Expectations are undeniably low for the Montreal Canadiens as they enter the 2018-19 season. Of course, according to general manager Marc Bergevin, the Habs are “officially” intending to compete (for a mere playoff spot), but how realistic is that?
Just as a reminder, knowing fully at the time Shea Weber would be out until mid-December, Marc Bergevin still insisted that the goal next season is for the Canadiens to make the playoffs.
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) July 5, 2018
It’s a goal akin to going to a fast-food joint and looking for something nutritious to eat. Finding something is admittedly a possibility… in much the same way snow in the middle of May is. There’s always a chance, but it doesn’t belong. Kind of like these Canadiens in, well, May.
Here are the top five likeliest outcomes for the Canadiens this coming 2018-19 season:
5) Canadiens Contend for the Cup; Bergevin Gets His Own Parade
For our purposes, contending implies going deep in the playoffs, regardless of how the regular season plays out. Of course, the Habs would have to earn a playoff berth, but, aside from that one condition, all bets are off. They can squeak in by the skin of their teeth, but, as long as they at least reach the third round, like they did in 2010, they’ll have a shot at winning it all (~25%).
In contrast, the opposite scenario, in which the Habs would dominate during the regular season, but fall flat and on their faces in Round 1 wouldn’t fit in here. No one looks back on how 2016-17 ended, with a first-round upset at the hands of the New York Rangers as anything other than a colossal failure. The Habs, despite winning the Atlantic Division that season, didn’t contend.
The Habs were instead seen as having barely competed, against a team that went on to lose to the Ottawa Senators in the second round… which admittedly sounds like more of an insult than it should, knowing what we do about the Sens currently.
Keep in mind, though: Those Rangers are transparently rebuilding in the present. Are the Habs? Despite having been outclassed by them two springs ago and having suffered through a worse campaign last season? The Habs would have you believe they’re not.
What’s also crazy about this scenario is how it would result in Bergevin being hailed as a genius and all his critics being forced to admit he was right all along. So:
- Right to trade P.K. Subban for a defenseman who’s four years older and not as well-built for the current NHL in Shea Weber.
- Right to trade a defenseman built for the current NHL who was a perfect fit in this lineup in Mikhail Sergachev for a winger they didn’t need in Jonathan Drouin.
- Right to resort to strong-arm tactics and then fail in negotiations with a No. 2 defenseman they still need in Andrei Markov and the winger whose offense and energy Drouin would fail to replace in Alexander Radulov. Despite Bergevin having space to re-sign at least one of them.
- Right to publicly position Drouin as the Habs’ new center at the expense of Alex Galchenyuk, who had actually been drafted to play and had more experience and success at the position.
- Right to trade one of his biggest trade chips in Galchenyuk for yet another winger they didn’t need with a lower ceiling in Max Domi.
- Right to wait this long to trade his other big chip in perennial 30-goal-scorer Max Pacioretty, with the demand for his services having since dried up more than dead skin.
- Yeah… right.
You might be able to argue away one or two of those points. However, the second even the most-ardent Bergevin supporter has to admit fault on his part for even one of them, then the idea that he’s far from infallible seeps in. The curtain gets pulled away and the act falls apart like a house of cards.
Remember, the Habs themselves aren’t crazy enough to so much as mention this as being a possible scenario, let alone feed it to fans as being the goal of this coming season. They understand on at least some level no one would buy it, when Stanley Cup hopes are common conversation fodder in markets blessed with actual contenders. Not in Montreal, not next season.
4) Canadiens Lose Early in Playoffs; Bergevin Gets Mild Props
It is at least slightly possible the Habs sneak into the playoffs, at which point you have to believe Bergevin’s job would be safe for one more season. That would play into the notion that a playoff appearance would be a monumental achievement for this particular roster, which finished fourth from last in 2017-18 and 26 points out of the last wild-card spot.
Granted, they didn’t have Weber for over half the season, but the same will be true in 2018-19. The only hope is goaltender Carey Price returns to his Hart Memorial Trophy form, but that’s unlikely to say the least, especially as he plays behind a defense that allowed the seventh-most goals and over 32 shots per game last season.
Price will likely rebound to some degree, but it’s unfair to place the burden of what is set to transpire this coming season squarely on his shoulders. It’s not even on the defense. It’s on the general manager who assembled the defense… and then failed to improve it over the summer. Remember, an over-the-hill Tomas Plekanec was the only free-agent acquisition of consequence. That’s not the mark of a contender, especially with regard to a team with so many other holes to fill.
3) Canadiens Just Miss Playoffs; Bergevin Gets Praise… from Management
This is probably the worst case of the bunch, which would see the Habs miss the playoffs, miss out on a high draft pick and have Bergevin stay on, when he’s been proven to be out of his element up to now.
Thankfully, this only really happens if the Habs are serious about striving to make the playoffs and that’s probably not the case. All signs point to that being a ploy to keep up fan interest over what will almost inevitably be a disastrous season from a standings standpoint.
There is admittedly a variation of this scenario in which Bergevin gets shown the door. However, while this result would yield a third non-playoff season over four years for Bergevin’s Canadiens, you have to believe that, if owner Geoff Molson really wanted to fire Bergevin and eat what’s left of his contract, he would have done it by now. He has had ample reason to anyway. With expectations lowered, Bergevin may get another shot.
2) Canadiens Contend for Last Overall; Bergevin Gets Another Chance
Operating under the assumption the Habs actually want to lose this season (or are resigned to and embracing it), a near-last-place finish is in the cards. It’s easy to understand why that would be appealing to all parties involved, including the fans, who understand mediocrity breeds mediocrity in this league. To become legitimate contenders, you need to build from within, which only happens through good drafting.
It’s arguably how the Habs were so successful early on in Bergevin’s tenure, because of how his predecessors, Pierre Gauthier and Bob Gainey, drafted and developed talent. Granted, neither of them had the pleasure of drafting inside the top 10 (aside from when Price was drafted and every team had a shot at No. 1). It definitely makes it easier, though.
If the Habs do end up drafting high again next summer, you have to believe there would be some measure of understanding between Molson and Bergevin, if not an outright agreement behind closed doors. Like it or not, once news of Weber’s surgery surfaced, the pressure on Bergevin eased somewhat, because no one can realistically expect the Habs to make the playoffs with this roster and without Weber even for just a few months.
After all, the saying goes you can’t make the playoffs in October, but you can miss them. Ultimately, short of winning the Stanley Cup, this is and has always been the best outcome for Bergevin, regardless of the official party line. It may even be the actual plan as far as Bergevin knows.
1) Canadiens Contend for Last Overall; Bergevin Gets Fired
The unfortunate reality for Bergevin is both he and Molson have gone on record as saying, however foolishly, that the goal is to make the playoffs. When the Habs don’t, that will amount to an undeniable failure and someone will have to be held accountable. Seeing as the Habs will have missed the playoffs yet again, it makes sense that it would be Bergevin.
Bergevin’s already made one coaching change. Some GMs don’t get a second. The team just finished in the same horrible position in the standings as when Gauthier got fired (28th). They’re poised to finish at around the same place in 2018-19. The two players around whom he built the team are showing their age. In the case of Price, he was relatively healthy all of last year and it didn’t help. In the case of Weber, they were well out of the playoffs by the time he got put on the shelf. This coming season they may very likely be out of it well before he returns.
That’s kind of the hope anyway… and the likeliest outcome.
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.