It’s increasingly hard to remember the time when Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin was viewed as the front office equivalent of a solid singles hitter.
Through four years on the job, from 2012 to 2016, Bergevin’s trades were largely limited to small-scale moves or ones that featured a pretty clear buyer-seller dynamic. And, for the most part, it was hard to take strong exception to his work. In 2014, Bergevin spent a second-rounder and B prospect Sebastian Colberg to acquire Thomas Vanek mere minutes before the trade deadline. Just months earlier, the New York Islanders had shelled a first-round pick and dependable goal-scorer Matt Moulson to get a player who, at 30 years old, was still considered an elite offensive threat.
One year later, Bergevin brought in lanky, speedy D-man Jeff Petry from the Edmonton Oilers for a second-rounder and conditional fifth. In the three-plus years he’s spent in Montreal, Petry has proven himself a very valuable right-shot, second-pair blueliner.
Heck, even nabbing edgy winger Dale Weise from the Vancouver Canucks for defenceman Raphael Diaz in February of 2014 played into the notion that Bergevin had the Midas touch when it came to non-essential moves. Weise had scored 10 goals in 152 games with Vancouver and netted nearly triple that many (27) in the exact same number of outings with the Canadiens.
But in June of 2016, Bergevin left his light bat in the on-deck circle, strolled back to the dugout and pulled out a stick made for wallopin’. The one-for-one deal that sent P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber was a watershed moment for Bergevin, his team and people fond of losing large chunks of their mind on Twitter. That move kicked off a period in Bergevin’s career where he’s demonstrated no hesitation to put his derriere on the line via a quartet of mega swaps, the latest of which saw Max Pacioretty head to the Vegas Golden Knights in the wee hours of Monday morning.
Here is the guide to the four trades that will surely come to define Bergevin’s tenure in Montreal.
1. Montreal acquires defenceman Shea Weber from the Nashville Predators for defenceman P.K. Subban
The Date: June 29, 2016
Why the trade was made: Subban will tell you, to this day, he still doesn’t know. That said, then-coach Michel Therrien was never enamoured with Subban’s daring play and the Canadiens — who were first overall in the NHL on Dec. 1, 2015, then went 19-34-3 the rest of the way — clearly felt something had to be done after that awful season.
The take then: Certain segments of the Habs fan base were angry enough to rip the Bell Centre off its foundation from the word go. This trade cemented fears that Bergevin was a little too in love with players who fit a certain — and possibly antiquated — “old school” model. One common theme that could be heard through the screams was the notion this trade would not age well for Montreal. Even Weber backers couldn’t ignore the fact he was four years old than Subban, which meant the payoff had to come quickly for Montreal. The Habs did win the Atlantic Division the following season, but they won just two playoff games in the spring of 2017 and didn’t come close to playing one last year.
The take now: It’s just impossible to imagine a team would rather have Weber, who missed 56 games last year with a torn tendon and could be out until 2019 with a knee injury this season, rather than Subban as its No. 1 blueliner.
2. Montreal acquires left winger (but he’s going to play centre) Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning for defenceman Mikhail Sergachev
The Date: June 15, 2017
Why the trade was made: The Canadiens were coming off a six-game, first-round loss to the New York Rangers in which they managed just seven goals at five-on-five. Drouin had, the previous season, gone public with his request to leave Tampa Bay, so it was not a huge surprise he was on the move.
The take then: Sergachev was a huge bargaining chip because his stock had only risen since the Canadiens selected him ninth overall one year earlier in 2016. Had the Habs landed a player who immediately filled their long-running need for a high-end centre, parting with Sergachev would have felt like commensurate payment. But the fact Montreal brought in a player they had to tell everyone could play centre was a bad omen.
The take now: If you were suspicious about Drouin’s ability to play the most important forward position when the Canadiens made the transaction, let’s just say last season probably didn’t do much to sway you. In fairness to Drouin, he’s still only 23 and nobody doubts his upper-tier offensive ability, despite the fact he put up only 46 points last season. If he doesn’t take a big stride this year, though, Montreal will have to take a close look at what position the player is best suited for, regardless of team needs. Sergachev, meanwhile, registered 40 points — just six fewer than Drouin, for those keeping score — as a 19-year-old rookie last season.
3. Montreal acquires left winger Max Domi from the Arizona Coyotes for (he will be a) centre (now) Alex Galchenyuk
The Date: June 15, 2018
Why the trade was made: Galchenyuk’s plight was almost the lower-case version of the Subban affair during the former’s six years in Montreal: Fans saw upside and excitement, management saw flaws and fretted. Though the first 25 games of 2016-17 — the one time he was dispatched exclusively as a centre for a long stretch — Galchenyuk put up 23 points. But a knee injury interrupted his progress and, later that year, Claude Julien replaced Therrien as Habs coach. By the start of the playoffs, Galchenyuk was a fourth-line winger as Julien apparently arrived at the same conclusion as his predecessor when it came to Galchenyuk’s ability to line up in the middle.
The take then: By the time it happened, Galchenyuk being traded was no surprise. That said, many people wondered how Bergevin couldn’t squeeze more value out of a guy who has a 30-goal season on his resume and, presumably, would be acquired by a team who saw him lining up at the prime forward position. Nobody doubted Domi, who experienced frustrations of his own in Arizona, had more to give, but he just didn’t have the same body of work as Galchenyuk.
The take in six months: It’s just so easy to see the “All Galchenyuk needed was a chance at centre” headlines populating the desert. Galchenyuk is never going to win the Selke Trophy, but he could do very positive things on a team that’s willing to either really work on his unrefined defensive game or just overlook it in favour of what he can do with the puck. Domi comes advertised as a playmaker, but who’s going to bury?
4. Montreal acquires left winger Tomas Tatar, centre prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick for left-winger Max Pacioretty
The Date: Sept. 10, 2018
Why the trade was made: Apparently, it depends who you ask. Both Bergevin and Habs owner Geoff Molson claimed on Monday that Pacioretty made it known last season that he’d like to leave Montreal. The player has repeatedly said that is not the case. Regardless, it was going to be still-living-with-your-ex levels of awkwardness had Pacioretty remained a Hab for the start of training camp on Friday. Vegas, of course, has transitioned from “Welcome to the league” to win-now mode faster than any team in hockey history. The Golden Knights were only too happy to hand out a four-year extension for a player they surely believe has multiple 35-goal seasons left.
The take now: It could have been worse. Whether it was Pacioretty, Bergevin or a little bit of both who thought it was time to move on, once the world learned the Canadiens captain was being shopped last winter, this had the potential to end poorly. There were some excruciating moments along the way, like when the Canadiens thought they had a deal in place with the L.A. Kings at the draft, only to see Pacioretty reject a proposed six-year extension, then change agents from Pat Brisson to Allan Walsh. The fact this saga concluded with Montreal getting a quality prospect in Suzuki, the 13th overall pick in 2017, is a small win for the Habs.
The take in two years: Really, we may require an even longer timeline to evaluate this deal. Pacioretty is going to get his goals and you have to believe life in a calmer — at least hockey-wise — city with a warm climate is something the soon-to-be-30-year-old will immediately learn to appreciate. The key for Montreal, naturally, is Suzuki. If, sometime within the next two seasons, he looks very capable of playing a point-producing, two-way game up the middle in the NHL, the move will go down as one of Bergevin’s better ones.
But if the other high-stakes swaps really go south, it won’t much matter for the GM.