The Montreal Canadiens' 2013 offseason hasn’t been particularly exciting, but that doesn’t mean that second-year general manager Marc Bergevin hasn’t improved his team.
The 2013 opening-round playoff loss to the Ottawa Senators exposed some major weaknesses in the Canadiens' roster. Bergevin took note, and did what he thought was necessary to improve his team.
By adding toughness, veteran leadership and a proven playoff performer, the Habs are in a much better position to make a deep playoff run than they were a season ago.
Here is a look at the top five moves made (so far) this offseason by the Montreal Canadiens.
Tomas Kaberle was set to earn $4.5 million in 2013-14. That's a lot of money to pay someone who was a healthy scratch 43 times last season. And with a deep defensive depth chart, things weren't looking any brighter for Kaberle's chances to see the ice next season.
Kaberle did manage to play in 10 games last season, where he managed zero goals, three assists and 11 shots on goal. Here are some fun numbers: The Canadiens paid him $1.4 million per assist and more than $386,000 per shot on goal. Contracts like that just have to be bought out.
When the NHL decided to allot teams two compliance buyouts after the lockout, it was pretty obvious that Kaberle would be next to go after Scott Gomez. This was not a difficult decision for general manager Marc Bergevin.
When Ryan White was suspended five games for elbowing Flyers defenseman Kent Huskins on April 15, 2013, it was assumed by many that he’d played his last game in the red, white and blue. After all, his 2013 season was defined by taking stupid penalties that jeopardized his team. How many chances were Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin willing to give the guy?
Well, apparently one more. Ryan White will get yet another shot to prove he belongs with the Canadiens after agreeing to a one-year, $700,000 contract in early July.
Bergevin likely thought long and hard about letting Ryan White walk. But ultimately, he made the right move, simply because the Montreal Canadiens are a better team when White is playing the brand of hockey he is capable of.
He is a tough, gritty fourth-line center who adds physicality to a team in desperate need of it. He can throw his weight around while playing solid defense at the same time. But the fact remains that fourth-line centers can’t take unnecessary penalties, something White did far too often in 2013.
Ryan White will undoubtedly be on a very short leash this fall. One early mistake and he’ll likely be on the next bus to Hamilton. But assuming he can play disciplined hockey, he will likely team up with newly acquired forward George Parros to form a much more intimidating fourth line than anything the Canadiens were able to ice last season.
Even the most biased of Habs fans would have a hard time arguing that last season’s version of the Montreal Canadiens were a tough team. While their smaller forwards do try to play a gritty game, Montreal’s lack of size and toughness was obvious when the Ottawa Senators cruised to an opening-round upset in last season’s playoffs.
Adding George Parros and his 149 career fights makes the Canadiens instantly tougher. Having the 6'5", 228-pound enforcer in the lineup on a nightly basis will surely make other teams think twice before taking runs at Montreal’s smaller, skilled forwards.
The Parros acquisition also frees up Brandon Prust and allows him to concentrate on playing hockey. Last season, Prust seemed to take it on himself to go after those taking cheap shots at players like Brian Gionta, Brendan Gallagher and David Desharnais.
While it’s great to see Prust stick up for his teammates, it also led to him taking too many penalties and missing 10 games due to injury. Having Parros around will allow Prust to concentrate on crashing the net and getting under the skin of opposing players.
Hindsight is of course, 20-20. It’s easy to criticize general managers for moves they make. But in judging a general manager, it’s also important to remember the moves they didn’t make.
Looking back on the summer of 2007, not signing Daniel Briere turned out to be a great move by Bob Gainey. Briere, of course, ended up signing an eight-year, $52 million contract with the Flyers. He then failed to produce even a point-per-game before injuries took their toll and he was bought out in June.
So here we are, six years after flirting with the idea of returning to his home province, and Daniel Briere has accepted a two-year, $8 million contract with the Canadiens. While $4 million per season may seem like a lot for (another) undersized winger who only had 16 points in 34 games last season, Briere fills two voids that should play a pivotal role in the success of the 2013-14 Montreal Canadiens.
First, he brings veteran leadership to a young team.
Briere has always been known as a great locker room guy. He was a co-captain in Buffalo and an assistant captain in Philadelphia. He even had both Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier live at his house during their rookie seasons. With Canadiens captain Brian Gionta in danger of missing the beginning of the season due to injury, Briere’s leadership will be welcomed in the dressing room.
Second, he’s a proven playoff performer.
While Briere’s regular-season troubles are what ultimately led to his buyout, his postseason numbers tell a different story. Briere played in 68 playoff games in Philadelphia, scoring 37 goals and recording 72 points. His crowning moment in Philadelphia came in the 2010 playoffs, where his 30 points in 23 games led the Flyers as they came within two wins of a Stanley Cup championship.
Danny Briere understands how to take his game to another level once the NHL’s second season begins, something that will hopefully rub off on the younger Habs forwards should they return to the playoffs in 2014.
If making the Habs tougher was Bergevin’s No. 1 priority this offseason, adding a proven playoff performer and gaining more experience in the dressing room were likely Nos. 2 and 3. Briere helps on both of these fronts.
This is probably the highest ranking that the hiring of a goaltending coach has ever made it in a list of offseason moves. But this isn’t the hiring of just any goaltending coach.
There’s a strong argument to be made that Marc Bergevin has hired the best goaltending coach in the game away from the Chicago Blackhawks. Those who argue that he’s not the best would still have to admit that Stephane Waite’s resume is impressive to say the least.
Back in the 2009-10 season, the Chicago Blackhawks rode the hot play of a young rookie goaltender named Antti Niemi all the way to a Stanley Cup championship. This year’s NHL champs also enjoyed a breakout performance from young Corey Crawford.
What’s the common denominator between Niemi and Crawford? Stephane Waite.
Waite steps in to a different situation with the Montreal Canadiens. Carey Price is a proven NHL goalie, a veteran with 310 games and 145 wins under his belt. Yet there's still plenty of room for improvement.
Though Carey Price is a three-time All-Star, there’s a feeling that he still hasn’t lived up to his immense potential. Price has shown moments of brilliance over his career, but he has also been frustratingly inconsistent.
Last year was a great example of his ups and downs. Price began the year as a Vezina front-runner before fading down the stretch to a 2.59 goals-against average and a very mediocre .905 save percentage. Those numbers are unacceptable for someone of Price’s talents.
Stephane Waite’s job this season is simple: Turn Carey Price into the consistent, Vezina-winning goalie that Habs fans know he can be. Price has all the talent and all the tools. He’s likely the most talented goalie Waite has ever worked with.
And at the same time, Waite will be the best goalie coach Price has ever had. The opportunity is presenting itself for Price to get his name thrown in with the game’s elite. And if Price can turn in the best season of his career, the Stephane Waite hiring could be the reason why.
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin hasn't minced words when discussing his team's interest in former Tampa Bay Lightning great Vincent Lecavalier.
Bergevin has a considerable amount of interest in making that happen.
"From 1 to 10?" Bergevin said when asked to describe the Canadiens' interest in Lecavalier. "Pretty high."
Told that sounded like it would be an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, Bergevin said, "Safe to say. At least."
The Habs needed some size and talent up front. Lecavalier is from nearby Ile Bizard, Quebec and in need of a team. It was just meant to be. In a way, it was quite reminiscent of the Danny Briere situation in 2007.
Bob Gainey made the right move by not giving in to public pressure in 2007. Marc Bergevin has done the same in 2013.
Now let’s make one thing clear: I’d love to see Lecavalier in a Canadiens uniform. Just not for four years at $22.5 million. And especially not with a full no-movement clause.
Vincent Lecavalier is still a productive NHL player, and there’s little doubt he’ll be a good second-line center for a couple of years in Philadelphia. But here are the facts: Lecavalier is 33 years old, he hasn’t played a full season since 2009-2010 and he hasn’t had more than 70 points in a season since putting up 92 in 2007-08.
By locking up Lecavalier until he’s 37 years old, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren seems to have handcuffed his team yet again. One would think that he would have learned from the Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov situations. Apparently not.
Some will argue that Lecavalier for $4.5 million is a better deal than Briere at $4 million. And for one year only it may be. But if things don’t work out as planned for the Canadiens at any point in the next two years, they can unload Briere for a prospect or a draft pick. Lecavalier won’t be going anywhere (unless he approves).
By not signing Lecavalier, the Canadiens are left with much more financial flexibility for the next few years—flexibility that will likely be used to give PK Subban a hefty pay raise.
Although it was a relatively quiet offseason for Bergevin, it was a successful one nonetheless. He added toughness and experience to a roster that was able to win the Northeast Division title in 2013. On paper, the Canadiens are a better team than they were last season. Will it translate to on-ice success? Time will tell.
Do you agree with the moves made (or not made) by Marc Bergevin this offseason? Leave your opinion in the comments section below.