As the 2013-14 season winds down, Canadiens fans alike has to be wondering, what if Carey Price never got injured, what if Thomas Vanek actually played with some heart in the playoffs, or what if Bob Gainey never traded Ryan McDonagh (okay that’s enough of that). For Marc Bergevin however, these questions are quickly forgotten as he enters his third and most important off-season as GM of the Montreal Canadiens. You could argue that fans would have gave Bergevin some leeway in his first two season at the helm as expectations were quite low after a 28th place finish in 2011-2012, evidently costing former GM Pierre Gauthier his job. But now for a team that has just finished in the final four and was only six games away from a 25th Stanley Cup, next season’s expectations is anticipated to be colossally high.
Bergevin biggest question entering this offseason is not whether to resign long time Habs’ defenseman Andrei Markov or forward Thomas Vanek, nor does it concern the contract negotiations of PK Subban. What Bergevin, coach Michel Therrien and the Habs brass must first determine, is whether or not they believe 2012 3rd overall draft pick Alex Galchenyuk is ready to play his natural position at centre. If the answer is yes, then this creates a logjam down the middle and opens up a possibility where one of Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, and Lars Eller could be made available in a trade for a defenseman (to replace Markov) or forward (to replace Vanek). This decision alone could potentially change the landscape of the Habs this off-season and for seasons to come. However, if they decide to follow in the Bruins footstep of handling Galchenyuk like another highly touted top pick, Tyler Seguin, and wait a couple more years for him to mature, then the possibility of remaining status-quo and resigning Markov and captain Brian Gionta may become both a nightmare and a reality for Habs fans.
“We are building for long term. I’ve never seen a young guy being brought up too late on an NHL team. But I’ve often seen very good young players being brought up too soon and wasting their talent and their career. I’m hoping that our fans understand that.” – Marc Bergevin
Currently the Canadiens have 10 forwards under contract for the upcoming 2014-15 season. You would believe the Habs will tend qualifying offers and resign all three of their current RFAs including, Lars Eller ($3.000m) on a similar bridge-contract like Subban, Price & Pacioretty, trade deadline acquisition Dale Weise ($1.500m), and Ryan White ($0.850m).
On defense, the biggest question will be whether or not to bring back current alternate captain Andrei Markov. It has been rumoured that Markov wants a 3-year contract, while Bergevin and the Habs are only willing to do a maximum of 2 years for the 35-year-old veteran. What the Habs might do with Markov might also depend on whether they believe former first round draft picks Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are ready to make the jump next season. PK Subban’s contract negotiation might be a hot topic all summer long but fully expect PK to be resigned and hit the jackpot on his upcoming contract (~$8.500m).
In net, Olympic Gold Medalist Carey Price is a lock as the starting goaltender for the next 4 years barring any injuries. However, the question mark will be how backup Peter Budaj reacts after being bypassed in the playoffs for the younger, less experienced Dustin Tokarski. At the moment, based on Budaj’s post season press conference and the fact that Ticker can start the season in Hamilton, I expect no changes between the pipes for the Canadiens to start the coming season.
Thus, with major question marks for a first or second line forward (depending on the continued development of Brendan Gallagher) and a number 2 defenseman behind PK Subban (depending on whether or not the Habs decide to retain Markov’s services), Bergevin and company have some key decisions this off-season. In a weak free agent market for defenseman, with the likes of Markov, Dan Boyle, and Kimmo Timonen, as the top defensemen available, I anticipate the Habs to ante up and resign Markov ($5.000m) and even shot blocking machine Mike Weaver ($1.500m). As Bergevin once said, “You can never have too many defensemen.”
“The most important thing for me, and you see it in the playoffs: depth. That’s what gets you through the playoffs. And you don’t bring depth at the [trade] deadline. You have to bring it at the draft and your prospects coming through. The mindset, the game plan, stays the same.” – Marc Bergevin
Projected Habs’ Lineup
projected payroll of $64.998m (~$6.100m available)
Pacioretty ($4.500m) / Desharnais ($3.500m) / Gallagher ($0.685m)
Galchenyuk ($0.925m) / Plekanec ($5.000m) / ?
Weise ($1.500m) / Eller ($3.000m) / Bourque ($3.333m)
Prust ($2.500m) / Briere ($4.000m) / Moen ($1.850m)
Bournival ($0.660m) / White ($0.850m)
Gorges ($3.900m) / Subban ($8.500m)
Markov ($5.000m) / Emelin ($4.100m)
Beaulieu ($0.925m) / Weaver ($1.500m)
With the Salary Cap for the upcoming season capped at $71.1m, and based on projections so far, the Habs have roughly $6.100m to spend on a top line forward, while adding some additional depth to their roster. So who could the Habs target come July 1st? With no one in the farm system that could really make the jump next season (those fans still hoping for a Louis LeBlanc resurgence must wake up) and fill the gaping hole Vanek and Gionta has left, Bergevin has two options, keep status quo and resign either Vanek or Gionta or Bergevin could look externally, via free agency or trade. Upcoming UFAs like Jerome Iginla, Matt Moulson, and Ryan Callahan would be ideal players that perfectly fit Bergevin’s and Therrien’s team philosophy of hard work, character, and playing with respect.