Can Canadiens be winner with Carey Price earning top dollar?

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin talked to the media after their first round loss to the Rangers about the possibility of signing Carey Price to a long-term contract.

BROSSARD, Que. — Marc Bergevin is adamant that he won’t trade Carey Price for anyone. So the question is: How can Bergevin build a team around his star goaltender that’s worthy of contending for the Stanley Cup?

The 29-year-old is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2018, and he’s heading for a record-breaking payout. The Canadiens have depended on him as a franchise player since the day Bergevin took over as general manager five years ago, but it’s been proven that even his best game can’t mitigate against a lack of offence. You needn’t look further than how Montreal was dispatched from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games as evidence of the fact.

Price had a .933 save percentage and a 1.86 goals-against average against the New York Rangers this spring, but the team was only able to score 11 goals for him. His margin for error was practically zero—as it has been since he took over as a full-time starter back in 2011—and it’s going to continue to be that if Bergevin commits a large chunk of his salary cap space to retaining him on a multi-year deal.

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When Bergevin was asked on Monday if his team could win under those circumstances, he said: “I hope so, because [Price] isn’t going anywhere.”

Several times over, Bergevin said he’d do everything in his power to get Price under contract as soon as the CBA permits him to on July 1. He also said that he has zero doubts that Price wanted to remain with the Canadiens, which echoed what the goaltender said earlier in the day.

“I want to stay,” Price said. “I know we’re going to figure out a way to make all the pieces fit and bring a championship.”

You have to wonder how Bergevin will go about that part of his business.

He can’t let 31-year-old unrestricted free agent Alexander Radulov walk out the door. The Russian was full value on a one-year, $5.75 million contract, producing 54 points in 76 games and adding a team-leading seven points in the playoffs. But Bergevin also said that he can’t sign Radulov to a contract that handicaps him from making other moves.

Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov, 38, had a fantastic season by all accounts, and there aren’t any internal options to replace him as the team’s No. 2. You have to think he’ll be back for another season—likely at the same $5.75 million hit he’s carried in each of the last seven seasons.

There has to be enough money left in the coffers to address the team’s biggest need, which is at centre.

The Canadiens went into this year’s playoffs with four centres in Phillip Danault, Tomas Plekanec, Andrew Shaw and Steve Ott. Each of them failed to record at least half a point per game this season. Alex Galchenyuk, who started the year as the team’s No. 1 centre, recording 23 points in his first 25 games, finished it on the left wing of the third line.

Both Bergevin and head coach Claude Julien talked on Monday about how they were banking on Galchenyuk to figure out how he can ascend to the No. 1 centre role and take on the responsibility of playing against top players on a nightly basis.

“The hope is that he took a step back so he can take two steps forward,” said Bergevin of the 23-year-old pending restricted free agent.

But the idea that Galchenyuk can fit Bergevin’s description of being the No. 1 centre is as farfetched as it gets.

“You don’t have to have 80 points to be a No. 1 centre, but you can have 80 points and not be a No. 1 centre,” said Bergevin. “That’s what I see. A guy that can play on both sides of the puck, reliable, play 20 strong minutes…like Claude mentioned today when we were talking: How long a player has the puck on his stick during a game? It’s not that long. So if you play 20 minutes, you might have it for three minutes, a minute and a half, four minutes; it depends. There’s 15 minutes you don’t have the puck and you have to work very hard. And to me, centreman is the hardest position to learn and to be effective at.”

Galchenyuk, who had 30 goals last season, has the potential to be a big-time point-producer. Shea Weber said on Monday: “His ability on the ice is ridiculous with the puck. He’s just gotta take full advantage of that and make sure he’s putting it to full use.” But if he can’t even fill in as a second-line centre after five years of experience and 338 games, betting on him to become the guy Bergevin’s describing seems like a losing proposition.

As for what the trade market will bear this summer, Bergevin opted for a familiar refrain.

“There’s 30 teams in the league, and in our view there’s not every single team who has a No. 1 centre. There’s teams who don’t have him, and the teams that do have him—they’re not going to give him away,” he said. “So we have to find a way to work around it. We have to be creative.”

Bergevin didn’t discount the possibility of looking outside of the NHL to find a player or two that can help. KHLer Vadim Shipachyov, who scored 24 goals and 50 assists with SKA St. Petersburg this season and was of interest to the Canadiens last summer, could be an option. The Canadiens can use any help they can get up front, so you have to think KHL winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who wants to return to the NHL, is another one.

Bergevin also said he’d consider trying to sign another team’s restricted free agent to an offer sheet, if he felt it would help.

No matter which avenue Bergevin chooses to go down, his flexibility will be limited once Price is pulling in top dollar and he’s betting against the system that he can ice a winning team in front of him.

We’ve yet to see a team win the Cup in the salary cap era with a goaltender pulling in more than the current $6.5 million salary Price makes.

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