An Unofficial Canadiens Rebuild Spells Disaster

There’s little reason to believe the Montreal Canadiens are actually looking to make the playoffs this coming season. In spite of what owner Geoff Molson and general manager Marc Bergevin have said, all signs point to the 2018-19 season ending in disaster. Both from a standings standpoint and from the perspective of the alleged perpetrators, who only stand to lose goodwill with their fans.

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

So, when Bergevin or Molson claim that the Habs will “strive to be a playoff team,” it throws one for a loop. Here is a team that just finished 28th, but failed to do much of anything this offseason to improve the lineup. In the long term, that may be for the best. For the foreseeable future? Not so much.

Weber vs. Schmidt

Keep in mind the Habs will be without top defenseman Shea Weber until December. To put that in perspective, news the Western Conference-champion Las Vegas Golden Knights’ top defenseman, Nate Schmidt, has been suspended for 20 games has led to speculation it will accelerate a Knights trade for Erik Karlsson.

Granted, that’s all that is: speculation. However, consider that Schmidt is objectively less valuable than Weber, but that the Knights are a better team than the Habs. There is actual talk that losing Schmidt for less games than the Habs will be without Weber will seriously put the Knights’ season at risk.

Shea Weber
Shea Weber – (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

That’s the perceived value of a top defenseman in this league. Losing one for a quarter of the season, especially the first quarter, during which you won’t have a chance to build up a points cushion in the standings, can make or break a campaign. So, if the Knights are theoretically panicking right now, shouldn’t the Habs’ brain trust be looking for a new collective pair of pants? Why aren’t Habs fans hearing similar trade rumors? After all, according to Bergevin, the goal is still to make the playoffs.

The Habs – A Playoff Team?

The only logical conclusion is the Habs aren’t looking to make the playoffs at all. And no one would be able to blame them if that were the case. Successful rebuilds typically start with a few years of high draft picks. The Habs throwing in the towel, or, if you prefer, playing the hand they were dealt once the Weber prognosis was in and then John Tavares rejected them, makes cold, hard sense.

So, what’s really the point of insulting fans’ intelligence? To keep ticket sales up? When you risk alienating them following another losing season, one which officially has heightened expectations for a playoff finish?

Remember, back in April, after the failure of the 2017-18 season, Molson said, presumably with a straight face: “The more we give and the more transparent we can be, the better off, the happier our fans will be.” In Molson’s defense, that was before the Weber surgery news came out and there was still some sense of hope that Tavares would sign with the Habs, however delusional it was in retrospect.

Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares – (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

That really doesn’t absolve the Habs here. In fact, it makes it worse, because all a non-playoff season in 2018-19 will amount to is a failure after the team has gone on record as saying they will be looking to make the postseason. Someone will be have to be held responsible. With Alex Galchenyuk having already been traded and Max Pacioretty likely on his way out eventually, Bergevin is running out of scapegoats.

Seriously, did no one in upper Habs management think this through, Bergevin especially?

To Tank or Not to Tank

Sure, there’s this “theory” that proclaiming a season to be lost before it even begins only serves to sow seeds of discontent and can spread a losing “attitude” in the locker room. Based on Bergevin’s well-documented affinity for all synonyms of the word, that may be exactly what the team is trying to avoid.

Two things, though:

  • By all rational accounts, the Habs are trying to lose anyway. Just look to their lack of moves to improve the team this summer as proof.
  • Professional hockey players, regardless of their supposed attitude problems, can’t realistically be expected to tank. That’s management’s responsibility, to ice a sub-par team, so the chances of winning consistently are low.

With regard to Point No. 2: Ironically, with exception to the Weber injury that was out of his control, Bergevin didn’t have to do much to deconstruct his roster. Most of the damage had already been done over the last few summers. Take from that assessment what you will.

Marc Bergevin
Marc Bergevin (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

If this is all some kind of sick game the Habs are playing, where they’re assuming the fans are in on it, but just don’t want to admit the obvious for fear of being “that” team, news flash: The New York Rangers, who also boast a hockey-mad fanbase, are worth more financially than the Habs and have had more postseason success than the Habs during the Bergevin era, already were that team. The reaction to the Rangers’ open letter to fans, admitting they were no longer looking to contend, was generally positive.

There’s only one way to kind of justify how the Habs have treated their fans this offseason: They didn’t think highly enough of them to tell them the truth. The Habs seem to have chosen Door No. 2, to try and pull one over on them and hope no one notices.

Instead of promoting a rebuilding effort and the young stars in the making who’ll likely be making appearances this season (besides their latest first-round pick, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who probably isn’t ready to make the team), the Habs have squandered an opportunity to build more of a bridge to their fans. If this season plays out the way most are expecting it to, they could just be burning it down.