Acquiring Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning in June 2017 is one of Marc Bergevin’s major moves as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens. On one hand, fans were thrilled to finally have a Quebec-born player of Drouin’s calibre. On the other hand, they weren’t happy to give up Mikhail Sergachev, the team’s top defensive prospect and ninth overall selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Three years later, skeptics of this trade have reason to say: “I told you so.”
The conditions for the two draft picks involved in the deal were not met so ultimately Drouin and Sergachev were swapped one for one. Drouin was 22 years old when he joined the Canadiens and appeared poised to become a regular 65+ point contributor for his hometown team. That breakthrough hasn’t happened yet. In three seasons, Drouin has 114 points in 185 games, including 53 points last season to tie a career-best.
By comparison, Sergachev has 106 points in 224 games with the Lightning. This season, he had 10 goals and 34 points in 70 games and a plus-15 rating. The Russian defender averaged 20:22 of ice time per game, up from 17:55 last season, and played regularly on the penalty kill as well as the second power-play unit.
A Big Hole on Defense
Although Drouin has yet to live up to expectations in Montreal, he’s still only 25 which means there’s time for him to show why he was the third overall pick in the 2013 Draft. This season, the native of Ste-Agathe, Quebec had 15 points in 27 games and was playing his best, most inspired hockey as a Hab before a wrist injury and subsequent surgery ruined his progress. That glimpse at the extent of Drouin’s talent is what Bergevin is banking on for the future.
“When you have the chance to get your hands on a player of Jonathan’s talent at a young age, it’s very important. This opportunity probably hasn’t been available to me in five years. Plus, he’s a kid from here, so for me it was a decision I had to make. Giving up Sergachev was not easy, but acquiring Jonathan was a chance we couldn’t pass up,” Bergevin explained at the time of the trade.
However, in fulfilling a desire for a top-six forward and a local star, Bergevin left a gaping hole on the left side of his defense, one that he has been unable to fill during his tenure. Sergachev is precisely the type of player the Canadiens have been lacking, especially since Andrei Markov left for the KHL a few years ago. As a result, Shea Weber has not had a reliable partner on the top pair since he arrived in Montreal, one of the reasons why fans have been more excited about the draft lottery than the playoffs lately.
Even with the pending arrival of highly touted prospect Alexander Romanov, who agreed to terms on his entry-level contract last week and who can play on the left side, there remains a significant need on defense that has to be addressed. Drouin can’t do it no matter how many points he scores. A defenseman who can log big minutes, produce offensively, and be dependable defensively next to Weber is crucial to the Canadiens right now.
Will Bergevin Try Another Offer Sheet?
Sergachev is one of five pending restricted free agents on the Lightning roster this season. They are already tight against the cap, which is expected to stay flat for next season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so Sergachev could be an offer sheet target, particularly for Bergevin as he continues his quest for a top-four defenseman.
Bergevin surprised the league when he signed Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet last summer, which the Carolina Hurricanes easily matched, but it was a bold move nonetheless, and maybe he won’t hesitate to do it again.
While Sergachev would be a perfect fit in Montreal that doesn’t mean he would sign an offer sheet with his former team if the opportunity presented itself, especially since he seems confident he will re-sign with the Lightning.
“It’s a little different obviously right now, but I’m trying to leave it to my agent. He’s going to deal with it, I guess. But for me, I just want to continue the season, play and get better and see what happens. I feel like they’re going to work out something. I have a good agent,” Sergachev said.
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Perhaps a trade for Sergachev is a better option for the Canadiens, one similar to the deal Bergevin swung with the Chicago Blackhawks at the draft several years ago for pending RFA Andrew Shaw.
If a return to the Canadiens is not in Sergachev’s cards and Bergevin can’t find that missing piece on defense to play alongside Weber, we’ll be left wondering what could have been and ruing about the one that got away.