Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has a difficult question to ask himself as the 2013-14 season’s trade deadline approaches, namely whether his team can realistically compete for the Stanley Cup. On top of that, he has to decide if any move to be made will improve the Habs drastically enough to change the first answer to “yes.”
The Habs currently boast an impressive stockpile of young talent, including defensemen Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu. Those and others are on the verge of developing into NHL regulars and helping take Montreal to the next level for many years to come. There’s just no good reason to give up one of them or even a draft pick just to give the team a slightly better chance at advancing when they’re low to begin with.
Technically speaking, as the 2011-12, eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings, whom earned 95 points, proved, any team can win the Stanley Cup. So, yes, there is an argument to be made that the Habs, who are on pace for 98 points, can win too. However, judging by the Habs’ up-and-down play all year, it’s not at all realistic.
Whereas the championship Kings were built to go deep in the playoffs, where good team defense is key to success, these Habs are almost their mirror image. Currently second in the Atlantic Division, Montreal does admittedly find itself in a relatively enviable position, especially compared to the Kings of two seasons ago.
However, the Kings gave up 27.4 shots per game then, placing fifth best in the league. During the playoffs, they one-upped themselves with an average of an even 27 shots against. The 2013-14 Canadiens are meanwhile giving up 30.6 shots and are generally relying less on defense by committee than defense by just goalie Carey Price.
Looking at possession statistics, the discrepancy between the two teams is much more depressing. The Kings were fourth in Fenwick (which tracks shot attempts for and against) back in 2011-12 (53.7 percent). The Habs are currently 25th in the league in that category (47.9).
Sure, advanced stats like Fenwick and Corsi aren’t everything, but they are a good indicator of superior play. For example, the Chicago Blackhawks were third in Fenwick last season (54.9). They were meanwhile first in 2009-10 (57.8) when they last won the Cup. The 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings also placed first in that category (59.0).
Only the 2010-11 championship Bruins, who were 16th (50.1), and the 2008-09 Penguins, who ended the season 19th (49.0), failed to crack the top 10 in that category since it first started being tracked. However, the Pens had a rating of 52.8 under Dan Bylsma that season after Michel Therrien was fired. That would have been sixth best in the league.
For the record, the Habs were fifth in Fenwick last season (53.5). Whatever happened between last season and this one to cause the sharp downturn in play is up for debate seeing as Therrien was at the helm of both teams. Assuming the Habs aren’t able to figure it out and right the ship in time, there is still a lesson that can be drawn from 2013.
Essentially, Bergevin needs to take a page out of his book when he refused to make a splash at last year’s deadline. Acquiring just defenseman Davis Drewiske—coincidentally from those same Kings—for depth purposes, he decided to stand pat even as the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins were getting stronger with the acquisitions of Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla, respectively (among others).
It arguably wasn’t the greatest decision by Bergevin then. While no one can know for sure if a Jagr or Ryane Clowe would have helped Montreal late last season, it certainly couldn’t have hurt more than doing nothing ultimately did.
Heading into the trade deadline last year, the Habs had won three straight and had a 23-7-5 record. After the deadline had passed, they lost their game against the Philadelphia Flyers that night and defenseman Alexei Emelin to injury two games later. Needless to say, the one player Bergevin did acquire (Drewiske) was very limited in his abilities to help prevent the 4-6 slide (5-10 including playoffs) that ensued.
However, as questionable as Bergevin’s decision was last season, it is the right one now. From the get-go, Bergevin, ever since being hired, has not been willing to give up all that much in terms of futures—prospects and picks—in order to compete right now. There’s just no rational reason why he would or should change that approach now.
Should the Habs be buyers on trade deadline day?
Consider the fact that the team Montreal had last season—which at one point owned an impressive 20-5-5 record (.667 winning percentage)—was very much stronger than this incarnation. If Bergevin opted not to push his team over the edge last year with a significant move or two, it stands to reason he should do the same now when the Habs are just 33-21-7 (.541 winning percentage).
No one is arguing that the Habs should become sellers this trade deadline and just throw in the towel and give up. As argued earlier, the Kings proved in 2012 that anything can happen. It’s just that, for these Habs to follow the same path, just about everything would have go right. As such, trading away a part of their future this season would be the wrong move to make.