At the end of the 2019-20 NHL season, there is little doubt in the mind of Montreal Canadiens fans, general manager Marc Bergevin will face the media and fanbase and blame injuries for his team missing this season’s playoffs.
Leading up to the deadline, there was some question as to what path Bergevin would select in dealing with his depleted roster: to buy or to sell. Most felt he needed to sell. He made his decision, and it seems he was listening to the majority.
In the week leading up to the deadline, Bergevin began working the phones. His first decision was to send defenceman Marco Scandella to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a second-round pick and a conditional fourth. This was excellent asset management as he had acquired Scandella mid-season for a fourth-round pick.
The Ilya Kovalchuk trade is one that led to some discord among Habs fans. Some wanted to keep him, others wanted to move him for the best offer. Instead, Bergevin allowed Kovalchuk to decide between two offers.
There are many views on this decision to allow Kovalchuk a choice. For those who want Montreal to be seen as a destination for unrestricted free agents (UFA) again, managing a high profile case such as this one by giving the player what he wants showcases the team and management group as one that wants to accommodate these players and will sacrifice for them as a reward for their decision to choose Montreal.
Regardless, adding a third-round pick from Washington in exchange for a UFA that signed a league-minimum deal two months ago, after no other team took a chance on him, is excellent asset management as it only cost Bergevin minimal cap space to add the draft pick.
He was able to trade out several UFA and add multiple picks. This leaves the Canadiens with 14 picks in this year’s draft which is held in Montreal, giving Bergevin multiple assets that he can use to provide local fans an entertaining weekend including picking local players or even making a splash in the trade market.
Mile High Holiday
Bergevin spent several days in Colorado taking in Colorado Avalanche games with assistant general manager Scott Mellanby.
The cover story mentioned by Avalanche GM Joe Sakic was that Bergevin was there to visit his daughter at Colorado University. That said, how many people go on a holiday with a co-worker to visit family? It’s obvious that high-level scouting trips are unusual and it generated many miles of article space as rumors were tossed around as the Feb. 24, 2020 deadline approached.
That time came and went with no deal completed. This leaves fans questioning if there is a large deal in the works for the offseason between these two teams. Many are hopeful there is. Pierre Lebrun gives some teeth to that path:
One team to monitor this offseason? Montreal. I’ve talked to a few of his colleagues around the league over the past few weeks who believe GM Marc Bergevin will be swinging for the fences this summer. Stay tuned.Lebrun notebook: Wrapping up what did and didn’t happen on deadline day. Pierre Lebrun, The Athletic, 25 Feb 2020
Bergevin’s stated goal is to build through the draft while competing for the playoffs, which seems contradictory. He has been very open about this plan, and it revolves around adding as many draft picks as possible for his scouting staff to use. He repeated this during his post-trade deadline press conference.
There is a good chance that after missing the playoffs four times in the last five seasons, Bergevin may face pressure from owner Geoff Molson to build a team that can make the playoffs. If he doesn’t, his time in Montreal may come to an end. Even if that isn’t the case, the draft is being held in Montreal this June and it is very possible Bergevin is setting himself up to make a splash in front of the home crowd. Bringing in 2018 second-round pick right winger Jesse Ylonen on loan from Europe to help the American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket for the remainder of the 2019-20 season shows that Bergevin is already pushing ahead with his youth plan. In this case, without having to sign the prospect to his entry-level contract (ELC).
Since the 2017 Draft, the Canadiens scouting staff has had 28 draft picks to select from. This is in addition to the 14 they currently have in 2020. That provides them a total of 42 picks in four years. With only 50 NHL contracts available to a franchise, there is no way to sign all of those prospects. Because they are letting these players mature in the CHL, NCAA, and Europe, it will be important to ensure there are four to five contracts available to the GM each June so that he can sign the prospects that they covet from their pool.
It’s clear the plan is to pick often and, by sheer numbers, find NHL caliber players. There is an argument to be made about the quality of the picks; that a top-five pick holds more value than a top-20 pick, but there is no denying the depth currently missing from the roster.