The New Kovy Arrives
January 6, 2020
By Grant McCagg
Montreal GM Marc Bergevin made moves to shore up two areas of need this week, and, as per usual, did so without selling the farm. Heck, he didn’t even have to peddle the chicken coop.
For a much-needed veteran left defenceman in Marco Scandella and a shooter on the power play in 436-goal NHL scorer Ilya Kovalchuk, the cost asset-wise was moving down a round in the draft from fourth to fifth and surrendering their seventh defenceman in Mike Reilly.
Montreal addressed two needs at a bare-bones minimum. Yes…”BargainBin” was at it again.
I consider Scandella to be Chiarot Lite. Another big, defence-first blueliner that moves pretty well for his size, but doesn’t skate as well, or play quite as physically, as Chiarot. Scandella CAN play a top-four role, but he is ideally a number five or six on a good blueline. What he surely is not is a top-pairing defenceman, and that remains Montreal’s primary need.
Scandella is a stop-gap solution until the club finally finds a legitimate top-pairing left defenceman. The longer times goes on without one, however, the more likely it appears that Bergevin’s plan is to try to merely compete for the playoffs until Alex Romanov is ready to step into a first-line role.
That may be sooner rather than later if Romanov’s sterling WJC performance is any indication, but there are never guarantees that a prospect will reach his full potential, and the timeline is always up in the air.
TSN analyst Ray Ferraro told me yesterday that he thinks Romanov can develop into a first-pairing defenceman, but cautions that he will need to get stronger and learn not to be so aggressive in the neutral zone.
He suggests that Romanov will get burned more often versus NHLers trying to step up for the big hit in the neutral zone, or perhaps even get steamrolled on occasion given that he is not overly large. There will need to be time to adapt to the pace and size of NHLers, and he will need to get stronger before he can play such a rambunctious style.
All of this suggests that he is at least two years away from competing for a first-pairing position.
To Bergevin’s credit, however, he is a pretty good chess player; he does not often make moves without having, at the minimum, a plan B. The acquisition of Scandella gives the Canadiens decent depth on the left side at the NHL level.
It is safe to say that Romanov has more NHL upside than Victor Mete, and it is also a distinct possibility that at least one of Jordan Harris, Jayden Struble and Mattias Norlinder do as well. Because of that…Scandella makes Mete more expendable.
For all we know…talks Bergevin has had with other GMs in regards to obtaining a top-level left defenceman – and we know he has at least had these discussions – have resulted in at least one other club asking for Mete as part of the return.
Bergevin recently made a trip to Russia to talk to Romanov et al about when he might be coming over. That could be in part because he wants to know if moving Mete at this time makes sense, as Romanov can take his place as the young left defenceman on the club as soon as next season
Bergevin is hoping that getting Scandella at this time keeps the Canadiens in the playoff race up until the trade deadline, and if that ends up being the case, I can see him aggressively pursuing the legitimate left defenceman the club still lacks.
What if Bergevin had traded a bunch of young assets, including their first-round pick, in late December for a stud defenceman and the club still missed the playoffs because of all of the injuries? What if the pick ended up being the first overall…and Montreal hosted the draft only to have another club choose Alexis Lafreniere with Montreal’s former pick? That would be the definition of disaster.
Bergevin is going to wait to see how things transpire over the next month, and assess just how much better Scandella makes the defence corps. If the club stays in the race and Scandella plays decently, but not like a legitimate top-four guy, I see Bergevin pushing hard for an elite left defenceman from a club that has fallen out of the race.
Offering up Mete in such a deal makes it less likely that a prospective trading partner is going to insist on a 2020 first-round pick as part of the package. I am relatively certain that such a request would be a deal breaker.
the Canadiens are NOT going to host the club without a first-round pick. No hosting team trades the first overall pick in this era of the two-day draft. It would be the epitome of a public relations nightmare having no selection on the first day of the draft with all of the coverage.
At least when the draft was all on one day you could justify it somewhat by pointing to all of the later picks that were made…but to have all of the stories written about having no pick, and all of the fans show up on Friday night for nothing? It is and was simply not going to happen.
The club has two second-round picks in the upcoming draft at this time. Offering Mete, a 2020 second-round pick, a 2021 second-round pick and a prime prospect (let’s say Harris, Brook or Norlinder) for a left defenceman is a pretty decent package.
Might it land an Alec Martinez? One would think so; it may even cost less. Martinez, Chiarot and Scandella would be a pretty solid group on the left side until Romanov is ready. It may even be solid enough to help Montreal make the playoffs, and then make some noise once it gets there.
A couple of weeks ago I tweeted that the Canadiens are in dire need of a big-body shooter for the power play, even if that player isn’t the fleetest of foot.
Following yet another injury to a top-six winger, Bergevin changed his mind on offering Ilya Kovalchuk a contract, in part out of desperation. I have a feeling that his signing may end up working out better than Bergevin anticipated, however. Sometimes the stars align for whatever reasons, and the injury to Gallagher may be the break Kovalchuk needed. Gallagher was one of the few shooters in the lineup.
Obviously, his best days are behind him, but Kovalchuk keeps himself in good shape, and perhaps just needed a different opportunity.
Los Angeles is not exactly teeming with playmakers at forward outside of Anze Kopitar. The other top forwards with Kovalchuk in the lineup alongside Toffoli and Carter had a preference for shooting, and the group overall was far from swift. It ended up being a poor fit.
There will be no such dilemma in Montreal. Suzuki, Domi, Kotkaniemi and Drouin are pass-first players, and all of them have good vision and playmaking skills. Even Poehling is in that category.
Given the need for a shooter on the power play – and that is not Weal or Cousins – I see Kovalchuk getting a prime opportunity to add to that career power-play goal total of 143 goals, just three shy of the career totals of the 16 active and injured forwards on Montreal’s roster. Not including injured Habs, the evidence that Kovalchuk is needed on the man advantsage is even more pronounced – as the career totals for the other 12 forwards is 82 playoff goals.
Bergevin would be pleased if he added five or more power-play goals and ten-plus goals to the lineup in the second-half of the season.
I don’t see that as an unrealistic total given the makeup of the Canadiens, and the need for a player of his ilk.
At what cost? Well under a million bucks and no assets.
BargainBin strikes again indeed on his two latest moves, but with good reason. After this most recent losing streak Montreal has creeped closer to the bottom of the standings than to the top. The timing is wrong to sacrifice the future in a quick fix deal if it backfires and a high pick is surrendered.
When Bergevin’s GM chapter is written, it will be noted that he never panicked in a desperate attempt to save his job. He is to be commended for his lack of insecurity, and for keeping the long-range interests of the club foremost in his mind.
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