Canadiens’ Bergevin, Julien, Weber glaring omissions from mid-season awards

TVA Sports insider Ren Lavoie joins Ashley Docking and Sheri Forde to discuss why Habs GM Marc Bergevin should stick to the plan, and avoid rental players at the deadline, even though his club is in a major playoff race.

Marc Bergevin, Claude Julien and Shea Weber were three names I expected to see on the list when the finalists for the Professional Hockey Writers Association’s mid-season awards were announced on Thursday.

Not that I was surprised to see the candidates who earned nominations for GM of the Year, the Jack Adams Trophy and the Comeback Player of the Year Award. All nine men who were named are more than worthy.

But there’s a debate to be had about where some of them stack up against the omitted members of the resurgent Montreal Canadiens.

Let’s go through it category by category.

GM of the Year Award – to the General Manager adjudged to have contributed most to his team’s success.

Finalists:
1. Brad Treliving, Calgary Flames
2. Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks
3. Lou Lamoriello, New York Islanders

How I voted:
1. Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens
2. Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks
3. Brad Treliving, Calgary Flames

Why Bergevin should be there over Lamoriello:
All due respect to the Godfather, but his influence on the New York Islanders’ success isn’t quite on par with Bergevin’s on the Canadiens.

Granted Lamoriello is at the root of a much-needed culture change in the organization. He also hired coach Barry Trotz fresh off a Stanley Cup-parade float and signed goaltender Robin Lehner to one-year, $1.5-million contract. Those two men are largely responsible for the Islanders being atop the Metropolitan Division in their first season post-John Tavares.

But those were just a couple of moves, whereas Bergevin made many to bring the Canadiens from 28th place in the NHL last season to third place in the uber-competitive Atlantic Division through 51 games this season.

He fired his AHL coaching staff, and recruited some of the best coaches from outside the NHL in Joel Bouchard, Dominique Ducharme and Luke Richardson; he made a bold decision to take Jesperi Kotkaniemi at third overall in the draft when virtually all the prognosticators had players ranked ahead of him; and he traded a maligned winger in 24-year-old Alex Galchenyuk for what’s turned out to be a point-a-game centre in 23-year-old Max Domi (who he also signed to a contract that’s a total of $3.75 million cheaper than the one he swapped out).

And then there was the Max Pacioretty trade, which was projected to be an abject failure for Bergevin but ended up being his best move of the summer.

It was remarkable for him to obtain an A-level prospect in 2017 first-rounder Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick from the Vegas Golden Knights for Pacioretty after a well-publicized falling out with the pending unrestricted free agent and former captain whose production dipped from 35 goals in 2016-17 to 17 in 2017-18. Getting Vegas to also chuck away Tomas Tatar — he’s two years younger than Pacioretty and has out-produced him in every category so far — and having them retain $500,000 a season for the remaining three he was under contract for put it over the top.

Also of note: Bergevin traded AHLer Simon Bourque to the Winnipeg Jets for goaltender Steve Mason’s expiring contract (AAV $4.1M), Joel Armia (who has played as a top-nine forward in all his games), a 2019 seventh-round pick and a 2020 fourth-round pick. He traded AHL defencemen Rinat Valiev and Matt Taormina for Brett Kulak, who has been a fixture on Montreal’s defence for 27 games this season (many of them spent on one of the top two pairings).

You also have to consider that Bergevin did this all from the hottest seat in the NHL outside of the one Peter Chiarelli was sitting on in Edmonton.

Bergevin had a brutal summer in 2017. Easily the worst of his seven as general manager. Most would deem he was lucky to keep his job after his decisions led the Canadiens to an utterly embarrassing ’17-18 season.

But there aren’t three GMs who have done better work than Bergevin has since April of last season.

Why he was snubbed: The Canadiens are one of the richest teams in the league but came into a second straight season with over $8 million in salary cap space.

Jack Adams Award – to the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.

Finalists:
1. Barry Trotz, New York Islanders
2. Bill Peters, Calgary Flames
3. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning

How I voted:
1. Barry Trotz, New York Islanders
2. Claude Julien, Montreal Canadiens
3. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Case for Julien:
It’s hard not to be impressed with what Peters has done to help the Flames jump from outside the playoff picture a year ago to first place in the Western Conference after 51 games.

Jon Cooper has the best roster in hockey, but he’s also kept it on its toes — and in front of every other team since Day 1 of the season. And one of the most respected scouts in the game recently told me he thinks the Islanders are playing the most structured hockey they have in over two decades, which is perfect validation for where Trotz landed on the list.

I just wonder how close Julien was to making the ballot.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

A man with a reputation for riding his veterans promoted the youngest player in the four major North American sports (Kotkaniemi) to his lineup this season. He did that and opened by boldly scratching Tomas Plekanec (who was sitting on 998 NHL games) and Karl Alzner (who was starting Year 2 of a five-year, $23.1-million contract and riding a 622-game ironman streak).

It was moves like those that saw Julien create an internal competition that is largely responsible for where the Canadiens currently find themselves in the standings. Moves that backed up his promise to run a meritocracy, earning him unanimous buy-in from his players.

Overhauling his team’s breakout and redesigning its offensive strategy has also led to the Canadiens owning some of the most impressive numbers in the league at 5-on-5 (fourth in shot attempts and seventh in goals for).

Why he was snubbed: The 31st-ranked power play has to be it.

Comeback Player of the Year Award – to the player who returned to a previous high level of performance that was interrupted by subpar play, long-term injury or major illness.

Finalists:
1. Robin Lehner, New York Islanders
2. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres
3. Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild

How I voted:
1. Robin Lehner, New York Islanders
2. Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens
3. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

Why Weber should be there over Skinner:
While Skinner deserves full credit for finding the net 30 times in 48 games after scoring 24 goals in 82 games a season ago — that really is incredible — he does have the benefit of playing every night alongside one of the NHL’s best setup men in Jack Eichel.

Also, there are many players across the league who have already surpassed last season’s totals in both goals and assists (Skinner is still 11 assists short of the 25 he had in 2017-18).

The 33-year-old Weber? He has 7-9-16 totals after missing the first 24 games this season because a right-ankle injury — followed by a radical procedure to fix it — and major knee surgery on his left knee kept him out of action for close to a calendar year.

That Weber hasn’t lost a beat (he had the same amount of points in 26 games last season as he has in 27 this season) is nothing short of a miracle. And it’s no coincidence the Canadiens are 17-10 since he returned.

Why he was snubbed: Have to think it was because voters got caught up on ensuring at least one of their candidates fit with the "subpar play" factor.

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