With nearly two weeks gone by after the hiring of Marc Bergevin to the position of Montreal Canadiens’ GM and executive vice president, fans in Montreal are eager to see where Bergevin will take this team. At first, the mere hiring of Bergevin had the city ecstatic simply because it ended a month of not having anybody to turn this team around.
Now that the dust has settled it’s time to focus on some of Bergevin’s top priorities. The all but complete recruitment of Rick Dudley as Bergevin’s assistant GM is a great start. Bergevin needs to surround himself with a competent staff before moving forward. Dudley is currently assistant GM – one of many – in Toronto, and in the past has been GM job in Atlanta and Ottawa and had coaching stints in Buffalo and Florida.
Assistant GM aside, there are plenty of tasks ahead of Bergevin. Off the ice, the Habs need a coach. Since Bergevin’s hiring, Patrick Roy’s name hasn’t been swirling around as much as the names Marc Crawford, Bob Hartley, Michel Therrien and Guy Carbonneau, among others. Whoever is chosen the hiring is expected to be made sometime in the next two weeks.
On the ice is another matter. In order to turn the Canadiens into a legitimate contender, Bergevin will have to take care of a few issues that cannot go unattended.
First off, Scott Gomez. While many feel that a few re-signings – see Carey Price and P.K. Subban – should be on the top of the agenda, any long term contracts will be difficult to work out with the money that Gomez’s contract requires. While there is talk of a penalty free buyout period in the next CBA, it would be irresponsible to move forward with the assumption that things might work out. Under the current CBA, buying out a hefty contract is not worthwhile as there will still be a significant cap hit. Bergevin will need to either bury Gomez in the minors or find a team willing to accept Gomez in a trade without sending another large contact this way. Even if Bergevin does find a dance partner, Gomez will need to accept as he has a no trade clause. Gomez may provide a list of three teams he is willing to go to. What are the chances any of those teams would want him?
Once the Gomez issue is settled, the focus can shift to three time all-star goaltender Carey Price, dynamic defenseman P.K. Subban and breakout Forward Max Pacioretty, who is currently leading Team USA in points in the IIHF World Championships. These three players provide the Canadiens with a core that can be worked around to build a contender. The sooner they’re locked up the sooner the focus can shift to their supporting cast.
Up front the Canadiens also have Erik Cole, Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and Lars Eller who help make up a solid nucleus as well as Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin on the back end.
What Bergevin will need to do once the three restricted UFA’s are taken care of is work on depth and size. If Bergevin can supply Plekanec with some talent on the wings, the Canadiens will have two scoring lines. With some size added to a team that had Cole, Pacioretty, Rene Bourque, Brad Staubitz and small but tough Ryan White the Habs will be tougher to play against.
Bergevin does have plenty on his plate but his tasks are far from impossible. Aside from fear of hurt feelings, nothing should stop the demotion of Gomez. But hockey is a business as well as a sport and biting the financial bullet of paying eight million dollars to a player in the minors will in the end help the team more than hurt it.
Signing Price, Subban and Pacioretty will be affordable with long term contracts and it seems as if the three would like to stay in Montreal and so there is no reason to think the Canadiens will not be able to come to terms with the three players that make up the future of this franchise.
What may be the hardest task will be filling out the roster with the talent needed to support the current players. The UFA pool is relatively shallow and Bergevin may have trouble finding much worth trading. He does have plenty of draft picks over the next two years but they are quite essential to the improvement of the team, especially with a draft deep with talent in 2013. Players such as Lars Eller, David Desharnais and Tomas Plekanec will more than likely hear their names thrown around the rumor mill but until Bergevin makes his first move it will be tough to figure out what road he will take to turn these Habs around in the way he helped turn the Hawks into a basement dweller to Stanley Cup champions.