MONTREAL – It’s not as if a silver lining in this wretched season for the Montreal Canadiens suddenly emerged after general manager Marc Bergevin was done his work on trade deadline day.
If you’re looking for a “but,” there isn’t one coming.
Everything Bergevin did in the lead up to last year’s deadline all the way through to the start of this season has just about everything to do with why the Canadiens entered Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers as the 27th-best team in the NHL, sitting 12 points back of the final playoff team in the Eastern Conference and 27 points away from the third-place Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division. And nothing he did before 3 p.m. ET Monday will spark considerable enthusiasm in the fanbase about the team’s immediate future.
Over the course of the year Bergevin traded fourth-liners Andreas Martinsen and Torrey Mitchell, depth defencemen Zach Redmond, Jakub Jerabek and Joe Morrow and backup goaltender Al Montoya, and he got back depth defenceman Mike Reilly from the Minnesota Wild, a 2018 fourth-round pick from the Winnipeg Jets and two 2018 fifth-round picks that could turn into fourth-round picks if the Los Angeles Kings make the playoffs and if Montoya plays two more games for the Edmonton Oilers before the end of the season.
On Sunday Bergevin made his biggest move, trading the Canadiens’ longest-serving player in Tomas Plekanec to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 2018 second-round pick, 23-year-old forward prospect Kerby Rychel and 22-year-old defensive prospect Rinat Valiev. There’s no doubt it was his best one, too.
But there was nothing done to move the needle. Nothing to create the type of excitement Canadiens fans are so desperately longing for.
“It wasn’t the day to make major trades,” said Bergevin in French. “We saw that the majority of the transactions implicated pending unrestricted free agents or depth players. That’s usually what teams concentrate on before the trade deadline.”
The reeling New York Rangers made a different kind of deal when they sent captain Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller to the contending Tampa Bay Lightning for forward Vladislav Namestnikov and four future assets, but Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty stayed put despite rabid speculation since November that he’d be traded.
“I think he’s frustrated, yes,” said Bergevin. “He’s a player that cares, Max, and he takes it to heart and [trade speculation] affected his play this year. But I hope the last 21 games he’ll be back to the Max that we know.”
How Pacioretty, who scored at least 30 goals in each of the last five non-lockout-abridged seasons and is only on pace for 23 this season, is going to do that is impossible to fathom.
There were several suitors for his services but none of them satisfied Bergevin’s demands. And any hope that Pacioretty would be instantly relieved by this day coming and going – regardless of the outcome – was all but extinguished by Bergevin’s limp response to a question asked by the Athletic’s Arpon Basu.
With Pacioretty’s contract, which counts for $4.5 million on the salary cap annually, expiring in 2019, Basu asked if Bergevin could provide clarity on whether or not he’d take the opportunity to sign him to a new contract as of the first day he’s eligible to.
“I can’t confirm today because [July 1 is] still a long ways,” said Bergevin. “But he’s done a lot here. He’s a goal-scorer and goal-scoring is at a premium in this league, so we’ll have to look closely where we are when we get near July 1.”
It was hardly the same type of commitment Bergevin expressed when he was asked the same question about his franchise goaltender Carey Price a season ago, when Price was in an identical situation.
“I think it’s hard for [Pacioretty] to hear his name every other day,” said Bergevin.
None of that is going to change for the beleaguered captain over the final 40 days of the regular season. The possibility of being traded will hang over Pacioretty’s head for every day that passes until it finally happens.
Talk about a miserable situation.
Meanwhile, Canadiens fans will scour this year’s draft class while praying for their team to lose every single one of its remaining 21 games so it can have the best chance at winning the lottery for a top pick. They’ll go deep into the reports – with the Canadiens also owning four second-round picks and another five in the later rounds.
The fans will also watch Montreal’s young players closely for signs of potential. They’ll key in on 19-year-old Victor Mete, who’s playing alongside Jeff Petry on the Canadiens’ top defence pair; on 20-year-old Noah Juulsen, who’s on the second pair with Karl Alzner; on 22-year-old forwards Jonathan Drouin, Artturi Lehkonen and Nikita Scherbak; on plucky 23-year-old winger Charles Hudon; on dynamic, 24-year-old winger Alex Galchenyuk; on 24-year-old centre Phillip Danault, who Bergevin singled out as a possible Plekanec replacement; and on recently signed 24-year-old goaltender Charlie Lindgren. And they’ll contemplate what else Bergevin has in store for them, as he intimated he rests comfortably in his position for the foreseeable future after having received an endorsement from team owner Geoff Molson.
“We talk every day,” said Bergevin. “We sat down and we went over our plan [and] the way we’re going to move forward with this team. We’re all on the same page and we’re going to put it together and we’ll be there at the draft in Dallas.”
Perhaps some key moves will be made in the lead up to that June event that will re-invigorate the Canadiens’ fanbase, but the status quo is what they’ll have to settle for right now.
That’s just one more disappointment for them to deal with in this disappointing season.