Canadiens need upgrades, but Bergevin unlikely to lure free agents here

Canadiens need upgrades, but Bergevin unlikely to lure free agents here
When Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin goes shopping for free agents this summer, he might consider bringing Tomas Tatar and Nate Thompson along to extol the virtues of playing in Montreal.

“If someone asked me about coming here as a UFA, I can only say positive things,” Tatar said Tuesday as the Canadiens cleaned out their lockers and began their summer vacations as snow fell outside the team’s training facility in Brossard. “There’s no reason why an unrestricted free agent shouldn’t come. He would enjoy the hockey club and the players who played against us this year would say we’re a fast team and we’re a young team so there’s a future here.”

“Everything was first class for me and my wife.” said Thompson, who joined the team at the trade deadline. “This team has a bright future and I hope I’m part of it.”

Sadly, those unsolicited testimonials are unlikely to sway free agents who will base their decisions on such mundane issues as taxes, weather, travel and whether their wives are going to happy. Bergevin, who has left $8 million in cap money on the table in each of the past two years, said Tuesday that he will survey the market, but he noted the aforementioned obstacles to signing players along with the notion that teams usually overpay on July 1.

The bottom line is don’t hold your breath waiting for a significant free-agent signing. That may be good thing because Bergevin is batting .333 on his previous deals. He hit a home run when he convinced Jeff Petry to stick around after trading for him, but his other multi-year deals — for Brandon Prust and Karl Alzner — were less successful.

As for suggestions the Canadiens could make an offer sheer for a restricted free agent — Toronto’s Mitch Marner for example — Bergevin admitted this was an option under the collective bargaining agreement. But he said there was a price to be paid and someone who is averse to trading one first-round draft choice for a proven NHL player won’t be involved in a deal where he has to relinquish up to four first-rounders.

And there’s something to be said for the status quo, which is the continuation of the rebuild — er, reset — based on youth and speed. The Canadiens have the eighth-youngest lineup in the NHL and the youngest group of forwards.

There was a combination of disappointment and pride of achievement expressed Tuesday as the players met the media.

Paul Byron said the season couldn’t be viewed as a success because the Canadiens missed the playoffs by two points, but he went on to note that many people picked this crew to finish last in the Eastern Conference.

Eleven players reached career-highs this season and the group includes two players Bergevin acquired by trades last summer — Max Domi and Tatar — as well as the underrated Phillip Danault and Artturi Lehkonen, who had a career-high points total despite being snake-bit for most of the season.

That number doesn’t includes rookies Jesperi Kotkaniemi and late arrival Ryan Poehling, who will eventually address the team’s reliance on smaller players with big hearts.

One player who matched his career-high point total is Jonathan Drouin. By all accounts, he’s a top-end talent, but he totally disappeared over the final third of the season. Bergevin said he was encouraged by his exit jnterview with Drouin and expected him to bounce back with a big season.

If he’s right, that might be better than a free-agent signing.
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