MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin needs to help his team right now.
Admittedly, putting the words “Canadiens” and “Stanley Cup” in the same sentence is laughable when you consider the team has lost 19 of its last 25 games. But giving up on the playoff race at this juncture of the season is not an avenue they can consider strolling down, and if Bergevin doesn’t act now he may as well be waving the white towel.
The Canadiens are three points out of a playoff spot in the East, six points out of third place in the Atlantic Division, and with 32 games remaining, they have enough time to put this whole thing back on the rails.
Bergevin came out last week to say he believed firmly in head coach Michel Therrien and wouldn’t fire him — regardless of what happens between now and the end of the season. He also said he believes in the players he has. There’s no going back on that first statement, but the second one was made before the Canadiens followed up a marginal win over the Toronto Maple Leafs last Saturday with consecutive 5-2 losses to the NHL’s 30th-ranked Columbus Blue Jackets Monday and Tuesday.
The Canadiens have had the worst save percentage and they’ve scored less than any other team since Dec. 1, and that situation isn’t going to change dramatically without Bergevin interjecting.
“There are small risks I’ve been willing to take,” Bergevin said in French one week ago. “But those things that could potentially hurt the team for years to come — those are risks that are very difficult to take.
“I don’t want to put myself in a position to do something I’ll regret because I panicked. I’m not a person that panics.”
But right now, Bergevin’s riskiest endeavour would be standing pat.
A glance at the big picture reveals that Montreal’s window to win a Cup with this core of players slams shut on July 1 of 2018. That will be the day a new contract kicks in for reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy-winner Carey Price.
Price is currently on a deal that counts for $6.5 million per season on the team’s salary cap, and if you think he won’t cash out as the highest paid goaltender in the history of the game when the time comes, you’re dreaming in technicolour.
Name a team that’s won a Cup in the salary cap era with more money invested in its net than at any other position. There are none.
Can Bergevin and the Canadiens afford to toss this season to the wind and place all their hope in everything going right over the next two?
“Right now I’m 27 years old, and an NHL career goes by really fast,” Montreal’s $72-million defenceman P.K. Subban told Sportsnet Wednesday. “I’ve already signed my deal; I’m not playing for it. I’m not in this for any other reason but to win, and I don’t want to wait to win. I want to win now.”
The Canadiens are in desperate need of some help at right wing, where Bergevin’s low-risk gambles last off-season — Zack Kassian and Alexander Semin — failed before the team hit the 10-game mark of this season. Forwards Paul Byron and Daniel Carr have filled in admirably at the position at different times, combining for 12 goals and 20 points. But the former is week-to-week with a lower-body injury and the latter is out three months with an injured right knee.
If Bergevin isn’t willing to scour the market for a short-term solution at right wing, he must turn to prospects Sven Andrighetto, Charles Hudon and Michael McCarron — who have been among minor league affiliate St. John’s leading scorers — and force Therrien to put them into scoring roles.
Bergevin doesn’t want to trade away futures for rental players but the Canadiens have a minimum of six games to play before Price returns from a lower-body injury that’s kept him out of all but 12 games this season.
How can Bergevin not entertain the option of bringing in Leafs goaltender James Reimer, a pending unrestricted free agent with the NHL’s second-best save percentage?
A move like that could buy the Canadiens some momentum for when Price returns. It could also allow them to ease him back into the flow of playing regularly. Then they could redeem futures they pay for Reimer by flipping him at the deadline, which falls on Feb. 29.
There are no guarantees Bergevin can make something like that happen, but he has to try.
“It’s on me,” Bergevin repeated several times last week.
The GM’s accountability is admirable, but the Canadiens need him to spring into action.