All eyes are on Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin right now, even if only to avert them from the trainwreck that his team is quickly becoming.
With five straight losses and 10 in their last 12, the Habs are struggling to say the least, scoring just 19 goals during that stretch. Were it not for the impressive amount of rubber put on opposing goalies and decent possession numbers, one would be forgiven for thinking they were playing another game altogether, like golf.
It happened in Happy Gilmore, right? Well, at least that was supposed to be a comedy.
The Road So Far
As recently as December 5, before the wheels really came off and the Habs had just lost two of their last three, including one in which they outplayed the very good Washington Capitals, several of the impressive stats over the Habs’ first third of the season included:
- Just the one regulation loss to an Eastern Conference team
- A 23.1-percent power play
- 9 and 14-point leads over the Atlantic Division’s second-place Detroit Red Wings and surprisingly mediocre Tampa Bay Lightning
Well, the Habs have since lost three more games to Eastern opponents (four straight), the power play has swan dived to 19.5 percent and the Habs are now just two points up on the Red Wings (who have two games in hand), who aren’t even in second place anymore. They’re fourth.
So, what that means is the Canadiens have been getting along so badly that the Red Wings have been able to play catch up to the Habs, while two other teams were able to catch up to them.
Meanwhile, that new second-place team? That would be the hated Boston Bruins, who are one point back, with three games in hand, in time for the two teams’ New Year’s Day game at Gillette Stadium. And the Lightning? They’re still mediocre, not even in a playoff spot, but just six points back, with all four of the two teams’ head-to-head matchups this season still to be played. So, seeing as they swept Montreal last season, they can realistically catch up as well.
Time to Panic?
So, you can understand why many are questioning whether it is time to panic… while the rest probably have already started. The real question though should be what’s going on in Bergevin’s mind?
Bergevin has developed a reputation over his first few years on the job, justified or not, for not hesitating to try and improve his team if it makes sense (at least to him).
For example, despite not making a habit of trading away the future of the team, he dealt relatively high-end prospect Sebastian Collberg to the New York Islanders in a package for Thomas Vanek. That trade was almost universally accepted as great.
Of course, he also signed the skilled Jiri Sekac, only to trade him away mere months later for Devante Smith-Pelly in a deal that—despite Sekac struggling to stay in the Anaheim Ducks lineup, let alone put up points—is only now, almost a year later, looking like it worked out for the best.
So, Bergevin doesn’t seem to be worried about optics, which is key, operating in the giant hockey fishbowl that is Montreal. So, he probably won’t make a trade just for the sake of making one, even if he feels the season slipping away.
That hypothetical sentiment of his may soon change, maybe if this slide continues well into the New Year, but fans may have lost sight of the fact that the Habs aren’t exactly out of a playoff spot yet. They’re technically not even out of first place!
A Lost Montreal Canadiens Season?
Think about it like this: If someone had told Habs fans that they’d be in first place in the Atlantic heading into 2016, even if only by a few points, they probably wouldn’t have been disappointed. Sure, it might not have been a surprise based on their regular-season success in recent years, but a disappointment? Definitely not.
Granted, there is some weight to almost the polar-opposite scenario as well: If a former billionaire is left with just a few hundred thousand dollars following a stock-market crash, thanking his lucky stars he didn’t lose it all might be the last thing on his mind while looking up at the night sky from the ledge of his penthouse window.
However, it’s important to realize that, just as a few hundred thousand dollars is still a lot of money—potentially some start-up capital for a new successful business—the Habs have the backbone of a very good team in place.
The pieces are there. It’s a matter of being patient, especially with the imminent return of Brendan Gallagher, who is looking more and more like the straw that stirs the team’s offense, and Carey Price soon to follow.
Yes, acquiring someone right now to try and replace Gallagher as the first-line right wing could pay immediate dividends, even moving down the lineup upon the latter’s return for added depth, which is always a good thing. However, even if the return would be what the doctor ordered, the deal itself could end up a very bad one.
The Habs would be negotiating from a position of weakness—with the perception being that they might be willing to deal the farm in exchange for a band-aid—and most every other GM, save for Jim Rutherford, probably knows it.
Bergevin shouldn’t be rash and jump the shark right now. Ride it out until Gallagher and Price come back, at which point the season will still be far from lost. Then and only then reassess how well a healthy version of this lineup is faring, with the smart move not necessarily being to stay put, but to know when to make one.
Suffice it to say, it isn’t now.
It may very get uglier between now and then, but if fans are expecting a new arrival to pretty things up significantly, they’re giving too much credit to a player whom they don’t even yet know… and not enough to Price and Gallagher. As for Bergevin, he’s brought this team this far over the last few years. There’s a very good chance he knows what he’s doing.
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 written for such publications as 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 cover the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.