A week before the Canadiens and the Leafs streaked like comets through a game that showered sparks like a playoff Game 7, I was sitting in the press box at the Bell Centre when I noticed every player on the ice was a deft Marc Bergevin pickup.
Tomas Tatar, Max Domi, Paul Byron, Jeff Petry, Mike Reilly and Antti Niemi — every one acquired through either solid trades or intelligent, informed use of the waiver wire.
A week later, the Saturday morning news was Bergevin had acquired defenceman Christian Folin and much-loved winger Dale Weise from Philadelphia for defenceman David Schlemko and forward Byron Froese.
That Bergevin actually got something in return for Schlemko and Froese is remarkable. What is more noteworthy is he received two potentially useful pieces for the playoffs and closed the circle on what is to date his best trade as a GM.
That deal, completed in February 2016, saw Weise and Tomas Fleischmann sent to Chicago in return for Phillip Danault, whose explosive growth as a two-way centreman this season has been a big part of the Canadiens’ resurgence after a terrible 2017-2018 campaign.
Little noticed in the trade with Bergevin’s former club was the 2018 second-rounder also acquired. Trevor Timmins turned that pick into defenceman Alexander Romanov, as hot a prospect as the Canadiens have in their system, a player who might be the next Andrei Markov.
Now that the Canadiens have brought Weise home for practically nothing, they basically acquired Danault and Romanov for Fleischmann, who had four goals and one assist for Chicago in 2016 before hanging them up.
With a couple of exceptions (two valuable second-rounders for Andrew Shaw, for instance), Bergevin doesn’t give up much in trades. The hatred for the man mostly comes from members of the P.K. Subban cult who simply refuse to acknowledge the Shea Weber trade was at worst a deal in which both teams got what they wanted.
Look closely at the current Canadiens roster, and the draft picks and prospects the Habs have stockpiled, and there’s only one fair conclusion you can reach: on the whole, Bergevin has been a very astute GM. Brendan Gallagher and Carey Price are the only holdovers from the pre-Bergevin days. The rest are Bergevin’s choices, and the players who are likely to lead this team into the playoffs are evidence of a great deal of hard work, careful sifting and a GM who has learned on the job.
Like Brett Kulak, acquired from Calgary in October for Rinat Valiev and Matt Taormina. Or Reilly, brought in from Minnesota for a 2019 fifth-rounder. Or Byron, grabbed off the waiver wire. Any time you can spot a Byron, a player who inexplicably slipped through the cracks of a pretty good organization in Calgary, it’s the equivalent of striking gold with a third- or fourth-round draft pick.
Bergevin has caught no end of grief, some of it deserved, for players he brought in who had little or nothing to contribute: Andreas Martinsen, Steve Ott and the utterly inert Dwight King the last time the club was girding for the playoffs, for instance. Or Douglas Murray, who hit like a freight train and moved like one, too, and bore the immortal nickname Crankshaft.
Then there was Karl Alzner, a big free-agent signing when Bergevin was trying to atone for the loss of the Russians Markov and Alexander Radulov. When Bergevin put Alzner on waivers before acquiring Weise and Folin, it was a characteristic move. Bergevin doesn’t double down on his mistakes, whether it’s drafting Galchenyuk, believing King had something to offer or missing the fact the league had become too quick for Alzner. He corrects the error and moves on. (Alzner was assigned to the Laval Rocket on Sunday after clearing waivers.)
There is ample evidence Bergevin has learned on the job. The work he did to add Domi and Tatar had everyone talking, but what impressed me more was the deft acquisition of Joel Armia. The key was the cap room Bergevin had, space that was used to take goalie Steve Mason off Winnipeg’s hands and buy him out. The Canadiens also received Armia, a seventh-rounder in 2019 and a fourth-rounder in 2020, in exchange for defenceman Simon Bourque.
Montreal took a $1,366,667 cap hit for each of two seasons to put Mason on waivers, and in return they got the draft picks and Armia, a physical, hard-to-move-off-the-puck winger who has been a very useful addition.
In the past week, the Canadiens have shown they can go skate blade for skate blade with the likes of the Winnipeg Jets and the Maple Leafs. They are on course for an April collision with the Leafs that would be the first Toronto-Montreal playoff battle in the social media era and would be likely to light up both cities, whatever the outcome.
Much credit goes to good guy Claude Julien and his staff for the coaching job they have done this season. But this is Bergevin’s team all the way. Assembled, piece by piece, by one of the more astute GMs in the business — whether fans in this kooky city admit it or not.
from Montreal Gazette https://montrealgazette.com/sports/hockey/jack-todd-canadiens-winning-roster-is-marc-bergevins-team-all-the-way