THE CANADIENS OFF-SEASON: ALL QUESTIONS. NO ANSWERS

Aug 24th, 2018 | By | Category: Latest News

In the three months since the Canadiens played their last game, almost every headline regarding the team, on either traditional or social media has ended in a question mark.

“Will Bergevin be fired?”. “Can they sign free agents?” “What is to become of Pacioretty?”. “Can a top centre be found?” What about the defense?” On and on it goes.

Today, we have few answers. If anything even more questions.

ABOUT LAST SEASON

Two seasons ago the Canadiens led the Atlantic Division and ranked seventh in the league with 47 wins and 103 points.. It was mostly because of a defense that ranked third in the league.  Combined with their 15th ranked offense, the Canadiens had a goal differential of plus-26.

One long year later,  the Canadiens plummet to 28th with 18 fewer wins and that vaunted defense gave up 64 more goals leaving them minus-55 in goals for/against.

What happened? Did the absence of Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov mean that much?

THE SICK BAY

Teams refuse to use injuries as an excuse, or worse a crutch, but injuries killed the Canadiens last season.

Historically teams that lose more than 300 man-games to injury don”t make the playoffs. The Canadiens logged 363. Two seasons ago the figure was 218 and three seasons ago when the Canadiens also missed the playoffs it was 348 games.

You just can’t get around it. Even if the Canadiens were able to count on their marginally adequate farm system , there was no hope of a playoff berth.

Every key aspect was affected. In total 27 players missed games with something or the other. Carey Price with his self-admitted “chronic fatigue syndrome”; Shea Weber with the opening game broken foot; Phillip Danault, the team’s top qualified centre missed 30 games. Pacioretty missed 28, Lehkonen-26; Shaw 31.

THE OFF-SEASON –

If the goal  was to improve the on-ice product, by most analyses Marc Bergevin’s off season has been a failure.

Neither centre ice #1 or #2 has been filled. The Canadiens spent the entire summer knowing they wouldn’t have Shea Weber available until the New Year yet there has been no appreciable move to shore up the defense in his absence.

And hanging over the whole off season is that “Max Pacioretty thing”.

Centre Matthew Peca

UP FRONT

Of course, centre ice problems are nothing new for the Canadiens. This year’s solution was Matthew Peca who, despite no recognizable NHL creds,  was signed to a two-year one-way free agent contract and given some kind of a guarantee  he’ll be on the opening night roster.   Most think he’s,  a third line centre at best and the Canadiens have a lot of those.

Right now the Canadiens depth chart at centre is headed by the out-of-position Jonathan Drouin and a group of third and fourth liners that include Phillip Danault, Peca, Jacob de la Rose, Tomas Plekanec plus Mike McCarron and Byron Froese. You might include first round choice Jesperi Kotkaniemi but most think he needs another year of seasoning.

As for the other forward positions, I like the Joel Armia deal. Seemed to me the Galchenyuk for Max Domi was a wash. Other than that, does anyone think the Canadiens are improved by adding Kenny Agostino or Michael Chaput to the roster?

THE BLUELINE

Last season, without Shea Weber in the dressing room the Canadiens defense was the worst in the NHL.

Guess what? For the first half of the season Shea Weber will not be in the lineup and the Canadiens defense looks pretty much like we saw in May; Jeff Petry; two promising 20-year olds in Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen; plus David Schlemko, Karl Alsner and Jordie Benn none of whom ever really gained much traction last season.

Will things get any better? Not likely. There’s no Victor Mete coming out of the woodwork. We have those two Czech defenseman who will start in Laval. There’s Rinat Valiev and Brett Lernout but neither would be a vast improvement in what is already there, which means, without Weber, the first half of the season is going to be very bleak.

PACIORETTY

This whole Pacioretty business is baffling.

Why would a general manager publicly question the talent of one of his top assets and place him on the trade block for all to see, thus diminishing his market value?

Witness the Subban and Galchenyuk trades, it’s obvious Bergevin is quick to divest the team of what he considers “roster issues”. It’s also apparent he considers his team captain an “issue. We can only speculate why.

Part of Bergevin’s assessment might centre on what is often called the “perimeter” nature of Pacioretty’s game, a trait that seems to have surfaced after the Zdeno Chara incident and is featured by a reluctance to enter the co-called “dirty” goal areas.

Bergevin has often stated he doesn’t want players who “get the Canadiens to the playoffs” but those who get the team “THROUGH the playoffs.” Based on Pacioretty’s play in the post season, which has not been very good, I think Bergevin has decided he not the type of player to lead the team through a playoff run especially if it’s going to take 36 million dollars or more over six years to keep him contract-happy.

So he’s on the block. Will he start the season with the Canadiens?

Awkwardly, he just might. With, or without the captaincy.

And Bergevin would then wait around for the kind of deal that Colorado’s Joe Sakic engineered for Matt Duchene last November. And good luck with that.

THE FUTURE

Corey Pronman of The Athletic listed the Canadiens with the sixth best group of young prospects in the league.

There are a truckload of reasons to criticize Bergevin’s performance over the last six years but give him some credit, Knowing that the Canadiens farm system was in critical condition, he has gone about giving his scouting director Trevor Timmins a chance to replenish by acquiring draft picks with almost every deal he has made.

As a result the Canadiens have had two first, five second round four third round draft picks over the last two drafts. At the same time the Canadiens main roster has been getting younger. (They had no second round picks the two drafts previous)

In recent history, Stanley Cup champions have been built through the draft. The potential Pacioretty trade will tell us if Bergevin wants to take his team in that direction. If he pulls off a Matt Duchene-type deal filled with draft choices and top prospects we’ll know that the he’s committed to the ground-up rebuild.

On the other hand, if he opts to close the gaping holes on his current roster with a veteran forward or defenseman we’ll know we’re doomed to repeat the multiple errors of the last quarter century.

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