With the news about Andrei Markov dominating the Montreal Twitterverse on Thursday, Habs fans were expressing their dire concerns with the direction of the Habs, and wondering quite loudly whether GM Marc Bergevin even has a plan going forward.
Having followed his work as the Habs GM for the past five years, it’s been apparent that he does indeed plan ahead, but it’s also evident that he has guidelines when it comes to this planning. I think it is his methodology that has most Habs fans up in arms moreso than any lack of forethought or effort.
One of Bergevin’s approaches since taking over the GM position has been not to panic or seek quick fixes by sacrificing the future. No Gainey-like moves where Ryan McDonagh is moved for a regressing Scott Gomez, or Alex Tanguay for a first and second-round pick. Up until the Drouin deal he had never traded away a higher-end prospect, and he only made that deal when he got a very young up-and-coming French Canadian star in return.
I figure Bergevin concluded that he wasn’t going to solve the defence issue completely in free agency, so he picked up a few blueliners to help get the team to the trade deadline in a playoff position. Karl Alzner and David Schlemko are solid NHL defenders, Streit brings experience, depth and some power play abilities, and Jakub Jerabek and Joe Morrow are skilled blueliners that may push for top-four spots as well – they both certainly have offensive skills even if Morrow has yet to produce at the NHL level despite his skating ability and heavy shot.
Julien had Morrow in Boston and wanted him again in Montreal, so you have to think that he’ll be given a serious look at the very least. Julien, a former defenceman himself who struggled to play regularly at the NHL level as a fringe prospect, realizes as well as anybody that many NHL defencemen don’t become regulars until they are 24 or older. Perhaps after battling injuries the past few season, Morrow is finally ready for a breakthrough. He unquestionably projected as a top-four defenceman in his draft year, perhaps even top two.
Add in Davidson and Lernout, and there is going to be heavy competition in camp for the last three positions. It was less than two years ago that Davidson was a fixture in Edmonton’s top four and considered an up and comer…then he suffered a concussion at the start of last season and struggled to play as well as he did in the previous campaign
Bergevin and company will be hoping that a couple of them step up, and perhaps even play well enough to earn top-four spots. If not…Schlemko may well play in the top four to start the season, more than likely with Weber, who was paired with the likes of Emelin and Beaulieu at times last season. Weber can make most defencemen look okay, and perhaps the club is thinking that one of the many blueliners vying for a spot can fit the bill to start the season. Failing that…Jordie Benn played in the top four at the end of last season and was decent…it’s not improbable that he could do the same this season for a stretch if the need arises.
The fact is that there are options even if they aren’t exciting the fan base as none are 40-point speedsters, and while right now it is justifiably being questioned, we’ll all know better by mid-October where this group stands. I don’t think it’s nearly as underwhelming as people are making it out to be. Julien has never been a coach that likes Fancy Dan defencemen; get the puck out, play your position, play smart, clear the front of the net and rebounds, and win 3-2 and 2-1 games with an All-Star goalie.
People point to the power play suffering without Markov, but even with a lethal triggerman on the blueline in Weber, Markov managed only 12 power-play points last season, and at his age was not likely to be improving that total. On the other hand, Drouin, at the age of 21, had 26 power-play points and is a good bet to build on that as he reaches his prime. In junior he was a power-play wizard on Halifax and very much the quarterback on that lethal unit. I suspect the Habs are banking on him being able to do the same on the Habs, and like in Halifax, quite often on the point.
The other main option is the defenceman Bergevin just signed at 1/8 of the cost of Markov in Mark Streit. Interestingly…Streit had more power play points than Markov, and he wasn’t feeding passes to Weber either.
Yes it’s too bad that Markov departed after 990 games and loyal service to the club – he has been the one constants on the club this Millennium…and fans are always sad to see a long-time veteran defenceman leave before his career is finished.
Alas…it is a business, and this is nothing new in Habs history, even in the hallowed Pollock and Selke eras. Harvey, Robinson, Lapointe, and Savard all finished their careers on other teams, and while Markov is likely one of the ten-best blueliners in club history…he is not in their realm.
At 38, Markov was in the twilight of his career, and perhaps Habs management decided that he could be replaced by committee; we don’t know for sure yet if this was more Bergevin’s decision or Markov’s. What fans don’t know is who the club thinks that replacement should be now that it’s official – is it one of the ten vying for eight spots this training camp? Is Bergevin still planning to get another one sometime between now and March?
History tells us that he won’t be standing pat. It is…after all, still July. No one is dropping the puck for an NHL regular season game next week. Bergevin has shown in the past that he won’t pull the trigger quickly just for the sake of appeasing the impatient fan base on the exact day they start panicking…but he WILL pull the trigger. Bergevin has made trades for 10 NHL defencemen between October and April in the past four seasons, so expect him to be proactive once again this season if he sees that it’s needed.
Nashville showed that you don’t have to finish first…you just have to make the dance. The Habs brass thinks this is a playoff team as presently constructed..and certainly, there is no reason to expect them to fall out of the playoff race in the first half. If there are struggles and it becomes obvious that he is missing a top-four blueliner…Bergevin will do what he’s always done…make a deal. Fewer GM’s have made more regular-season trades, perhaps none have dealt for more defencemen the past four years, so there is no reason to expect that to change this season.
Bergevin still has $8+ million to spend, and there is no question that he would like a top-line center.
I was told by someone close to the team a few weeks ago that Bergevin was looking for a center and had explored many avenues…but that teams simply weren’t parting with top-end pivots.
“No one is moving them,” he exclaimed, and when you look at transactions since the draft, or lack thereof…he is correct. Even Matt Duchene didn’t move…as the Avalanche were asking too much. How many first-line centers have been traded in July, or even second-liners?
I think Bergevin feels the team is good enough to be in a playoff position in February, and then will be all in to get John Tavares. If that is the case…he will need cap space as he’s not going to have a deal in place that moves loads of talent to the Islanders without having an agreement to sign Tavares to a huge contract extension before he can became a UFA.
So – yes Habs fans…there is a plan. As usual, it’s not one of urgency, which often drives the passionate fans crazy, but there is cap space, there is NHL depth at all positions, some half decent prospects, and extra top 60 draft picks – thus there are tradeable assets. Patience is needed – there are a couple of puzzle pieces missing…but the floor hasn’t been swept yet and the dog’s in the yard.