I don’t think there’s a shred of doubt in almost anyone’s mind that Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is going to make some significant changes to the Canadiens between now and the first week of July.
Part of it will be forced on him by what he loses in the expansion draft but the majority will be addressing the much talked-of gaping hole that exists at the team’s centre ice position.
But, truth be told, the Canadiens don’t have just one hole to fill at the position. Reality is, there are two of them, unless they truly believe that second-liner Tomas Plekanec is going to bounce back after two consecutive years of offensive decline. Under present circumstances Plekanec is playng more like a two-way third line centre which means, if he’s not taken in the expansion draft, Bergevin still has to be considering filling not only the middle of the first line but second line centre as well.
RDS columnist Martin Lemay wrote a solid column May 12th entitled “Pas de centre, pas de Coupe” in which he makes the case that teams that win the Stanley Cup almost always have at least two top centremen.
BREAKING WITH POLICY
In a league where five-year rebuilding plans are the norm, Bergevin is entering his sixth year as Canadiens general manager. In that time he has engineered only one major trade, the second guessing of which has become an endless drone as Nashville has made it’s way through the playoffs.
Bergevin has often repeated his desire to avoid mortgaging the future of the franchise by trading draft choices and the team’s youth. All things considered he really has no choice but to amend his thinking.
In an earlier post we went through the deals Serge Savard made during his tenure as Canadiens GM. The acquisition of Bobby Smith and later Kirk Muller were bold and at the time widely second-guessed and criticized but they were key to the last two Canadiens Stanley Cup wins in 1986 and ’93.
Bob Gainey has been trashed in hindsight for blowing up his offense in 2009 by making the Gomez trade plus signing free agents Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri. Conveniently forgotten is the fact that all three of them had good first seasons in a Canadiens uniform and the team wound up in the Eastern Conference final for the first time in 17 years after upsetting both Boston and Pittsburgh in the early rounds. (That season Gomez recorded 60 points and added 14 more in 16 playoff games; Gionta had 28 regular season goals and Cammalleri 26).
Ultimately both Gainey and Savard knew something that I’m sure Bergevin is quickly beginning to realize; there is a time when you have to go all-in or forever be branded an also-ran or even-worse, “mediocre”.
One of the things that caught the attention of this post’s readers was mention of the present “five year talent gap” in the Canadiens development programme, a gap that portends difficult times ahead as the likes of Carey Price, Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber and some of the others begin to lose a step moving into and through their 30’s and the replacement pipeline is dry.
Even with the possibility of one or two surprises along the way, there are few high impact skaters in the current minor league crop. The knowledge of lean years ahead only increases the urgency to win now. But not only is the arid state of the farm system at issue, that situation leaves Bergevin with few assets beyond their recent and future draft choices with which to make a meaningful deal.
Free agency might solve one of the two centre ice issues but a blockbuster trade of the nature of last year’s Weber/Subban deal has to be a major part of all discussions being held this month in the Bell Centre’s seventh floor executive suite.
Does Bergevin have the stones to pull a major deal off after the way he was taken to the critical cleaners by media and fans alike over Subban?
My guess is, he has. Time will tell.