A Productive Offseason
So far this offseason the Montreal Canadiens blew the league, as well as top NHL scouts, away with their successful draft. Next, Marc Bergevin added some toughness to the roster with the signings of free agents Francis Bouillon, Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust.
Along with some new faces, Bergevin was quick to re-sign goaltender Carey Price to a six year deal as well as hard hitting defenseman Alexei Emelin and Lars Eller who both got two year deals.
While the moves are all important factors in turning this franchise around, more than a few fans in Montreal seem to feel the climb up the standings will be quick. I can’t help but disagree.
Yes, drafting Galchenyuk was exciting. No, he won’t play with the Habs next year. He may play the nine games he’s allowed before being sent to the minors, in fact I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t. However, his knee injury last season cost him a year of developing in the junior ranks. The Canadiens have lost many players in the past due to poor development – Mikhail Grabovski, Sergei Kostitsyn, Guillaume Latendresse etc… – and there is no reason to risk a similar fate for Galchenyuk.
When it comes to the free agent signings, there are plenty of positives. Bouillon adds depth, grit and experience to the blueline, Armstrong is a pest who can add some offense and Brandon Prust will drop the gloves and has the potential to score 15 goals.
Armstrong and Prust can also eat up some of Tomas Plekanec’s PK minutes, allowing him to focus more on his offensive game and keep him more fresh towards the end of the season.
As much as that helps the team, it doesn’t put a legitimate top six winger on a line with Plekanec and Brian Gionta. Having fresh legs under Plekanec will help some, but without at least two productive scoring lines the team still has some important holes to fill. Holes that Armstrong and Prust won’t fill.
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
There is a good chance the Habs will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year in 2012-13. Come to terms with that now. The Canadiens were more than just a Prust and an Armstrong away from the playoffs in 2011-12. Not even Frankie B could’ve brought the Habs to the top eight in the East.
The return of Andrei Markov and captain Brian Gionta will help. It just may not be enough.
Marc Bergevin continued to impress me when he passed on Jaromir Jagr. Jagr would’ve no doubt raised Plekanec’s production as well as helped out the team’s powerplay. I also can’t help but believe he would be a good mentor for Eller. Who else would be better to teach Eller how to use his big body and soft hands.
Bergevin though, had the sense to not pay as high as $4.5 million to land the 40 year old future hall of famer.
Bergevin understands the importance of development and passing on Jagr will give younger players from within the organization more playing time.
With young forwards like Brendan Gallagher, Louis Leblanc, Patrick Holland and d-men Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Morgan Ellis and Frederic St-Denis in the system, what’s the rush?
Development is Key
Bergevin made it clear that he was in no rush when he put so much focus on development in the organization. The Habs GM brought in Scott Mellanby as Director of Player Personnel, Martin Lapointe was brought in as director of player development and former Canadien Patrice Brisebois as the new Player Development Coach.
Turning a franchise around doesn’t happen overnight. Bergevin knows this from being brought in to the Chicago Blackhawks organization in 2005 as a pro scout. It wasn’t until 2008-09 that the Blackhawks made it to the post season. By that time Bergevin was as assistant Coach with the Hawks and in 2009-10 the Hawks won the Stanley Cup with the current Habs GM as their Director of Player Personnel.
This by no means is saying that the Habs will win the cup in five years. It simply proves that Bergevin knows how to build a team, a winning team. And that with patience trumping rash decisions and rushing development, the Canadiens very well may be cup contenders in as many as five years. And with a franchise goalie and promising prospects, maybe a year or two earlier.