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Sports What the Puck: Bergevin's off-season steers Canadiens onto win-now path

01:55  20 october  2020
01:55  20 october  2020 Source:   montrealgazette.com

Stu Cowan: Time is right for Canadiens GM Bergevin to accelerate 'reset'

  Stu Cowan: Time is right for Canadiens GM Bergevin to accelerate 'reset' Marc Bergevin has said he doesn’t believe in a “window of opportunity” when it comes to winning a Stanley Cup. But the GM definitely has a window of opportunity this week. Bergevin can make the Canadiens better to the point where they can at least legitimately reach the playoffs for the first time in four years after only getting in this year as the 24th and final seed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NHL draft starts Tuesday (7 p.m., SN, TVA Sports) and the Canadiens have 11 picks, including 16th overall, in the first round and three second-round picks.

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Marc Bergevin wearing a suit and tie: General manager Marc Bergevin speaks to the media before a game against the Minnesota Wild in Montreal on Jan. 7, 2019. © Provided by The Gazette General manager Marc Bergevin speaks to the media before a game against the Minnesota Wild in Montreal on Jan. 7, 2019.

I like what Marc Bergevin is doing.

There, I said it. I have thrown one or pointed critiques in the direction of the controversial Montreal Canadiens general manager over the years. So when I opined recently on social media that I thought Bergevin was making all the right moves, many figured my Twitter account had been hacked.

Well it wasn’t hacked. It’s my brain that’s been hacked and for all the right reasons. Longtime readers know I have been saying for a while that one of the central issues with Bergevin’s Habs was that he was building the team around two star veterans, Carey Price and Shea Weber, yet continually talking up a youth brigade that seemed years away from doing any damage.

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It just didn’t make sense as a plan. If you have Saint Carey and Man Mountain, you have to go for it because they’re not getting any younger. Price is 33 and Weber celebrated his 35th birthday the same week as Price in mid-August. They were amazing in the Return to Play tournament this summer but, barring a miracle, they have at best two or maybe three top-shelf seasons left in them.

It’s pretty clear that after what Bergevin saw this summer in the bubble in Toronto, he finally realized it was time to move from the reset to taking a shot at contending in the present. The Habs did better than anyone expected, beating the Penguins and going toe-to-toe with the Flyers, and best of all, it looks like the team has two really good young centres in Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

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So the GM sprung into action. He acquired netminder Jake Allen from the St. Louis Blues and signed the veteran to a two-year contract extension that runs through the 2022-23 season.

This is Price’s first competitive backup goalie since Jaroslav Halak in 2010 and the Pittsburgh and Philly series this summer were an eloquent reminder of the heroics that a well rested Price can deliver.

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Then Bergevin picked up Joel Edmundson to shore up a defence that looked shockingly good in those two series. Even better, Bergevin solved two problems in one fell swoop by trading Max Domi and a 2020 third-round draft pick to Columbus in return for Josh Anderson. Domi was done in Montreal. He spent a good chunk of the year sulking and when a much heralded forward starts the playoffs on the fourth line and does pretty well nothing in two series, the writing is on the wall.

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  Canadiens lock up Brendan Gallagher with six-year, $39-million deal That didn’t take long. A day after Brendan Gallagher’s agent let it be known that contract talks with the Canadiens had broken off, the team announced Wednesday evening that the 28-year-old right-winger has signed a six-year contract extension worth US$39 million. The new deal has an annual salary-cap hit of $6.5 million, which will make Gallagher the highest-paid forward on the team, topping Jonathan Drouin and newcomer Josh Anderson, who both have $5.5 million salary-cap hits. Gallagher has one season remaining on his current six-year, US$22.5-million contract, with a $3.75 million salary-cap hit, and could have become an unrestricted free agent after next season.

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And in Anderson the team netted a big tough winger who can go to the dirty areas and score goals. That’s a big win. He also re-signed blueliner Jeff Petry for four more years.

Bergevin also waded into the free-agent waters, something he usually tries to avoid, and signed Tyler Toffoli to a four-year deal. This is a guy who could do wonders for the Habs’ troubled power-play. To make sure we really didn’t have anything to complain about, the hardest working GM in the biz this off-season also re-signed Brendan Gallagher to a six-year $39 million contract extension.

The craziest thing about this whole good-news scenario is that none of this would’ve happened if it wasn’t for COVID-19. If there’s no pandemic, it’s virtually guaranteed the Canadiens would’ve missed the playoffs for the fourth time in the past five years and we’d all have spent the summer grumbling about the Hab-nots. Even without the playoffs, we’d know Suzuki looked good, but we’d be much less upbeat about Kotkaniemi, who had a thoroughly mediocre regular season before he was demoted to the Laval Rocket. The Habs and Bergevin got crazy lucky.

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The one cloud on the horizon is l’Affaire Danault. Phillip Danault lost his job to Suzuki in the tournament. Suzuki centred the first line, flanked by Gallagher and Tomas Tatar, while Danault was relegated to the third, alongside Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen. Danault went public with his frustration and Bergevin didn’t make any attempt to reassure him last week, underlining that the organization had other centres, including Ryan Poehling and Jake Evans.

In contrast, he fought back tears while talking about what Gally means to the team.

On Monday, Don Meehan, Danault’s agent, told the Gazette negotiations had broken down between him and Bergevin about ten days ago.

“Marc Bergevin has parked the whole process,” said Meehan.

Danault could become a free agent when his contract expires at the end of this season.

Paul Wilson, Canadiens senior vice-president (public affairs/communications) said, via text: “Marc never talked about negotiations publicly and never will negotiate through the media. But as he mentioned last week, his door is always open for business.”

So will Danault be the odd man out now that the reset is done?

bkelly@postmedia.com

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Stu on Sports: Canadiens owner Geoff Molson excited about next season .
When Geoff Molson hired Marc Bergevin as general manager on May 2, 2012, the Canadiens were coming off a 31-35-16 season, finishing last in the Eastern Conference and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007. “We feel we have selected an individual with the potential to lead our organization in the future,” Molson said during a news conference announcing Bergevin as the new GM. “We were looking for a candidate with very strong leadership capability, great communication skills at all levels and someone with a clear determination and commitment to winning.

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