Losing Alexander Radulov leaves Canadiens with massive hole

The Dallas Stars have won the Alexander Radulov sweepstakes, locking up the former Montreal Canadien for 5 years, meanwhile perhaps as a consolation prize, Habs have signed Ales Hemsky to a one-year deal.

MONTREAL—Alexander Radulov chose the Dallas Stars over the Montreal Canadiens, and that has to be a bitter pill for Marc Bergevin to swallow.

“If you want loyalty, buy a dog,” said Bergevin on Sunday.

The Canadiens general manager had already appeared resigned to the reality that his star right-winger might opt to play elsewhere, and he even said he didn’t begrudge him for it. But that doesn’t make losing him any easier to digest.

What might make it even harder is the fact—which was confirmed to Sportsnet by a member of Montreal’s senior management team—that the same offer of five years and $31.5 million Radulov signed in Dallas had been tendered to him by Bergevin days before July 1.

Radulov, who admitted on a conference call Monday that he might be fuzzy on the details of the negotiations with both teams, which he said were exclusively handled by his agent Maxim Moliver, also said Bergevin’s offer had come in after he had already committed to the Stars.

Whatever the case may be, the reason he left doesn’t matter all that much. Whether it was because of when the offer from Montreal came in, or because of the fact he could save roughly $4.3 million over the term of his contract due to a better tax rate in Dallas versus the one in Montreal, or because he felt he had a better chance to win in a city he’d prefer to be in, none of that changes the fact that his departure leaves a burning hole on the right side of the Canadiens’ offensive depth chart.

It’s nearly impossible to suggest a one-year, $1-million contract given to right-winger Ales Hemsky by the Canadiens on Monday will resolve that issue.

Hemsky’s best offensive output in a season (77 points) was 11 years ago, and the 33-year-old has only topped 40 points on four occasions since. A hip injury kept him out of Dallas’s lineup for more than three-quarters of last season.

“I came back after surgery and played 15 games and felt really good actually—and I did it in four months, which is pretty early,” said Hemsky on a conference call Monday. “I’m confident I can come back and play at the same level that I did before and I can help Montreal win the Stanley Cup.”

If he can’t, that’s putting a lot of pressure on right wingers Brendan Gallagher and Andrew Shaw to pick up the slack. The two of them combined for just 22 goals last season.

Even if Jonathan Drouin, who was acquired in a June trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning, can supplant Radulov’s offence, Bergevin has his work cut out for him to help the Canadiens do better than last season’s 15th-place finish in the goals-for category. And even if the Canadiens remain on par offensively moving forward, losing Radulov hurts for other reasons.

He had signed with Montreal after torching the KHL for four consecutive seasons. He produced 18 goals and 54 points in bleu, blanc et rouge before factoring into seven of the 11 goals his team scored in their six-game Stanley Cup playoff loss to the New York Rangers. His supreme skill, his flair for the dramatic, his rambunctious and infectious personality and his strong work ethic made him a magnet for adulation in a market that can be tough on players who fall short in any of those categories.

“I enjoyed being in Montreal and playing in Montreal,” said Radulov. “I really loved the fans and the people there that were good to me, but it’s a hockey life and a business.”

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Bergevin will have to get on with his.

The GM’s got just over $14 million in cap space for next season and mentioned on Sunday that he’s open to ramping up negotiations with restricted free agent Alex Galchenyuk.

Though it was widely reported that Bergevin had actively shopped Galchenyuk ahead of the Vegas expansion draft, the possibility of losing Radulov might have led him to proceed with caution on that front. With Radulov out, the idea of trading the 23-year-old who already has a 30-goal season in the NHL under his belt seems farfetched.

Bergevin had also expressed his desire to keep 38-year-old defenceman Andrei Markov and offer him a chance to retire with the only team he’s ever played for.

“He became a UFA July 1 and I made it clear that we’d like to have him back,” said Bergevin on Sunday.

“But there’s [only] so much we could do,” he added after repeating several times that a deal on his terms would have to be accepted.

Perhaps Radulov’s departure allows Bergevin to now do more on that front, enabling him to get closer to Markov’s reported request of $12 million on a two-year contract. Perhaps not.

Either way, the Canadiens GM has no choice but to put one tough day behind him and prepare for the possibility he could have several more ahead of him.

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