends with the middle of their first line.

The most casual of fan knows it.  Definitely general manager Marc Bergevin is acutely aware of the issue.  The question for Bergevin is how to execute some kind of deal that will solve his most pressing issue without creating serious roster problems elsewhere.

All of this is not new.   Finding a stud first line centreman for the Canadiens has been a thorn in the side of the team and the fans for forty-five years dating back to the retirement of Jean Beliveau in 1971.  . Home grown incumbents Henri Richard and then Jacques Lemaire carried the water for a while but, in the nearly three decades since Lemaire retired, outside of the good but not great Saku Koivu, the Canadiens record on drafting and developing top line centremen has been awful.

Twice they’ve had the benefit of high draft picks to fill the position. They drafted Doug Wickenheiser ahead of Denis Savard first overall in 1980 and in 2012 Alex Galchenyuk third overall. Wickenheiser wound up with skating issues and was never as good as everyone thought he might be.   Galchenyuk, while highly skilled, has shown he doesn’t have the on-ice hockey vision to be a top line centre.

Considering that the four centres the St. John’s IceCaps were using in the playoffs were Daniel Audette, Jacob de la Rose, Niki Petti and the veteran Chris Terry, it’s abundantly clear that Bergevin’s choices are forcibly limited to free agency or the trade market.

With the exception of salary cap issues, free agency is the easy path but few teams allow a top centre to reach unrestricted status. Joe Thornton is still the best passer in the league and could be still productive setting up Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov, but there are few that think he has any interest at age 38 in ending what is already a twelve season stay in San Jose.

Beyond that the available centres are lower impact second and third liners like Arizona’s Martin Hanzel, Nashville’s Mike Fischer. The Blue Jackets Sam Gagner is a fascinating target, but his 50 points of last season may be a risky career anomaly.

Scott Gomez

So that leaves the trade market. And as Bob Gainey rudely found, that can be risky business. Eight years ago, Gainey faced the same problem as Bergevin. He had allowed Koivu to walk through free agency and was left without a credible top centre. Out of desperation, he sold the farm by sending first round draft pick Ryan McDonagh to the Rangers for Scott Gomez.

Still the trade market has also been key to the last two Canadiens Stanley Cup Champions. In light of the Wickenheiser fail, then Canadiens GM Serge Savard traded forwards Keith Acton and Mark Napier to Minnesota in return for Bobby Smith in October 1983. With Smith as their go-to centre the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1986 and made it to the Cup final again in 1989.

With Smith’s career winding down, Savard faced the same problem again in the late 90’s. He resolved that with trades for Denis Savard (in return for Chris Chelios), Kirk Muller (for two-time 50 goal scorer Stephan Richer) and Vincent Damphousse (for Shayne Corson & Brent Gilchrist). They were all part of the team that won the Canadiens last Stanley Cup in 1993.

In all four instances – five if you include the Gomez disaster – the Canadiens had to give up significant assets in order to get value in return.

Nathan Beaulieu

So, if we all agree that in a trade market a team has to give up quality to get quality, what will the Canadiens have to give up in order fill that gaping hole at centre ice?

Off the current roster, the answer is “not much” unless you fall into the trap of filling one hole by creating another. There might be some thought about moving Galchenyuk who has become a technical problem for the coaching staff. Outside of that, the strength of the Canadiens organization lies in it’s defense and goaltending. I’m sure Nathan Beaulieu would be available if anyone wants him. I’m also sure that anyone discussing a serious deal with Bergevin would probably have 2016 first round draft pick Mikhail Sergachyov on their list as well.

Bergevin insists that he is not prepared to mortgage the future of the franchise the way Gainey did in the Gomez deal. Still, taking note that the core of the Canadiens roster is enter their 30’s and the four year gap in the Canadiens drafting and development of significant talent, he might be forced to think the future is now.


  1. bay bye says:

    I do not think Bergevin is the man for the job in Montreal. He is awful at trades and we always lose in the end and with the present management team in place in Montreal and AHL nobody wants to play in Montreal. Developement of young players is horrific. we can not make players in the AHL—NHL ready like other teams seem to accomplish. MB has every excuse why he can not to get the job done. His handling of the trade last summer was not acceptable..he says PK is not going anywhere and then trades for a player 4 years older with less future potential but rather a diminishing career ahead. then he over terms and over pays for Shaw and also gives up 2 2nd round picks. He can not be trusted with the future of the club

  2. Noah says:

    Pacc, galch, beaulieu, juulsen and our first pick should get a BIG return. Tavares….

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