Marc Bergevin has put his team at a crossroads. It is too early to firesale and implode, but it is also looking too late to still contend with the squad he has on his hands- a squad let’s not forget he said he had a “5 year plan” for back when his tenure started in 2012. It is now five years later and for the first time the management, ownership and fans truly do not know what to do at this point. With contracts expiring, key players leaving, an immobile salary cap and a passionate fanbase simply frustrated at the thought of adding another year (or maybe even more) to the cup drought count, the Montreal Canadiens are stuck between a rock and a hard place. I will give some insight and present what my exact plan of action would be if i was in the position of the Canadiens organization.
Number #1) Evaluate the Minor League coaching staff
First order of business, look to the base of the structure and evaluate what the development system of Sylvain Lefebvre has produced for this franchise. One playoff appearance in the past five straight seasons coaching the Hamilton Bulldogs/St. John’s Ice Caps franchises has been an obvious sign of mismanagement and poor development in the AHL system. Since Lefebvre took the head coaching role in 2012, only six of his former players have seen regular ice time with the Canadiens. Nathan Beaulieu has been the only one to see consistent minutes, playing on the third defensive pairing, while Michael McCarron gets the occasional ice time on the fourth line. So it’s easy to say that Sylvain Lefebvre has been part of the organization’s problem, rather than the solution, and with the team moving from Newfoundland to Laval, a suburb of Montreal, the pressure will certainly be on a lot hotter this time around.
Number #2) Explore options for Max Pacioretty
Captain Max Pacioretty has been exceptional in the regular season but it’s hard to get past his streaky and inconsistent play. Hitting his career high of 39 goals back in 2014, Pacioretty managed to net 35 goals this past season, even while allegedly playing through a foot fracture in November. The Canadiens clearly have no problem securing a playoff berth but, as the past 10 seasons have shown, they’ve struggled to go far in the postseason and Pacioretty’s inability to score when it counts is a major reason for this. In the first round of the 2017 playoffs against the New York Rangers, Pacioretty failed to even register a point. As a 30+ goal scorer in the regular season, you can only wonder why he had such a poor postseason. This isn’t the first time however that Pacioretty has seen this kind of postseason disappointment. In the 2013 playoffs he also put up zero points, contributing to the team’s first round exit against the Ottawa Senators. He did put up an impressive five goals and 11 points in 17 games in the Habs 2014 campaign where they ultimately fell to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals. While possessing one of the most cap friendly contracts in the NHL at the moment, the Canadiens will have to resign Max in two seasons, and one can wonder how long until his regular season numbers will hold up while he nears the end of his prime years. Trading him immediately is not a pressing matter, but exploring options and gauging the market is not such a bad thing either. It’s like they say, get it while it’s still hot!
Number #3) THE DRAFT
Now this is one thing I feel the Canadiens can use to really determine their team’s future. The main contributor to the drought that has plagued this team the past 25 seasons has been the lack of scoring and the lack of a true bonafide number one centre. The 2017 NHL Draft may sound like a weak one in comparison to the ones from the past few seasons, however seven centremen are projected to go in the top 10 in this years draft. This could be the time for the Montreal Canadiens to really think about making a big splash in attempt to move into the top ten to acquire one of these centres, if Bergevin was in fact serious on what he said about wanting to “secure the future of this franchise for years to come”. Trading into the top two spots to nab Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier is a stretch, as it would most likely cost the Canadiens multiple draft picks, high end prospects and roster talent in order to acquire one of these two players. Patrick and Hischier are the only two players we know of at the moment from this draft class that will provide immediate help to any franchise that decides to draft them. The Canadiens are better off trading up from 25th overall to sixth or seventh overall and snatching a centreman that can spend the next couple of years in Laval to develop properly, rather than skipping that process with another centre the Canadiens have previously drafted *cough* Galchenyuk *cough*.
Number #4) Carey Price
The biggest name that Montreal Canadiens supporters will be talking about all year will be their franchise goaltender Carey Price. Many still believe Price has the drive to lead the Habs to 25, as he is still arguably regarded as the best goaltender in the world. With Carey’s contract expiring next offseason, all eyes will be on Marc Bergevin (if he’s still the GM) to make a decision sooner rather than later. Locking Price up to a long-term contract that the player will potentially take a hometown discount to achieve, trading his rights before he’s gone, or allowing him to walk for nothing, Carey Price’s next contract, whether it has the signature of Geoff Molson on the bottom or not, will decide the Canadiens future for the next decade.