Montreal: Bergevin and Habs Prep for Deadline Day
Hockey is a game of superstition, ritual and above all else, tradition. The NHL trade deadline is no different. Most of the league’s GM’s will spend Tuesday night working the phones into the late hours and be forced to ultimately decide whether their clubs need to be buyers or sellers the following day. Players rumoured to be on the move will try their best to maintain their regular routines, while never being more than four inches away from their cell phones. Hockey fans will rise bright and early to begin preparing their best deathly ill phone voice ahead of calling in sick for work before settling in for a day of binge-watching TSN in their finest ‘Jay Onrait tuxedo.’
As exciting as Wednesday’s deadline may or (most likely) may not be for some teams and their respective fans, Montreal Canadiens fans should suitably lower their expectations ahead of the deadline and prepare for a relatively quiet day. Montreal’s deadline day activity over the last half decade has been increasingly subdued and has only been highlighted by high (-ish)-profile players leaving town (think the 2012 trade of Andrei Kostitsyn). Habs deadline moves also favour the acquisition of previously unknown or obscure players who instantly gain notoriety in Montreal only because the Canadiens traded for them (think last year’s trade for Davis Drewiske) resulting in fans being outraged that their GM didn’t ‘pull off something bigger’ that day. Then there’s the trades that seem to resonate immensely for certain fans in the present, but are quickly forgotten as time goes on. (I can still remember where I was when I found out Montreal traded Cristobal Huet for a 2nd round pick). Habs GM’s have been notoriously conservative on deadline day and this year is likely to be no different, but here are a few thoughts and players to consider as Wednesday rolls closer.
Habs Defense – Tilting to the Left
With Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban making huge offensive contributions on the blue line, a logjam of bottom-pair defensemen rotating between the roster and the press box and healthy prospects in Hamilton ready and able for a call-up it might seem strange to suggest Montreal needs another defensemen. Of the six d-men who played in Saturday’s 4-3 OT win against the Maple Leafs; Subban was the only right-handed shooter. The only other Montreal right-shooting rearguard to see consistent ice-time this season is Raphael Diaz who was traded to Vancouver several weeks ago. A quick scan of the Bulldog’s lineup shows an abundance of talent and potential in players like Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, each of who have been swapping spots in Montreal for much of this season, but a shortage of right-shooting defensemen still persists. Perennial deadline sellers, the Florida Panthers will continue to offload players and salary and the Canadiens could do worse than kicking the tires on defensemen, Tom Gilbert. The Minnesota native is a UFA at season’s end and his size and modest offensive skills could improve the Habs 2nd defensive pairing. Gilbert is not the final missing piece for the Habs and his $4 million cap-hit is onerous, but Montreal needs to even out its d-pairings unless Bergevin is satisfied with Greg Pateryn being the Habs next best right defensemen heading into the playoffs.
Must Keep Markov
It’s unlikely that Markov is the Russian word for irreplaceable but that’s how things currently stand for the Canadiens and the 35-year old blue liner who has spent his entire NHL career with the Habs organization. While fans were taking in Saturday’s win against the rival Leafs which should have also been billed as the ‘P.K. and “Patches” show’ Markov quietly added three assists in the win. Markov has at least one assist in his last five games and only one fewer assist on the season as his reigning Norris trophy winning teammate. Only Murray and Gorges log more short-handed time per game than Markov does and with Diaz shipped out west, Markov now plays an even more vital role on the Hab’s penalty kill. The argument as to whether Markov should be re-signed past this season can be tabled for a later date (spoiler alert: I’m for it) but there’s no disputing that Markov’s value to the Canadiens rests in him remaining a Hab for the duration of this season and into the playoffs as opposed to any possible return he could yield at Wednesday’s deadline.
Top-Up the Talent in the Bottom Six
With the addition of Dale Weise in January and Brandon Prust likely to return to the lineup at some point during Montreal’s upcoming four-game road trip through the West Coast, the Canadiens definitely don’t need to trade for any ‘grit-n-sandpaper’ type players to fulfill a team’s need for toughness, truculence and whatever else is listed in the Brian Burke thesaurus. The Habs do however need a skilled third line left-winger to replace Rene Bourque once he plays himself back into the press box, or better yet, is traded (let me dream, will you!). Prust is not suited for full-time third line duties and his recent injury history demonstrates the urgent need for further skilled depth on Montreal’s third line. Canadiens management could look at Ottawa’s Milan Michalek and Nashville’s David Legwand, both of whom are UFA’s this summer and are playing for teams likely to be sellers on Wednesday.
Will Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin buck the trend this year and make a splash on Wednesday or will he continue in the tradition of Montreal GM’s of the past and stay quiet once again this deadline? Whatever happens, Bergevin will most likely be criticized for either making the wrong deal or simply sitting on his hands and doing nothing. I know I wont be satisfied unless he snags Jaromir Jagr at 2:57pm on Wednesday in exchange for a 6th round pick, future considerations, and the negotiating rights to Douglas Murray thus reuniting the greatest duo in Czech Extraliga history. Kladno unite!
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