Forty years after Jaws established a well-entrenched summertime movie trend, many Montreal Canadiens fans hoped their team might get in on the blockbuster fun.
Through three-plus years on the job, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has actually been a bit like the shark from Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic: just because you can’t always see him, that doesn’t mean he’s not scoping things out just below the surface.
The difference, though, is that while the shark was only too happy to pop out of the water and cause utter devastation, Bergevin has yet to make a deal that affects a massive sea change for his team.
More than a few observers—including this one—thought this off-season was the time for Bergevin to strike, given the Canadiens’ need for goals is a storyline that’s as well-worn as the flimsy plots we see in today’s summer films. But as the off-season’s dog days take hold, the only new face on the Habs’ roster is that of former Vancouver Canucks right winger Zack Kassian, who was obtained along with a fifth-round pick for dependable bottom-six soldier Brandon Prust.
So while numerous reports had Bergevin—known as a guy who keeps in frequent contact with his fellow GMs—sniffing around the likes of then-UFAs Matt Beleskey and Justin Williams as well as recently-traded Patrick Sharp, no move of serious significance materialized. Though a monster deal consummated on the down-low is always a possibility, the odds grow longer by the day—at least until things pick back up again when training camps start and cap crunches become a more pressing issue.
Assuming the Habs don’t land a whale before opening night, does that mean Bergevin’s lack of activity has torpedoed the team’s chances to improve offensively?
The easy solution to cite for Montreal’s goal-scoring woes is finding outside help, but there’s also reason to bank on some growth based solely on internal developments. Lost in the talk of what Bergevin didn’t do is the fact he did lock up defenceman Jeff Petry to a six-year contract that carries a highly palatable $5.5-million cap hit before the Michigan native ever got a whiff of the open market.
Petry was a second-pair revelation for the Canadiens after being acquired for second- and fifth-round picks at the trade deadline in the kind of low-risk transaction that’s been the hallmark of Bergevin’s tenure. Petry is a possession darling who nimbly moves his six-foot-three frame around the ice and doesn’t miss too many first passes. He turns 28 in December, meaning he’s right around that age when a lot of defenceman find their sweet spot. He’s also getting a new lease on life after spending the first chunk of his time in the NHL with the P.C. (pre-Connor) Edmonton Oilers. Tally it up and it’s easy to see why Bergevin has bet on Petry giving Montreal the best years of his career and serving as a solid No. 3 behind P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov.
If Petry’s advancement figures to be certain yet subtle, Nathan Beaulieau’s has the potential to be something that can’t be missed. The 17th overall pick from 2011 has been brought along slowly, but that’s the only plodding part of his narrative. Beaulieu, who turns 23 in December, has firmly established himself as an NHLer and has every chance to ride enhanced confidence, really fleet feet and a bit of snarl into a role as an offence-minded No. 4 blueliner. An ascent like that is never assured, but it’s starting to look more and more like a “when,” not “if” situation.
Growth from a couple second-pair defencemen may not send fans spinning cartwheels along St. Catherine Street, but Petry and Beaulieu are both the kind of players who go a long way toward ensuring the puck spends more time with your team’s forwards, not the opponent’s.
As mentioned, those forwards now include Kassian, who’s getting one last crack to prove his worth as an NHLer. The 24-year-old netted 10 goals in 42 games for the Canucks last year, tying for the team lead in goals-per-60 minutes. If Montreal isn’t prepared to give Kassian—an 11th overall selection from 2009 who carries the “talented but inconsistent” label—a serious top-six chance, there wasn’t much point in acquiring him. We should find out soon enough if a young man who’s been moved twice already and says he knows it’s time to step up can make good on his untapped potential.
Most of the time, talk of fully realizing ability in Montreal revolves around Alex Galchenyuk. The “will they, won’t they?” conversation about shifting Galchenyuk to centre has taken some strange turns this off-season, with Bergevin stating he may never move to the middle, before backing off that stance a bit. The bottom line is it makes far too much sense not to happen.
Assuming the 21-year-old Galchenyuk does start his fourth NHL season at his natural position (something that on its own could help drive the attack), the trickle-down effect dictates one of a few intriguing prospects may get a chance to shine on the left wing.
As Sportsnet.ca’s Eric Engels noted during the team’s development camp, a trio of players who spent last year in the AHL are glimpsing noteworthy potential. That group includes Charles Hudon, who finished second in rookie scoring with 57 points in 75 games, Daniel Carr, who paced all freshman goal-scorers with 24 in 76 contests, and slippery Sven Andrighetto, who managed points in his first three NHL contests last winter during what turned into a 12-game look in the big show.
None of those guys is anything close to a sure thing, but given there’s three of them, the odds Montreal gets some offence via graduation from the farm goes up.
Then there’s the power play, which has been a black hole for a couple seasons now, finishing 19th overall in 2013-14 before dropping to 23rd last year. With no changes expected on the coaching staff, it’s on the current crew to come up with new schemes that can give different looks to familiar faces like Subban, Markov and Max Pacioretty (expected to be ready for opening night after sustaining an off-season knee injury), and bigger roles for guys who previously haven’t had much of a man-advantage shot. If Montreal can even climb into the top dozen teams in terms of conversions, it will provide the club with valuable scoring it was previously missing out on.
None of this matches the excitement that would have been created by Bergevin doing some moving and shaking. But Jim Nill’s work with the Dallas Stars the past couple summers notwithstanding, megadeals require a lot of parts to line up and, assuming Bergevin did his due diligence, maybe he found nothing of that nature made sense for his club. Whatever the case, it seems Bergevin is like a director who eschews casting one big star in favour of an ensemble cast. The approach may not pay immediate box office dividends, but that doesn’t mean the story doesn’t have legs.