“You make your team in July, you hope you stay healthy and you try to address some needs at the deadline. But again, it’s what the price is going to be. If it’s asking for our young prospects, it will not happen.” —Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on Feb. 15.
BROSSARD, Que. — Marc Bergevin made it abundantly clear the day after he fired Michel Therrien and replaced him with Claude Julien that he wouldn’t sacrifice futures for a quick fix.
That the Canadiens’ GM didn’t stray from that mentality, in spite of the fact that only four of his forwards scored in the month of February, shouldn’t be all that surprising. He retained his best prospects, both first-round picks and all five second-round picks in 2017 and 2018 while holding onto all of his core roster players.
What was surprising was the direction Bergevin chose to go in ahead of Wednesday’s 3 p.m. deadline, adding defensive depth and remodeling his fourth line with moves that run cross-current to trends that have been set in today’s fast-paced NHL.
In came six-foot-two defencemen Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson along with bruising forwards Steve Ott, Dwight King and Andreas Martinsen. Out went defenceman Greg Pateryn and forwards David Desharnais and Sven Andrighetto.
One reporter quipped after the Canadiens were done dealing, “the Canadiens added nine goals and 467 pounds to their roster.”
“We felt we had a need to add size and grit without losing speed,” said Bergevin in French.
One by one, the new arrivals gave their self-evaluations and tried to explain what they’d bring to the equation in Montreal.
“Puck possession, defensive hard hockey is what I tend to bring,” said the six-foot-four King, who topped out at 15 goals in 2013-14 and has just eight with Los Angeles this season. “I’ll try to chip in where I can.”
Martinsen, who registered 146 hits with Colorado this season, said he’ll play his game and “bring some size and physicality, and try to be a really good bottom-six player.”
Don’t expect anything more from the 26-year-old who has only seven goals in 110 NHL contests.
Ott, 34, labeled himself as “hard to play against,” which is true when it comes to face-off circles where he becomes the most efficient centre on the Canadiens after posting a 58 per cent success rate through 42 games with the Detroit Red Wings this season.
But the idea of Ott being a daily contributor, on a team loaded with bottom-six forwards, is as farfetched as it gets. We’re talking about a player who has scored six goals since the beginning of the 2014-15 season; the type of player that’s been marginalized in an NHL that features speed on all four forward lines of contending teams.
Bergevin noted about Ott, “he’s got sandpaper, as we say.”
It’s a moniker that applies to each of the players he acquired in the lead-up to the deadline.
“Down the road there’ll be the one-goal games, the 2-1 hockey games, 1-0, 3-2; it’s a tight league and it’s going to be even more down the road,” said Bergevin.
“We have to grind it out to score goals,” he added a few minutes later.
Some more talent would’ve helped, too.
“We did look to improve in that department,” said Bergevin in French. “But as you could see, there was very little available on that front across the NHL. It wasn’t just for Montreal.”
After Martin Hanzal went from Arizona to Minnesota earlier this week (at a premium Bergevin admitted he wouldn’t have paid to bring him to Montreal), very few, if any, premiere players changed teams.
As Bergevin saw it, the gamble on his current players to have an offensive awakening was the one he felt most comfortable making.
“We had a good start, we had lines producing,” he said. “Of late it hasn’t been the case, but I feel comfortable that our guys would gain more confidence moving forward and that they’ll be able to chip in.”
Paul Byron, who scored 12 of his 14 goals in the opening three months of the season, hasn’t scored in 13 games. It’s been 16 games since forward Artturi Lehkonen hit the back of the net. Phillip Danault, who’s played the majority of his games as the top-line centre between Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov, has also failed to score in his last 16. Tomas Plekanec, who has scored 20 or more goals seven times over his career, is stuck at seven this season and hasn’t scored in 15 games. Torrey Mitchell also has seven goals and hasn’t scored in 36 games.
And then there’s Brendan Gallagher, who’s scored a minimum of 15 goals per season since he entered the league in 2013 but is stuck on six through 46 games.
“I believe they’ll get back on track,” Bergevin repeated about his group of struggling forwards.
They had better, or all that size and weight the Canadiens added isn’t going to make the difference in the team’s pursuit of a Stanley Cup.