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Stu Cowan: Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin might be done dealing

Stu Cowan: Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin might be done dealing
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GM Marc Bergevin made his second trade in three days on Monday, acquiring centre Nate Thompson from the Los Angeles Kings after getting former Canadiens forward Dale Weise and defenceman Christian Folin from the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.

The three new Canadiens have some important things in common: they’re all over 6-foot and 200 pounds and they came cheap, with Bergevin not giving away a roster player, a prospect or any high draft picks while tinkering with his team. Bergevin made it clear when he met with the media early last month that he was continuing to build for the future.

Montreal Canadiens defenceman Jordie Benn kicks the puck past Minnesota Wild right-wing Nino Niederreiter as Brett Kulak ties up Wild’s eft wing Jordan Greenway, rear, in Montreal on Jan. 7, 2019. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

“I’m not going to give up a first-round pick for a rental,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen. So I want to be clear, today, it’s not happening. If there’s something that makes sense short-term and long-term, I will do it. But giving up assets for short-term, it’s not going to happen.”

The Canadiens have shown all season — and especially in their last two games against the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs — that they’re a very competitive team. Their two big weaknesses — the power play and the fourth line — cost them against the Leafs. Bergevin is hoping the addition of Thompson and Weise will fix the fourth line, while it might be left up to the coaches now fix the power play. The talent is there and it’s hard to understand how the Canadiens can have the second-worst power play in the NHL (13.5 per cent success rate) ahead of only the Nashville Predators (13 per cent).

The Canadiens’ top three lines look good and the defence — which was a problem this season — has become much more solid since head coach Claude Julien settled on three regular pairings: Victor Mete with Shea Weber, Mike Reilly with Jeff Petry and Brett Kulak with Jordie Benn. Folin was added for his size and depth.

The biggest surprise of that defence group has been Kulak, acquired from the Calgary Flames on Oct. 1 in exchange for minor-league defencemen Matt Taormina and Rinat Valiev. Kulak started the season with the AHL’s Laval Rocket, but has since earned a starting job with the Canadiens, posting 3-3-6 totals and a plus-5 rating in 32 games while averaging 17:18 of ice time. Kulak and Benn — who has 4-9-13 totals and a plus-11 in 55 games while averaging 18:13 of ice time — have developed into a pretty solid third pairing with good chemistry.

Montreal Canadiens defenceman Brett Kulak (17) celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning with fellow blue-liner Jordie Benn on Dec. 29, 2018, in Tampa. Chris O Meara / Associated Press

“I think we’ve just gotten better and better the more we’ve played together,” Kulak said after practice Monday in Brossard. “He communicates really well on the ice. When my back’s to the play, if I’m in a battle or something, he’s kind of my eyes behind me. He does a really good job with that. That’s one thing I’ve noticed that’s helped me out a lot.

“I think we do a good job, each of us, of keeping a good gap on both sides, forcing their forwards to chip in and we’re good at kind of slotting in behind each other to go pick up that puck that they get rid of. That’s where the talking comes in and we’re able to make small plays to get out of our zone.”

That’s what a coach wants out of his third defence pairing. What a coach doesn’t want is his fourth line getting scored on — something that happened twice in Saturday night’s 4-3 OT loss to the Maple Leafs. To make matters worse, the Canadiens haven’t had a goal from their fourth line since Nicolas Deslauriers scored 18 games ago against the Panthers in Florida. Enter Thompson and Weise, with Michael Chaput expected to be placed on waivers on Tuesday.

While Bergevin likes to say you can never have too many defencemen, don’t be surprised if he sticks with what he has, even though Benn can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

“He plays hard every night,” Kulak said about Benn. “Last game, he stepped up and made a big hit. He’s always prepared to do that. He plays hard, he’s hard on the puck and he wins most of his battles. That’s something I look at and I kind of feed off that. It makes me dig in a little deeper every single shift. He’s going hard, so I want to do the same for him and make it easy for each other out there.

“He’s the type of guy who’s got an awesome personality,” Kulak added. “He welcomed me in right away when I first got here.”

Bergevin said after last season’s disaster that his team’s biggest problem was a bad attitude. The attitude this season has been very good since Day 1 at training camp and the GM probably doesn’t want to tinker much more with the chemistry in the room.

We’ll find out for sure on Feb. 25.

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