If you needed one more sign to prove to you that 2020 is a weird year; Mark Bergevin splurged! The Canadiens have finally made the turn from ‘Reset’ to ‘Make the Playoffs’. Bergevin did not waste any time this off-season, aggressively getting out in front of the rest of the league and getting his guys. Now that the heavy lifting has been done, where do the Habs go from here?
After the series against the Flyers, a few things were abundantly clear for the Habs:
1. Carey Price needed a capable back up Goalie
This seems to have been at the bottom of the priority list for the past handful of seasons. Bergevin has failed to lock up a solid back up goalie since Peter Budaj, which is also the last time the Habs went deep into the Playoffs. I will say that Bergevin has attempted to fill this spot at a discount, identifying guys coming off good seasons in limited capacity roles, but enough was enough. Price was dominant in the Return to Play, showing what he can really do when rested. Next season will also be a sprint as the NHL will condense it’s season playing more games per week.
Taking this into account Bergy refused to cheap out on providing our biggest asset with the rest he requires. Jake Allen will come in and play upwards of close to 30 games to keep Price in the 50-55 games played range. Despite coming in relatively high on the Cap at $4.35M this season, Allen was just extended for two more seasons at $2.875M. This will allow Allen to act as a stop gap for the role that the Habs want 7th Round steal, Cayden Primeau to take over when he is NHL ready. Montreal has the most amount of Cap Space invested in their goalies, which is how it should be, the Canadiens do not win without Price so everything must be done to maximize his play.
2. Carey Price and The Trident needed help on the back end
The Canadiens were able to partially address this a bit in house with the promotion of Alexander Romanov to the big club, however more needed to be done. Again, Bergevin quickly assessed the options, found his target and went to work. Joel Edmundson checks off a lot of needs for the Habs, he is a big, strong, physical defenseman that has playoff and championship experience. He can flex up and down the left side of the defense core, he is a capable Top 4 defenseman who can play the Shut Down role in 5on5 and he can kill penalties.
All of this is important as the Habs cannot rely on their Big 3 to shoulder the majority of the work load, playing close to 30 minutes a night. If anything, next season they will require even more help to alleviate those minutes with the sprint of a season I referenced earlier. The biggest dimension he adds to this roster is that he can drop to the 3rd Pairing when need be, to be a rock for some of the younger guys like Juulsen and Fleury. In order for the Canadiens to transition from ‘Make the Playoffs’ to ‘Legit Stanley Cup Contender’, they will need one of their young defenseman to take a noticeable leap forward in their progression. Juulsen is finally healthy, here’s to hoping that it is his time.
3. The Canadiens needed scoring on the Wing, specifically the Right Side.
After what feels like an eternity, the Habs finally have some depth at Center and no longer need to make it the absolute priority of every off-season. That did however, come at a cost as the price to acquire Suzuki was Max Pacioretty, our only real goal scoring threat on the team at the time. Not spending too much time on the past, the Habs now are very solid down the middle with the emergence of Suzuki and KK during last year’s playoffs, but there was a clear deficiency on the wings.
Max Domi was an incredible player and his 70 point season may have ultimately been his demise. It is rare to find a player like Domi who so willingly and happily accepted the pressure put on by the media and fans; he embraced it. He wasn’t however, willing to embrace the role that Claude and the team wanted him to take on. He wanted to be a Center and he was being wasted on the 4th Line, so why not move him for someone of comparable skill that will embrace that role. Not only that, he is 6’3, 220 pounds of pain inflicting, pure toughness. While many people have their reservations about Anderson coming off an injury plagued season, we cannot completely ignore the positive trending improvement he was having season after season prior to the injury.
No injury should be taken lightly, but for those who are concerned, maybe Cam Newton will help put the injury into context. I do not believe it was the exact same injury but shoulder none the less; people had written Newton completely off because of the injury. He looked pretty good in the games he’s played so far this season and his profession relies on his shoulder working so he can throw a ball down field. Anderson just needs to put a puck in the net.
While Anderson addresses the size and positional issue, he isn’t the most prolific scorer, so Bergevin pulled a George Costanza and double dipped and got Tyler Toffoli. Yes his numbers have slid a bit in recent years, but look at the team he was playing on. The Kings were perenial cellar dwellers but Toffoli still managed to put up over a Half Point per Game in his final few seasons in LA. In his limited time with the Canucks he put up 10 points (6G, 4A) in 10 games to go along with 4 points in the playoffs.
Toffoli has a Stanley Cup to his name and my favourite part is that he played along side a player that was a comparable for Kotkaniemi when he was drafted in Anze Kopitar. This is not to say that I expect KK to be Kopitar, but to know that Toffoli is capable of playing with this style of player can only be a positive at this point. One thing that is not mentioned enough is that we may have finally had a player take a discount to play here. In an era where the Habs have to overspend by about 20% on every Free Agent offer, Bergevin finally found a guy to come in at around Market Value because he wants to be here. Based on a few of Toffoli’s comments, I think he just wanted to feel wanted. As stupid as that sounds, he was ‘given up’ on in LA and Vancouver. To know that Montreal has wanted him all along played a part in this signing, and yet again, Bergevin shows that he has his hand in a lot of cookie jars.
For the first time in a long time that Habs have spent up to the cap and there is optimism in the air. Through out this entire article we have not even touched on the prospect pool that runs deep with this organization. The Canadians are positioned very well, not only for this season but for the foreseeable future. Next season the Habs will have just under $16.3M of Cap Space to work with both goalies, the entire D-core along with 6 of our top forwards (don’t forget Caufield too) all under contract. That leaves Danault and Kotkaniemi as the team’s top two priorities for next season as the team navigates the Seattle Expansion draft as well.
It has been a long time since I have seen the Canadiens ice a team this good. We now have a deep prospect pool with a ton of Draft Capital in next years draft to compliment the on ice product. Habs fans have waited long for this moment, but Bergevin has finally put all the pieces in place to prepare to take that next step toward a Stanley Cup.