MONTREAL – This is just the beginning.
Exactly two hours and 40 minutes after pulling off an absolute shocker by acquiring star forward Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for stud defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev, Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin pointed to his new player and said, “Like I always say: ‘Expect the unexpected.’”
That probably should’ve been common practice for Canadiens fans after Bergevin rubber-stamped one of the biggest blockbusters in NHL history last June, trading P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber. But if you were among the reluctant ones who thought he didn’t have any more tricks up his sleeve, you might want to heed his advice right now.
It was in February, after surprisingly firing head coach Michel Therrien and replaced him with Claude Julien, that Bergevin said he wouldn’t trade Mikhail Sergachev for anyone.
“I won’t create a hole just to fill another one,” he added then.
But now that Bergevin’s done exactly that with this trade, you have to expect his work is far from done.
Sergachev, who was drafted ninth overall in 2016, was earmarked for a job on Montreal’s blue-line next season. With Andrei Markov skating on 38-year-old legs, with Nathan Beaulieu facing an uncertain future with the team, and with Jordie Benn representing the second-best option on the left side, there’s a hole there that can’t be filled internally.
It can’t be filled by Brett Lernout, who was singled out by Bergevin on Thursday as an intriguing prospect that came into his own with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps last season. It can’t be filled by Noah Juulsen—the 26th overall pick in 2015 whom Bergevin referred to as a second-pairing defenceman who needs to mature physically before having an impact at the NHL level. And betting on KHL free-agent signing Jakub Jerabek to carry that load over the coming years would be anything but safe at this point.
That brings us to Alex Galchenyuk—the maligned forward who was drafted third overall in 2012 to be the top centre the Canadiens had been missing for two decades; the one who Bergevin and Julien insisted at their season-ending press conference is better suited for the wing. Galchenyuk is an elite talent and a proven 30-goal scorer who now represents Montreal’s best trade chip to acquire an elite defenceman. Multiple sources have confirmed to Sportsnet that he is in play and could be on the move in the coming days.
It might not be palatable to Canadiens fans to see the organization give up on the 23-year-old Galchenyuk. He’s flashed offensive brilliance throughout his first five seasons in the NHL. But it should be more digestible now that the 22-year-old Drouin, who has 29 goals and 95 points 164 NHL games, is in place—especially since there’s a strong possibility he’ll be lining up at centre when the puck drops on the 2017-18 season.
“There’s no doubt we looked at that closely,” said Bergevin about the prospect of Drouin playing in the middle. “At the end of the day, Claude will sit down with Jonathan and a decision will be made on what is best for the organization. But we definitely took that into consideration.”
You have to think Bergevin’s confident Drouin can do it. He said acquiring him was an opportunity he couldn’t pass on, and then he signed him to a six-year, $33-million contract.
“It’s still surreal,” said Drouin, the kid with the French background who was raised an hour north of Montreal and first made a name for himself in these parts as a star on a suburban AAA team.
He said he had considered he might be on the outs in Tampa Bay—if not a couple of years ago when he pulled himself from the Lightning roster before hesitantly accepting a demotion to the AHL, then certainly in recent months when the salary cap situation there put his future with the team in doubt.
“I’m a hometown boy,” said Drouin. “You never really think that day’s going to happen where I’ll actually be playing for the Canadiens.”
As the Canadiens approach the Vegas expansion draft, and as they prepare for the NHL Draft in Chicago, rumours about them making some other unexpected moves will be swirling at hurricane speed. Trade possibilities will be the talk of the town while a contract settlement with marquee free agent Alexander Radulov looms as a critical order of business for Bergevin to take care of. Then free agency opens on July 1, which also happens to be the first day he can get superstar goaltender and pending 2018 unrestricted free agent Carey Price signed to a long-term extension.
So hold onto your hats, Montreal. There’s going to be some curves in the road ahead.