Stu Cowan: After the trade deadline, there s nothing for Canadiens fans to get excited about
|Montreal Gazette 24 Feb 2020 at 20:25|
That won’t sit well with a lot of frustrated Canadiens fans with the team now in 23rd place in the overall standings en route to missing the playoffs for the third straight season and the fourth time in five years. If those fans were looking for some big moves before Monday’s 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline to give them some hope for the future, they were disappointed.
Bergevin made only two NHL moves Monday, dealing Nate Thompson to the Philadelphia Flyers for a fifth-round pick at the 2021 draft and sending Nick Cousins to the Vegas Golden Knights for a fourth-round pick in 2021. On Sunday, Bergevin sent Ilya Kovalchuk to the Washington Capitals for a third-round pick this year.
Bergevin admitted Monday there was a possibility he could have received a second-round pick from another team besides the Capitals for Kovalchuk, but that the player wanted to go to a Stanley Cup contender and the GM wanted to fulfill that wish, maybe with the hope the Russian will re-sign with the Canadiens as a free agent on July 1. Kovalchuk didn’t rule out that possibility on Monday.
Jeff Petry and Tomas Tatar — two players who have contracts that expire after next season and almost certainly would have been worth first-round picks and possibly prospects at the trade deadline — remain with the Canadiens, as does the rest of the core group.
Why should Canadiens fans think things will be different next season even if Kovalchuk returns, since he had only one goal in his last 12 games?
“It has to be different,” Bergevin said. “There’s stuff that happened this year. There’s one thing I did not like is us being inconsistent, especially at home.”
Bergevin said the Canadiens’ 13-15-5 record at the Bell Centre is his biggest disappointment this season. They are 16-12-3 on the road.
“I asked myself that question: Are we trying to be too cute?” the GM said about the home record. “It’s a great place to play and teams that play in the Bell Centre are pretty pumped up and maybe we are taking the foot off the pedal and that’s why. But it’s just unacceptable. We need to be better at home to expect to be a better team and make the playoffs.”
But Bergevin had no real answer as to how to fix the problem on home ice.
“At the end of the day, we’re all responsible, I get it,” he said. “But the players at the end of the day have to figure it out. With the coaching staff it’s been addressed. So at some point the players have to take responsibility. Why are we so inconsistent, especially at home? It’s the same team. I wish I had the perfect answer for you because I don’t have it.”
When asked how much of that problem lies with the team’s leadership group, Bergevin said: “Yeah, to a degree it does, yes. … I’m not going to point at anybody. But I’m saying as a group they need to be better, yes.”
Bergevin said he does have faith in head coach Claude Julien and assistant GM Trevor Timmins, who oversees scouting and the NHL Draft, which also won’t sit well with frustrated Canadiens fans. Neither will the fact Bergevin’s job seems very safe after eight years as GM.
Injuries definitely took a toll on the Canadiens this season, but there’s no guarantee they won’t have injuries again next season and they simply don’t have the depth to overcome them. The Canadiens do have 14 picks now at this year’s NHL Draft, which will be held at the Bell Centre, including one in the first round, three in the second and two in the third. Bergevin didn’t rule out the possibility of tinkering with his core group this summer through a “hockey trade” when other teams might be facing salary-cap issues.
“I have to look as a general manager at the big picture, not only at what’s going on now,” the GM said. “But our core hasn’t changed and the guys I feel that will help us keep fighting for a playoff spot and moving forward next year are still on the team.”
When asked specifically about Tatar and Petry, Bergevin said: “They’re good players. Just to trade them for draft picks when you know we have another year with them, it made no sense. We need to keep fighting where we are today and next year we intend to put a good team on the ice, and these guys are good players for us.”