Christmas is around the corner, begging one question: What do you get the man who essentially has everything, now that Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has Shea Weber back?
The Habs are flying high since his return from injury. Going 4-3 in the seven games Weber’s played, they’ve earned a foothold in the Eastern Conference playoff picture… So, maybe not flying to the degree the team was during the heyday of the Flying Frenchmen, but you can’t have everything this holiday season.
So, keeping things quasi-realistic, what is Bergevin hypothetically hoping for? Here are the top five things on his Christmas wish list:
5. A Top Left-Handed Defenseman
Say what you want about Shea Weber, he’s a legitimate top-pairing defenseman, even at age 33. It would be nice if the Canadiens actually had a top pairing to put him on, though.
The Canadiens’ defense remains lopsided to the right, which comprises an NHL-caliber threesome of Weber, Jeff Petry and Noah Juulsen. The left is another story, made up of depth defensemen like Brett Kulak, Mike Reilly and David Schlemko. Up to now, it’s been Jordie Benn who’s gotten the most reps on the top pairing (with Petry, before Weber came back). And Habs fans are just as familiar with him as a bottom-pairing defenseman on the right.
So, naturally, if the Canadiens are looking to make a move and sell off some futures (for whatever reason), they’d pool all their assets together to bid for the services of…
4. Charlie Coyle
Yes, Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle. It all makes about as much sense as Bergevin trading away that projected top-pairing defenseman in Mikhail Sergachev for yet another winger the Habs didn’t need at the time in Jonathan Drouin. And, yet, here we are… but the heart wants what it wants.
The rumors are, should the Canadiens acquire Coyle, he would take over the third-line-center role from 18-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Considering Kotkaniemi’s progression as a pivot in whom the Habs can trust and how they stunted the growth of the player they last drafted to become the team’s No. 1 center in Alex Galchenyuk, hopefully just rumors.
To be fair, Drouin has come alive recently and is projected to post career-best numbers this season. The 26-year-old Coyle, who can actually play center, actually has a 56-point season under his belt (to Drouin’s 53-point one a few years ago with the Tampa Bay Lightning). So, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad acquisition in a vacuum… assuming the Canadiens don’t end up sucking as a result of what they would give up in exchange.
3. Credit Where It’s Due
Many analysts didn’t have the Canadiens where they are in the standings before Christmas, holding down a playoff spot. That’s mainly due to what had been a questionable offseason by Bergevin, during which he seemingly started the rebuild process for the future.
Bergevin nevertheless stuck to his guns and claimed however laughably that the goal was to compete for a playoff spot after the team finished fourth from last in 2017-18. Well, even if he was just blowing smoke for the purposes of selling tickets, he turned out to be right… at least for now. A pat on the back and a stroke to his ego is well-deserved so far.
2. A Playoff Spot
One has to believe, at this point, Bergevin would love little more than to see this thing through this year. That would mainly be because, if the Canadiens don’t make the playoffs, that would make three seasons out of the last four and many general managers have been fired for a lot less.
Still, it goes beyond simply making the playoffs. The ideal scenario would see the Habs make the playoffs with this current lineup (maybe even without Coyle) and not just because it would mean Bergevin had in fact made all the right moves this past summer. Standing pat would also arguably be the best move for the team’s long-term health. Meanwhile, giving up picks and prospects to ensure a mere wild-card team earns a berth would set the team back.
This is a team with an aging core made up of Weber and another 30-year-old-plus superstar in goalie Carey Price. While Weber’s missed a lot of time due to injury, his production is still there. Price has both missed significant time due to injury over the last few years and has conceivably lost a step since then.
That might reinforce the theory that the Habs have to pull out all the stops and go for a championship now. All it would do is put all of the organization’s eggs in one basket for this season, when the Habs have failed to gain traction in the playoffs dating back to 2014.
The Canadiens have actually regressed from that perspective, with Price failing to silence the critics he does have for that reason. If Price couldn’t win it all when he was at the top of the game, it makes little sense to assume Price at 31, going on 32, would be able to get it done on the heels of the worst statistical season of his career last year. Better to reload with fresh talent and younger superstars, or whatever “re” word Bergevin is calling it these days.
1. A Rejuvenated Carey Price
Price’s latest contract, which came into effect this season and will last until 2026, might very well end up being Bergevin’s biggest miscalculation when all is said and done. And that’s saying a lot.
When it comes down to it, Price is being paid an average of $10.5 million for the next eight seasons. That’s superstar money. It’s reasonable to expect a high level of play at least for the first seasons of this latest deal, similar to what he was able to deliver from 2014-2017.
That means, for Bergevin not to have any kind of buyer’s remorse, Price is going to have to start stealing games with some kind of regularity, to the point that the other holes in the lineup don’t matter. Because that’s what he was able to do way back when, before he got paid to this degree.
All signs and well, everything we know about biology and the developmental curves of professional athletes, point to that being unlikely. It’s not impossible though, as a few goalies have proven in the past.
Needless to say, Price returning to some semblance of his Hart Memorial Trophy-winning self would solve all kinds of problems for Bergevin. It would help the Habs secure a playoff spot now, all the while enabling him to build for the present. It might even allow the Habs to put the search for a top-pairing defenseman on the back burner so they could pursue the services of players at positions they don’t need to fill, like Coyle. For whatever reason.
All the while, a rejuvenated Price would take the heat off Bergevin and might even make him look like a genius. Now, that’s the dream. Sorry, wish.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.