This is going to be a crucial summer for Montreal and I believe they will go hard to try to snare much-needed elite talent.
This is going to be a crucial summer for Geoff Molson, Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens.
All season, Habs management and their defenders kept saying this was a transition season. Many fans argued loudly that it wasn’t important to make the post-season this year and at least the team was entertaining. In his post-mortem, Bergevin said he wasn’t happy his team missed the playoffs, “but we know we’re heading in the right direction.”
In the end, Montreal missed the playoffs for the third time in four years, but let’s let bygones be bygones. The notion is that the team is building for the future, but even the biggest Habs boosters are starting to admit the future is next season. As in, they need to make the playoffs in 2020, that it’s not acceptable to miss the post-season dance four out of five seasons.
I firmly believe Molson knows this. The big boss realizes that talking about a reset is all fine-and-dandy, but now the team has to produce results. No one is saying they have to contend for the Cup a year from now, but they can’t finish out of the playoffs again. I also believe Bergevin knows that if they fail again next season, it might finally be judgment day for him.
The biggest mistake Molson has made in the nearly 10 years he has owned the team was signing Bergevin to that way-too-lengthy contract extension in November 2015. The Habs GM is going to be paid a hefty annual salary by the Molson-led consortium until the end of the 2021-2022 season and there was simply no reason to lock him up for that length of time.
Admittedly in the fall of 2015, Bergevin was looking pretty good. He’d brought the Habs into the playoffs in each of his first three seasons as GM and in 2014 the Bergevin-managed Habs had made it to the conference final for only the second time since their last Cup win in 1993. So you can see why Molson was high on Bergevin at the time. But he didn’t need to sign him to a five-year contract extension with two years remaining on his existing deal. You think Bergevin would’ve turned down a three-year contract extension? Of course he wouldn’t have.
In any case, the end of that contract is finally almost in sight and I think that at this time next year, if Montreal has again missed the playoffs, Molson might finally pull the trigger and fire his GM. Bergevin has to be thinking about this, which is why you can expect he will do whatever it takes to ensure a post-season berth in 2020.
That’s why I am confident the team will aggressively chase high-profile talent this summer. We already know from numerous reliable sources that Bergevin made a serious play for Matt Duchene at the trade deadline this year and I’m now hearing the Habs will go all-out trying to snare Artemi Panarin come July 1.
Of course there are no guarantees they’ll be able to sign the Russian 27-year-old who had 28 goals and 87 points with the Columbus Blue Jackets this season. He is rocking it in these playoffs, with four goals and nine points in six games, and many are betting he’ll end up with his old coach Joel Quenneville down in Sunrise, Fla. Panarin enjoyed immediate success during his first two seasons in the NHL playing under the direction of Quenneville with the Chicago Blackhawks and there is much speculation that the Florida Panthers’ hiring of Coach Q immediately made the team a front-runner in the sweepstakes for the talented winger.
But you never know where he’ll end up and if Bergevin makes the sweetest offer, maybe the city will finally have the kind of AAA offensive star seldom seen in this neck of the woods in the past couple of decades. Or will the Canadiens end up with Duchene?
Again, who knows? But I believe they will try hard to bring in some quality reinforcements to make sure they’re not once again on the outside looking in during the spring of 2020. Some might argue they won’t chase big free agents ’cause they’re in a rebuild, but that’s just not true. Any team that has Carey Price and Shea Weber in the lineup taking up huge space on the salary cap is not in rebuild mode.
By definition, a team with a seasoned goalie earning $10.5 million a season has to be in win-pretty-darn-soon mode. Anything else makes no sense.
The bottom line is you need elite talent to win. The current Habs have no shortage of great elements, but with the exception of Price and (maybe) Weber, they don’t have the kind of A-list stars you need to get it done. But hopefully that’s about to change.