Canadiens likely to swing deal, but for what?

Montreal Canadiens forward Jiri Sekac. (LM Otero/AP)

MONTREAL–Speculation about the Canadiens isn’t hard to come by in Montreal and Marc Bergevin’s public appearances have only fuelled the local rumour mill.

His open-air conversation with rival GM Craig MacTavish during Edmonton’s morning skate in Montreal on Feb.12 made ripples.

Dragging his staff to Chicago and Toronto for NHL and AHL action between Sunday and Tuesday invoked a tidal wave of chatter about his trade intentions.

The names of Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Jeff Petry, Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell, Tyler Bozak, Daniel Winnik, Joffrey Lupul and Roman Polak have filtered through the airways in both French and English; nothing more than a week’s worth of discussion in Montreal.

Add in Antoine Vermette and Keith Yandle of the Arizona Coyotes and Andrej Sekera of the Carolina Hurricanes and you start to wonder if there’s a name on the market Bergevin hasn’t been associated with.

And yet, it’s the moves no one saw coming that have defined Montreal’s charismatic GM to date.

As the clock expired on last season’s deadline, Bergevin made one of the prized acquisitions of the day, shocking everyone by fishing Thomas Vanek out of Long Island for middling prospect Sebastian Collberg and a 2nd round pick in the 2014 entry draft.

In November of this season, he worked a pair of salary cap miracles, manoeuvring Travis Moen out for Sergei Gonchar before shipping Rene Bourque to Anaheim for Bryan Allen.

Will sleight of hand rule the day again?

The Montreal Canadiens have allowed the least goals against in the NHL, but consensus is that Bergevin’s priority ahead of the trade deadline is to solidify his team’s back end with a puck-moving defenceman.

Injuries to Alexei Emelin and Gonchar over the past week have exacerbated Bergevin’s need.

Michel Therrien informed the media ahead of Montreal’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers Thursday that Emelin will be re-evaluated next week.

Gonchar was placed on injury reserve Thursday, making him unavailable to the Canadiens until after their contest with the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 24.

Therrien mentioned Gonchar was on the mend, floating the possibility of a return to action by the end of next week.

Regardless, the search for a quality defenceman predates the injuries to Emelin and Gonchar, and though the Canadiens are testing their depth at the position–with Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi up from the Hamilton Bulldogs–nothing seems to have altered Bergevin’s course.

Meanwhile, how can you ignore Montreal’s struggle for consistent offensive production?

The Canadiens rank last in goals per game of any team currently holding down a playoff position and Therrien’s promotion of Dale Weise to the team’s top line for three weeks spoke volumes about an offensive void on the right wing.

Weise performed admirably in his time next to a mix of David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty, but as Damien Cox pointed out in his column this week there are other curious things going on in the composition of the team’s forward lines.

Jacob de la Rose’s responsible play up the middle has displaced Lars Eller to the wing where he’s admittedly far from comfortable.

Both Bergevin and Therrien have conceded that Alex Galchenyuk was drafted to be a center, but he’s spent the majority of his season at left wing.

Newcomer Jiri Sekac has shown the promise and skill of a top six player, but his limited experience in the NHL has made Therrien reticent to promote him, remarking after the loss to the Panthers that Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban were safer shootout options because Sekac hadn’t scored a goal in 20 games.

It’s a steady bet that Bergevin will net additions to both ends of the Canadiens, but only two things impede his ability to do so:

1. He’s not desperate to mortgage premium futures against short term returns rental players offer.

2. Acquiring players with longer term on their contracts requires dealing off your roster, which Bergevin won’t do unless he gets the upper hand in the deal. Those deals tend to be harder to make at this time of year.

One thing’s for sure; he should have no problem selling the fans on his efforts should he come up empty-handed, but with Carey Price working his magic and the Canadiens clinging to first place in the East, they’re clamouring for the fruit of Bergevin’s labour.

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