It’s hard to fathom Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin demoted defenseman Victor Mete based solely on his play. After all, Mete remains one of the most-mobile defensemen in the system and is still high on the team’s organizational depth chart.
Mete vs. Alzner
Nevertheless, Bergevin opted to send the 20-year-old defenseman down to the American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket. Forward Paul Byron is ready to return, so the Habs had to stay under the 23-healthy-body maximum. While, officially speaking, Mete is one of the odd men out on defense along with Karl Alzner, the two situations couldn’t be more different.
Mete still figures in to the Habs’ long-term plans. In sharp contrast, Alzner’s future with the team is hanging by a thread in spite of the three and a half years left on his contract. Whereas Bergevin probably hoped someone would pick Alzner off waivers so he could erase his mistake signing him from two summers ago, Mete is waiver-exempt.
Therein lies the real reason why Mete is no longer with the Habs, because it wasn’t due to his lack of offensive production (at least not completely). In spite of how Mete has just four assists this season and is still looking for his first NHL goal, both Jordie Benn and Xavier Ouellet, two d-men who have played about the same amount of games, have fewer points. The only difference is both of them would have to go through waivers.
Neither should be considered especially valuable, at least not compared to Mete. Benn has just a single year left on his deal before becoming an unrestricted free agent. Ouellet was meanwhile bought out by the Detroit Red Wings last summer and, while he has played more good games than bad as a Hab, has hardly made his old team look foolish.
Bergevin Sends a Superior Defenseman Down
Ultimately, the risk of losing one of if not both of the above-mentioned depth defensemen for nothing must have left a sour taste in Bergevin’s mouth. So, sending a superior defenseman in Mete down instead, during what still has to be considered a rebuilding year (in spite of whatever Bergevin actually says), is actually good asset management.
It may seem odd, considering the Canadiens are technically in a playoff race, tied in points for the last Eastern Conference wild-card berth entering Friday night action. However, with five straight losses, the status quo is clearly no longer acceptable and, even though Mete is undeniably one of the Habs’ seven top defensemen in the system right now, by the same token he’s hardly been great.
The move shouldn’t be construed as Bergevin waving the white towel on the season before the calendar flips to December. The simple fact of the matter is, if the Habs’ season rests on the shoulders of a 20-year-old, rough-around-the-edges defenseman who’s still learning the NHL game, the Canadiens probably shouldn’t be making the playoffs at all.
Future Is Still Bright for Mete
So, Mete will get the chance he didn’t last season, to hone his game in the American Hockey League and come back even better. Whereas the thought process is he simply didn’t get demoted last season because he could only have been sent back to the Ontario Hockey League, where he would have dominated, no dice this year.
The Habs’ injury situation probably helped Mete make the initial cut, but, with the healthy bodies returning one by one, it’s time to re-assess the situation. The AHL is the best place for him, where he can build up some confidence and put more points on the board. There’s no shame in that. Nor should Bergevin be second-guessed here.
Looking at the overall quality of the team’s defensive corps, Mete deserves to be on the Habs. But that’s maybe where you can actually question the job Bergevin has done. The decision to draft Mete back in 2016 should not be looked back on as a mistake on his part because of this setback in the defenseman’s development, though. There’s still a lot of time for Mete to become the player everyone thinks he can be. The time in the AHL will help him get there.
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.