Canadiens and Bergevin Need to Choose a Course

I’ll be blunt: it’s not looking good for the Montreal Canadiens. After losing back-to-back games on their Florida trip to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, the Habs suddenly sit three points out of third place in the Atlantic Division, and six points out of the second wild card spot. To make matters worse, in both their division and wild card race, they’ve played more games than most of the teams ahead of them. And to think, this team was sitting pretty before play resumed following the Christmas break, comfortably in a third-place divisional position, with games in hand on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin
Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Canadiens have been hanging by a thread recently. About a month ago, the team lost forwards Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron to long term injuries and have yet to see either of them play since. Drouin will reportedly resume skating in the next week or so and is projected to be available in January at some point, while Byron had started skating last week but has suffered a set-back and is now listed as week-to-week.

Montreal is a small team, there’s no doubt about it, and so when Joel Armia, their biggest forward, went down last week against the Winnipeg Jets, it was a huge blow to an already thin team. He had been having a career-season, with 12 goals and 9 assists in just 35 games thus far. Considering he only had 13 goals all of last year, it’s safe to say he was admirably filling a role left by Drouin and Byron. He’s now listed as week-to-week with a wrist injury, and Montreal is losing traction in the standings, and quickly. Going forward, General Manager Marc Bergevin has three options in my mind. (from: ‘Canadiens Notebook: Joel Armia listed as ‘week-to-week’ with hand injury,’ Chronicle Herald, 12/2719).

Sell Off Current Assets

If Bergevin and the Canadiens lose a few more games and the playoffs seem to be an insurmountable task, it may be the best move organizationally to sell off the players attractive to contenders and cut their losses. It’s a sad proposition for a team that has made the playoffs just once in the last four seasons, but it may have to be done if the team continues to plummet down the Eastern Conference standings.

There are several players who could potentially be called up in the event of trades: Jake Evans, Lukas Vedejmo (already called up but didn’t play), Michael McCarron, Dale Weise, or Charles Hudon. The bottom six of the Canadiens can be easily replaced by these players should they decide that this season is lost. Meanwhile, there are useful players in the Canadiens’ organization that could potentially be traded for picks and/or prospects should they decide to take this route.

Charles Hudon #54 of the Montreal Canadiens
Charles Hudon #54 (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

Nate Thompson is a player that can easily be looked at as a trade-deadline candidate. He’s been a good soldier for the Canadiens, winning faceoffs on the fourth line, and providing a veteran presence in the room. It’s tough to see a valuable player like this go, but he could fetch anywhere from a third- to fifth-round pick in this year’s draft held in Montreal.

Nate Thompson Montreal Canadiens
Nate Thompson, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Paul Byron (although injured) could also fetch a decent return should he become healthy and prove that he can still play coming off injured reserve. Defenceman Mike Reilly hasn’t played a whole lot this season but has shown potential in the past to be a puck-moving rearguard and could be a sixth- or seventh-round pick exchange option.

Make A Trade

The Canadiens are arguably still right in the mix of the playoff picture. If not for the key injuries to Drouin, Byron, Armia (and a few missing saves from Carey Price) they could still be healthily in third place in the Atlantic. But alas, Price has been ordinary, the defence has been horrid in the last string of games, and now it looks as though they’re in need of reinforcements.

They have a whopping twelve picks at next year’s draft held in Montreal, and given the fact that many believe 2020 to be a very deep draft, the Habs could potentially move a few third- and fourth-round picks as a low-risk, high-reward trade. The Los Angeles Kings have a few players that could intrigue Montreal to fill needs up font in Tyler Taffoli and Kyle Clifford. The Anaheim Ducks have two defenders who, while likely hard to acquire in Cam Fowler or Hampus Lindholm, could be game changers for Montreal on the blue line. The Chicago Blackhawks also have some attractive pieces in Brandon Saad and Erik Gustafsson who could be had for strictly picks.

Los Angeles Kings center Tyler Toffoli
Los Angeles Kings center Tyler Toffoli (Dom Gagne-USA TODAY Sports)

It wouldn’t be a horrible move by Montreal to try and acquire help for this years’ campaign. Given their number of picks in the upcoming draft and an already top-notch prospect pool, it wouldn’t exactly tear down the future. They aren’t completely out of it yet; heck, St. Louis was dead last in the league at this point and won the Stanley Cup last year. While I don’t believe they have the team this year to do any sort of damage in the playoffs if they should make it there, I think Bergevin could will this team into the playoffs with a trade, and simultaneously win fans over for being proactive.

Stay the Course

In what has been the status quo since the inception of Bergevin’s “reset on the fly”, the Canadiens’ mantra has been to collect prospects and picks, without making a splash in the trade market, and just patiently wait for their youngsters to develop.

I don’t believe it is the right thing to do given the direction this team needs to go. It is boring and discouraging for fans to see their team consistently sit back and do nothing while missing the playoffs year after year. Bergevin needs to be mindful of his job in this case, but he’s been adamant this season and historically that he will not trade the farm to have short-term success.

Marc Bergevin Montreal Canadiens
Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s hard to believe that Montreal will simply stay the course and let themselves miss the playoffs for a third straight season, especially given that Carey Price and Shea Weber are 32 and 34, respectively. Yet with Drouin expected back in the new year, and the fact that if Carey Price had made three more saves the Canadiens could have been coming home from Florida with two or three points, there is still optimism within this current team.

If Bergevin is going to make a move to shakeup his team, it should be done as soon as possible. It’s too tight a race to sit on your hands, and Bergevin I’m sure knows it. It will be interesting to see if the Habs GM will be willing to go back on his philosophy and make a drastic move to make the playoffs and potentially save his job.