The plan had been to write separate pieces listing ex-Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin’s best and worst deals at the trade deadline. The rationale was logical. The deadline is the only real event Habs fans can look forward to this season, now that the NHL’s participation at the Olympics has been derailed.
Of course, there’s theoretically the All-Star Game… but, let’s get real. The fact is the Canadiens aren’t making the playoffs and a rebuild done right is essentially what’s kept many Habs fans going the last little while. So as inspiration for Jeff Gorton, the new executive vice president of hockey operations, and the Habs’ yet-to-be-hired new GM, why not put together a list of Bergevin’s best trade-deadline deals?
That was fairly easy in all honesty. The hard part was Part 2. Looking at Bergevin’s trade history, it was clear that, yes, he had made bad trades. That much can’t be denied, however few if any came in the lead-up to a trade deadline during his nine-plus seasons at the helm.
Bergevin Goes All in on Grit
Maybe that’s a testament to Bergevin’s hockey mind. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the fact remains a hypothetical list of Bergevin’s worst trade-deadline deals would have come across less like an objective article and more like a bumpy hayride, grasping, nay, nitpicking at straws so as not to fall off.
Oh, Bergevin made deals that didn’t really move the needle all that much, rest assured, like in 2017 when he traded David Desharnais to the Edmonton Oilers for Brandon Davidson. He even made deals that spoke to a misguided vision of what the team was lacking, like, also in 2017, when he made several other head-scratchers:
- Sven Andrighetto to the Colorado Avalanche for Andreas Martinsen
- Dwight King from the Los Angeles Kings for a fourth-round pick (2018)
- Steve Ott from the Detroit Red Wings for a sixth-round pick (2018)
Initially, the Martinsen trade looked horrible, but Andrighetto never built off his initial 16-points-in-19-games run the rest of that first season with the Avalanche. With Andrighetto unfortunately fading away into obscurity and Martinsen losing his roster spot on the Habs to Victor Mete the next season, no harm no foul, all things considered.
Clearly, Bergevin wanted to beef up his team for the playoffs, add more grit. Then-head coach Claude Julien only played Martinsen two of six games those playoffs. Bergevin struck more of a chord with the acquisitions of Ott and King, even though their respective impacts weren’t all that impressive either. Both played in all six games, but they failed to register a point between them.
Neither would play another NHL game either. Ott retired and King moved on to the Kontinental Hockey League, which speaks volumes considering he was a multi-time Stanley Cup winner who was just 28 years of age. Clearly Bergevin had incorrectly assessed what they could each bring the team.
Bergevin’s Failed Opportunities at the Draft
So, those picks? What did he give up? Well, ironically, the fourth-round pick got returned to the Canadiens when they dealt Torrey Mitchell to the Kings the following season. The Habs used it on forward Allan McShane, who’s playing in Sweden as of 2021-22. The sixth-round pick was ultimately used by the Columbus Blue Jackets on defenseman Tim Berni at No. 159 overall (who has zero NHL games played as of 2021-22).
While it’s impossible to predict who the Canadiens would have used it on, none of the players selected after Berni have developed into legitimate NHL players (albeit just in their early 20s; There’s theoretically still time for them to prosper). Only three have played one game or more. Only one, John Leonard (No. 182 by the San Jose Sharks), has played more than nine (49).
Maybe the closest the Canadiens came to giving up a decent prospect was a few days earlier in 2017, when they traded Greg Pateryn and a fourth-round pick for Jordie Benn. The 2017 pick was used to select Markus Phillips at No. 118 overall (who has yet to play an NHL game), but the Ottawa Senators then got Drake Batherson at No. 121.
It’s a cold, hard shame, but look at it this way:
- There are far from any guarantees the Canadiens would have made that same selection.
- There weren’t really any other prospects of note between then and No. 199, two Habs picks later when they took goalie Cayden Primeau (and seem to have done all right there).
- The Habs had acquired Benn with two more seasons left on his deal.
Right player for the roster or not, the Canadiens did end up utilizing Benn regularly the rest of his deal. So, not a bad trade.
Take Bergevin’s Good with His Bad
Similarly, Bergevin traded a fifth-round pick for Mike Weaver back in 2014. The pick turned into Ryan Pilon at No. 147 overall (no NHL games played), but the Anaheim Ducks took Troy Terry at No. 148 and the Vancouver Canucks took Adam Gaudette at No. 149. The Calgary Flames too Andrew Mangiapane at No. 166.
So, there was still talent available, but, because the Habs re-signed Weaver the next summer the Habs arguably got their money’s worth. Bergevin found a player he liked and didn’t let him walk way. Granted, Weaver didn’t contribute at the same level the following 2014-15 season, after which he retired. Still, not a bad trade in theory, just a regrettable one.
Bergevin simply didn’t give up high draft picks for Hail Marys at the deadline. Critics may argue that was part of the problem, an inability to swing for the fences and thus a failure to find the right players to go on long runs, but they’d be wrong. The Habs of course reached the Eastern Conference Final in 2014 (albeit on the strength of a team Bob Gainey and Pierre Gauthier for the most part built) and the Stanley Cup Final in 2021. The list of his top trade-deadline trades meanwhile prove he was able to pull the trigger at times, albeit maybe not often enough, acquiring Thomas Vanek for that 2014 run, for example.
Now, Bergevin had his flaws. There should be no doubt about that, but it should be patently obvious that when he said he wanted to build through the draft he meant it. Bergevin just couldn’t follow through with his actual picks. So, when it comes to the trade deadline, Gorton most definitely should take a chapter out of his “predecessor’”s book. He should just take other aspects of Bergevin’s game as a warning to try and change the ending.
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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 also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.