Bergevin Has Already Improved the Habs But How Much Better Will They Be?

Crazy times. This is an unusual time of year to have this much excitement around the NHL but here we are. The NHL Draft is upon us and with it, all of the trade rumours. Teams have been working hard to determine their plan of action for this short off-season as some need to clear cap space and others are waiting for them with anticipation. Since the implementation of the hard salary cap in 2005, the days surrounding the NHL Draft has been one of the busiest times for trades. And we don’t anticipate this year to be any different. From now until October 9th, the opening of the Free Agents’ market, it should be a wild ride.

Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin had a quick press conference, following the one from Trevor Timmins. But let’s focus on the GM, shall we? Since the team got eliminated, Bergevin had three major points to address:

  • Backup goaltender
  • Left defense
  • Scoring & size up front

Backup

The Canadiens’ backups last season didn’t allow any flexibility for Claude Julien to properly rest Carey Price. The backups only played in 14 games and collected a combined total of… four wins! Four! Only top goalie prospect Cayden Primeau fared well in relief of Price. But for his development, he needs to play and it’s not behind Price that he’ll do that.

And in comes Jake Allen. In St. Louis last year, Allen played in twice as many games as all three backups for the Canadiens, so 24 games. He maintained a 2.15 GAA and a .927 Sv% with two shutouts. No matter how you twist this, not only is the backup goaltender taken care of, they have an insurance policy in case Price gets hurt. Allen will earn the Canadiens some points, and will help keep Price better rested.

Defense

In the playoffs, past the big top-3, the Canadiens relied heavily on Brett Kulak, Xavier Ouellet and Victor Mete (on the wrong side). Today, here’s what their defensive pairs could look like:

Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Romanov – Kulak

Replace Kulak by one of Noah Juulsen or Cale Fleury, two big hitters, and it won’t be fun for any opponent to try to enter the Canadiens’ zone or battle in the corners. Kulak, Mete, Juulsen and Fleury will be battling for the last two spots on the team as 6th and 7th defensemen. With the addition of not one, but two defensemen superior to the bottom-3 a few weeks ago, it is a huge improvement and much needed depth.

Joel Edmundson

There are those who will look at Joel Edmundson‘s advanced stats to justify not liking the signing. Those same people used the same stats to put down the Ben Chiarot signing as a UFA. And what if Edmundson turns into another Chiarot?

Then you add one of the Canadiens’ top prospect in Alexander Romanov, who got to practice with the team in the bubble during this COVID Cup. Romanov, in spite of his 5’11”, is a big hitter too and he loves that style of play. This should make for a quicker acclimatization to the North American ice surfaces.

A playoffs’ team?

Marc Bergevin had this to say in his press conference at the Eve of the NHL Draft:

So with a backup goaltender giving you a few more points. With a rested Carey Price hopefully at the top of his game as we saw in the playoffs. With a much better and deeper defensive core limiting the goals’ against, therefore contributing a few more points. Considering not only the amount, but the length of the injuries suffered to key players last year. Yes, I think that Bergevin’s statement is right on point. He has improved his team and their odds are better at making the playoffs.

For some weird reason, a few fans read into this that Bergevin was done and satisfied with the team he has. Yet, he clearly stated during this press conference that his first round pick (16th) was available and he is trying to add some offense. Reading problems or ill intent is all I can think of, for someone to think he’s done.

Patrik Laine

Image credit: 25Stanley

During the press conference, Pat Hickey of The Gazette tried asking Bergevin a question but started with a (false) statement. He started saying that since Bergevin wasn’t interested in Patrik Laine… and that’s when Bergevin interrupted saying that he never said that. The Canadiens’ GM did not expand when pushed on the topic, saying – rightfully so – that he cannot speak about players on other teams. That would be tampering, a big no-no in the NHL.

But Pierre LeBrun did say last week that the Canadiens would not pursue Laine. Later in the week, he told J-F Chaumont of Le Journal de Montréal that he would not touch Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi or Alexander Romanov to get Laine. What this tells us is that the Jets likely insisted for one of those prospects and Bergevin said no.

Is it possible that the Jets, after testing the market, have adjusted their demands for Laine and are talking to the Canadiens about it? Yes it is but that, we don’t know in spite of all the rumours out there. Rarely do rumours about the Habs come through because Bergy keeps his cards so close to his vest. One thing is for sure, he’s working to make a splash and as he said himself, “expect the unexpected.” Go Habs Go!

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