All of a sudden, the NHL trade deadline (March 21, 2022) has become that much more of a priority for Jeff Gorton. The Montreal Canadiens executive vice president of hockey operations has the experience, having served as GM with the New York Rangers before. However, as a result of the uncertainty surrounding this season in particular and the need for the Canadiens to start the team’s next era on the right foot, he may have to put the GM search on hold just to make sure he’s able to get assets in exchange for the likeliest Canadiens players to be on the move.
So, this trade deadline is a different animal than anything with which Gorton has done battle in previous seasons. And, in the absence of a new hire, he’s effectively going to have to take the reins as Marc Bergevin’s replacement for the time being. It turns out, he can probably find some inspiration from some past wheeling and dealing on the part of his “predecessor,” which many consider to have been Bergevin’s biggest asset during his 10-season-long tenure with the Habs.
So, which of Bergevin’s deals make the top five? Looking only at the days leading up to each of the nine trade deadlines he oversaw? Here they are:
5. Dubnyk Makes List on a Technicality (2014)
Devan Dubnyk flies under the radar here, because not many people remember he even played for the Canadiens. That might be because he technically didn’t. He only got playing time while with the Habs in the American Hockey League after having been acquired from the Nashville Predators for future considerations in 2014.
Dubnyk’s time with the Canadiens coincides with what many would consider his career’s rock bottom (hence the low price tag). In one season he went from a No. 1 goalie on the rise with the Edmonton Oilers to an AHL goalie who couldn’t stop a puck if his glove were magnetic and the puck metal (although not too sure many people would so much as sign up to play the position in the first place if that were the case).
Dubnyk resurrected his career with the Arizona Coyotes, where he signed the following season. Soon, he was traded to the Minnesota Wild, with whom he was nominated for the Vezina Trophy that same season. The irony is he credits Sean Burke, the Habs’ current director of goaltending, for helping him regain his confidence.
Doesn’t necessarily do the Canadiens any good now, now that they need someone to replace Carey Price (and Dubnyk is back in the AHL), but it all at least makes for a good trivia answer. In terms of the player Dubnyk turned into, it’s hard to argue with what they gave up get him. If only they had re-signed him, but would have, could have, you know?
4. Scandella’s Shorter Stint in Montreal (2020)
Even though Dubnyk didn’t even stay with the Canadiens the rest of that 2013-14 season (being granted a request to join his family early), Marco Scandella’s time with the Canadiens was even shorter.
The defenseman and Montreal native had been acquired in January 2020 for a fourth-round pick at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. He got in 20 games with the Habs (one goal, two assists) before getting shipped off to the St. Louis Blues, once it became clear the Habs weren’t going to make the playoffs. At least they most likely wouldn’t have under normal circumstances.
In any case, what makes the Scandella trade to the Blues so notable is this: The Habs got two picks back, including a second-rounder (and another fourth to effectively replace the one they gave up initially). They then traded that second-round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for another two picks: No. 124 overall in 2020 (Sean Farrell) and No. 64 in 2021 (Oliver Kapanen). Arbitrage is a beautiful thing.
Now, no one really knows what the future holds for either prospect, although Farrell came out of nowhere to score 101 points in 53 United States Hockey League games in 2020-21. Regardless, turning Scandella into two relatively highly touted prospects (if the two fourths cancel each other out)? Undeniably impressive work by Bergevin.
3. Bergevin Pulls Thomas Vanek Out of His Hat (2014)
The whole Thomas Vanek saga in 2013-14 was actually somewhat similar to Scandella’s (if sagas were drastically shorter and less riveting). Say what you want about Vanek, but he knew how to weave quite the epic in retrospect.
The similarities are as follows: A pending unrestricted agent, Vanek played for the Sabres that 2013-14 season, before getting traded to the New York Islanders. The Islanders realized they weren’t going to make the playoffs and flipped him to the Canadiens at the trade deadline.
The differences? Vanek was a for all intents a top-tier player at the time (all due respect to Scandella). Most notably though, the Islanders took a dive on the resell value for some reason, which to this day still isn’t perfectly clear. The Islanders gave up Matt Moulson, first-round (Colin White) and second-round (Brendan Guhle) to get him. They effectively gave him up for just Sebastian Collberg, who had been picked No. 33 overall in 2012 (Bergevin’s second-ever pick, for the record, behind Alex Galchenyuk).
Even if Collberg panned out, acquiring a player of Vanek’s caliber was a coup. He scored 15 points in 18 regular-season games and, even if his play during the playoffs drew criticism, he still scored 10 points in 17 postseason games, helping the Canadiens reach the Eastern Conference Final that year.
As it turns out, Collberg didn’t, like at all. He has unfortunately failed to play a single NHL game as of 2021, meaning the Canadiens effectively got Vanek for nothing… although it still kind of serves as an indictment of Bergevin’s draft record.
2. Bergevin Rips off Blackhawks with Danault-Weise, Fleischmann Deal (2016)
Drafting Alexander Romanov redeemed Bergevin on the drafting front to a certain degree. Of course, Romanov’s development up to this point hasn’t gone 100% smoothly, but he still has significant upside as a potential top-four defenseman who’s just 22 years old.
In that sense, it was a great deal getting the second-round pick that was used on Romanov in exchange for pending UFAs Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann in 2016. However, that’s not all. In fact, the pick wasn’t necessarily the centerpiece of the trade for the Canadiens, who also received, wait for it, Phillip Danault.
Yes, that Phillip Danault, the player who effectively centered Montreal’s No. 1 line for parts of four seasons, who finished in the top 10 of Frank J. Selke Trophy voting for three straight seasons. In effect, the Canadiens not only got an up-and-coming defenseman in the trade, but the prime years of a top two-way center.
In exchange, the Blackhawks got a first-round exit those playoffs, with Weise and Fleischmann combining for a solitary postseason goal. That was Fleischmann’s last taste of NHL action, while Weise would only amount to a depth forward with the Philadelphia Flyers, with whom he signed the following offseason. To summarize, Bergevin absolutely ripped off the Blackhawks.
1. Bergevin Steals Jeff Petry from Edmonton Oilers (2015)
Some may say not trading Jeff Petry was Bergevin’s best move of the 2020 trade deadline. There had been pressure for him to move both Petry and Tomas Tatar, even though they both still had single seasons left on their deals. However, the Canadiens not only ended up making those playoffs, but Petry proved a valuable member of the team’s defense corps on the Habs’ way to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.
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Even you agree with all of that, it’s technically not a trade. So, Scandella, above and also a 2020 trade, can rest easy. His spot on this list is safe. However, few can debate the highway larceny that was Bergevin’s initial acquisition of Petry back in 2015 for two draft picks (who turned into Caleb Jones and Jonas Siegenthaler).
Petry is admittedly in the midst of his worst-ever season with the Canadiens. Perhaps his entire career. However, up until this point, the 34-year-old defenseman had only been getting better with age to the point he earned James Norris Memorial Trophy votes last season (12 goals, 42 points in 55 games).
True, with just assists in 27 games in 2021-22, Petry’s currently getting outscored by both Jones and Siegenthaler, but it’s hard to imagine either of the two ever coming close to reaching the level of play Petry displayed for much of his seven-plus seasons with the Canadiens up to now. In fact, despite his struggles, he’s hardly worn out his welcome with the Canadiens. He’s still playing a second-ranked 23:10 per night, and, barring a trade, will remain with the Canadiens up until 2025, following his second extension with the team. Needless to say, the trade has worked out, which is a massive understatement.
Ironically, Petry is currently a trade candidate in the eyes of some. It’s something Gorton and/or the GM he ends up hiring is going to have to seriously consider in the following weeks. However, there’s every reason to believe the Canadiens will make out well if he does get traded… even if only due to the high standards set by Bergevin.
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.