Jeff Tibbins The Hockey Writers
Bergevin’s Depth Players Can’t Make up for Habs’ Weaknesses
While his time at the helm of the Montreal Canadiens continues to be defined by his inability to acquire a true No. 1 centre, general manager Marc Bergevin will be remembered for finding the diamonds in the rough. Having depth-players with strong character who outperform their abilities is what makes great teams elite, and they are the Bergevin guys. Those players were on display in Monday night’s 5-4 overtime loss versus the New York Islanders at the Bell Centre.
Nicolas Deslauriers, who was acquired in a trade on the first day of the season, opened the scoring for the Canadiens 7:59 into the first period. It was Deslauriers’ second goal in as many games and his sixth of the year, tying his career high in 24 games this season. His acquisition has quickly turned into one of Bergevin’s finest.
Jakub Jerabek notched his first career point on the Deslauriers goal and later added an assist on Jonathan Drouin’s sixth goal of the year 19:34 into the second period. The Czech defenceman who was brought to North America to be a steady puck-mover at the bottom end of the roster has performed admirably in his first 18 games in the National Hockey League. Credit Bergevin for acquiring his services after a career-year in the Kontinental Hockey League a season prior.
Then there’s Paul Byron, who scored to tie the game at 2-2 12:10 into the first period. He was relatively unkown when Bergevin claimed him off waivers on Oct 6, 2015, from the Calgary Flames. Known as a small forward with speed, Byron was given his first legitimate chance to succeed in Montreal and has delivered on his opportunity ever since.
After earning a three-year contract in the 2016 offseason, Byron felt secure in the NHL for the first time in his career and translated his comfort into 22 goals and 43 points last season. With 12 goals so far this year, Byron continues to show that it was an exceptional move by Bergevin’s to acquire him.
Yet, even with so many Bergevin guys on the roster, it was not enough to get past the Islanders and it has never been enough to win during Bergevin’s time in Montreal.
“We know that each passing game that we don’t win, we fall further and further behind,” said Byron following the loss. “To come out and lose these two points against a team we’re chasing, it hurts a lot.”
Where’s the Habs Star Power?
Goaltender Carey Price, Bergevin’s largest investment, did not play like a goalie who will earn $84 million over the next eight years. While the team in front of him recorded 56 shots on goal, the highest single-game total since Feb 24, 1990, against the Pittsburgh Penguins (61), Price faced only 24 shots and surrendered five goals. His 0.791 goals-against average was the second lowest in his 31 appearances this season and the Canadiens are 5-13 in games where his GAA is under 0.92o. When Price isn’t on, the Habs rarely win.
While Drouin and Max Pacioretty both scored against the Islanders, their performances this season have been underwhelming. Drouin, who was brought in to be the team’s top-line centreman, has scored 20 points in 38 games, and his play down the middle has already been criticized by the GM.
Pacioretty has not been much better. Despite a goal in four straight games, the chemistry he had with Alexander Radulov last season has not been replicated with anyone on the team this year, as stints with Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk were unsuccessful. The captain has played his best with Phillip Danault who is sidelined with a concussion after being struck by a Zdeno Chara slap shot on Saturday. With only 12 goals this season, Pacioretty’s play has been well below expectations.
This has been the case for most of Bergevin’s tenure with the Canadiens. A team consistently filled with the depth needed to win but without enough star power to put it all together. The joke about Bergevin’s obsession with the lower-end roster players is truer than it is funny because their current position in the standings is nothing to laugh about.
With 38 games to go, Montreal remains 11 games out of third place in the Atlantic Division and eight out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The likelihood of making the playoffs becomes slimmer by the game and without the proper reinforcements on their way, the season will be one to forget. Bergevin’s inability to bring in the right amount of talent has been an issue for six years, and the time to build a roster the way it was meant to be constructed is quickly running out.
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