Time Is Right for Canadiens GM Bergevin to Spend to Cap

After several years of avoiding the cap ceiling, Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has effectively painted himself into a corner. The color is changing from red to green as we speak, because he has no other logical choice but to go for it.

The Missed Radulov Re-Signing

Granted, there’s a case to be made that had Bergevin spent to the cap in years past, he would have been able to capitalize better on the primes of goalie Carey Price and Shea Weber.

For example, in 2017, he could have theoretically overpaid for Alexander Radulov, which seems to have worked out well for the Dallas Stars. The problem was, Radulov was arguably the only available free agent worth signing, and that unfortunately includes Karl Alzner.

Karl Alzner
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Karl Alzner – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Once Radulov was off the board, any one hole at which Bergevin threw money would have become a veritable money pit. Again… Alzner.

Following a 71-point 2017-18 season, it became apparent there were no quick fixes. So, whether or not it was justified from that point on, that was the logic Bergevin clung to until now, at least publicly, despite reports to the contrary. So, with exception to the Sebastian Aho offer sheet, Ben Chiarot (three years, $10.5 million) ended up the biggest unrestricted-free-agent signing of the last two summers.

Canadiens Go On a Run

However, time changes things. After a five-month layoff, the Canadiens, who finished 24th in the standings in 2019-20, transformed into a playoff team for only the second season out of the last five. A relatively impressive run, in which the Habs took the top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers to six games in a series that could have gone either way, has signaled that the Habs might be ready for bigger and better things.

Shiny, new things with regard to the free-agent market, perhaps… especially considering this year’s market is fairly stacked with players who should address pressing needs from the Canadiens’ perspective. For example:

Furthermore, still with regard to time, neither Weber nor Price are getting any younger at ages of 35 and 33 respectively. The argument is such that if Bergevin doesn’t fill those holes in the near future, he’ll also have to deal with two other, bigger ones to fill.

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He at least acknowledges the issue with regard to his No. 1 goalie. After years of providing Price with less-than-stellar backups, Bergevin went out and acquired Jake Allen. He also attempted to upgrade his left side on D by trading for and then signing Joel Edmundson, with the two acquisitions costing him $7.85 million cap space.

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Bergevin’s Once-Bountiful Cap Space

Whether that overall price tag is justified or not, what’s done is done and the Canadiens’ once bountiful amount of cap space has taken a serious hit. Bergevin now have just over $11 million in cap space (with Alzner’s contract buried) to fill out his roster with five players, potentially including restricted free agents Victor Mete and Max Domi, the latter of whom should eat up a large chunk of it.

Of course, various parts can still be moved to increase that total. In fact, it’s somewhat expected that they will… or more accurately that Bergevin will be the one to move them. It’s his responsibility after all, seeing as he’s been in charge since 2012 and he’s two seasons away from a decade on the job.

Marc Bergevin
Marc Bergevin – (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

The playoff appearance was nice and all, but the Canadiens need to gain more traction, if Bergevin’s to justify his role at the helm of the most storied team in NHL history. He may not be the one to blame for all of it, but his contract is also set to expire in 2022, one year off from three decades without a Habs championship. If they’re not primed to go on a run by then, his entire 10-year tenure will arguably have been a waste.

In summary: The Canadiens have several holes on their roster, several viable hypothetical targets with which to fill them, rapidly increasing expectations to live up to and a window to compete that’s closing just as fast.

No one is suggesting to simply throw money at the problem, because the Alzner signing is the perfect example of what can go wrong if Bergevin does just that (again). It’s about Bergevin hopefully having learnt from that experience and picking his targets… and spots better. In other words, if not now, when? One way or another, it’s time for him to use up as much green as possible.