Montreal Canadiens: Marc Bergevin's Top 5 Priorities When the NHL Lockout Ends
The Montreal Canadiens are one of the few National Hockey League teams that don’t need to worry about fans coming back once the lockout ends. Fans understand that owner Geoff Molson probably wants this lockout as much as a hole in his head, to partly quote the "genius" who is Jeff O’Neill (via the Toronto Sun).
Whereas O’Neill hasn’t cashed an NHL player’s paycheck (or been relevant) for more than five years, the Canadiens are incredibly profitable and would prefer to keep filling up the Bell Center rather than see mothballs gather and cobwebs form.
Indeed, valued at $575 million (via Forbes), the Habs are the league’s third-most valuable franchise with a profit of $51.6 million last season. That’s a lot of money that isn’t instead filling the Molsons’ wallets.
As such, expect Montrealers to come back in droves once play resumes. The few who opt to hold a grudge can be easily replaced…one of the benefits of owning a hockey team with a rich history in a frickin’ cold city with not much else to do during the winter.
With that being said, the Habs can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Here are general manager Marc Bergevin’s first five orders of business.
5) Get Darche Back in the Fold
While Mathieu Darche refused to re-sign with the Habs last summer, apparently under the impression that there was a huge market for 36-year-old, Francophone fourth-liners outside of Montreal, that doesn’t change the fact that the Canadiens needed him for public relations purposes during his brief few years with the team.
Bergevin would be smart to reach out and offer him a role in some capacity, even if it wouldn’t be as a player. Darche may hold illusions to the contrary as he somehow managed to strong-arm his way into the room with the league’s owners last week.
I know, "Darche" and "strong" in the same sentence?
In any case, while Darche negotiating as a player is akin to Greg Jamison negotiating on the part of the owners (minus many millions of dollars), reality must have set in at some point, as Darche has now turned his attention to selling cars (see video).
Clearly, Bergevin should start kicking tires with Darche before Darche starts kicking himself.
4) Find a Viable Backup for Carey Price
Assuming the lockout lasts past this season, the Canadiens won’t have a backup goalie under contract. Peter Budaj’s two-year deal will be up, meaning Bergevin should look into enlisting the help of a qualified (but glorified) benchwarmer.
As much fun as it would be to see Scott Gomez get a turn having pucks launched at him at upwards of 90 miles per hour, something tells me that’s not in the cards.
Although a cutout would do just as well as Budaj and save the Habs cap space, each team is required to (via NHL.com; Rule 5.3), "…Have on its bench, or on a chair immediately beside the bench, a substitute goalkeeper who shall, at all times, be fully dressed and equipped to play."
Assuming projected free agent Jose Theodore wouldn't want the job and Tim Thomas would sooner go on an ill-advised, credibility-destroying rampage against the liberal establishment, maybe, just maybe, Bergevin has found a job for Darche yet.
3) Get Gomez Either Producing or Packing
That would be either for the Hamilton Bulldogs or another NHL team. Obviously, the preference would be to get Gomez to the level of play of which everyone knows he is capable.
Granted, as history has shown, he’s more than capable of going a full year without scoring, but we’re talking about the other Gomez, the one who once scored 84 points and 33 goals in one season and 70 points twice.
In all honesty, Habs fans would probably even take the Gomez who scored 59 points and 12 goals during his first season with the team, because the one who authored the next 38- and 11-point campaigns is about as mentally fit for duty these days as Dustin Byfuglien is physically.
So, Habs fans don’t care how you motivate him, even it means strapping a $100 bill on a stick to his helmet to get him going. Or, worse yet, making up a full-sized dummy of Patrik Elias at the back of the opposition’s net to get Gomez driving there.
Just do something, Mr. Bergevin, because Alexander Radulov, who played just nine games last year and has such innate vision problems he mistakes nightclubs for hotels, should not be scoring more than Gomez.
Hell, Mathieu Darche should not be scoring more than Gomez. It’s unnatural. Let’s together find a way to bring an end to the madness.
…And, by the way, this goes for Rene Bourque, too.
2) Re-Sign or Trade Yannick Weber or Re-Sign and Then Trade Him
While Raphael Diaz is the top-scoring defenseman in the Swiss National League A (seven goals and 19 assists in 25 games with EV Zug), Yannick Weber is not that far off the mark with four goals and 13 assists in 27 games playing for Geneve-Servette HC.
The soon-to-be restricted free agent Weber may never replicate his success in Switzerland with the Habs, but he is an asset for which Montreal can find a use.
Whether that is as trade bait for the big center fans are always talking about or, more likely, considering his market value, a smallish winger destined for fourth-line duty (Mathieu Darche, anyone?), Weber does have the chance to contribute to the team more than he has in the past.
Bergevin should just look back on his Stanley Cup-less career (as a player), acknowledge people don’t always get what they want and give Weber a chance to succeed elsewhere, even if it is overseas…as a Swiss cheese salesman, assuming this hockey thing falls through.
Hey, few can deny the many holes in his game.
Alternatively, with Francis Bouillon poised to become an unrestricted free agent (and unlikely to survive this lockout, being 37 years old), the Habs do have just five defensemen signed for next year.
Weber is pretty far down the depth chart. Assuming Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu aren’t ready to make the jump to the NHL next season, Bergevin’s choices include those mentioned above or ingesting any old hallucinogen and imagining the problem away.
Depending on the potency, he just may see Montreal making the playoffs.
1) Sign P.K. Subban
The new collective bargaining agreement has yet to be signed, but one has to assume that one way or another defenseman P.K. Subban will be back with the Habs.
It’s not as if he’ll magically become an unrestricted free agent instead of just a restricted one, right?
Even if somehow, someway, the owners drink too much of the players’ alcoholic Kool-Aid and Subban does become an unrestricted free agent, Bergevin needs to bridge the gap with the player who is by all accounts Montreal’s No. 1 defenseman of the future—that is, if Andrei Markov can still skate by the time the lockout ends.
Obviously, Subban can improve in a lot of areas including defense and discipline, but in terms of offense, here are a few comparisons based on his seven goals, 29 assists and plus-9 rating:
1) Brent Burns: 11 goals, 26 assists, plus-8 rating, 27 years old, a five-year deal with a cap hit of $5.76 million
2) Tobias Enstrom: six goals, 27 assists, plus-6 rating, 28 years old, a five-year deal with a cap hit of $5.75 million
3) Drew Doughty: 10 goals, 26 assists, minus-2 rating, 23 years old, an eight-year deal with a cap hit of $7 million
No, Subban is not Doughty. The lack of a Stanley Cup ring is a dead giveaway, but, admittedly, Doughty signed that contract before he won it all with the Kings last season.
Now, I’m not suggesting signing Subban will lead to a Stanley Cup in Montreal, but it is a key step and the most important one that needs to be taken once the lockout ends.