Rabid Habs

How Marc Bergevin Spent His Summer

Alexander Semin Photo - nhl.com

WHAT? WHO? REALLY?

You’ve got to hand it to Marc Bergevin. He’s the master of misdirection, the sultan of surprise, the captain of clandestinity…the…I think that about covers it. Despite operating in an age of high speed information where countless experts spend most of their waking hours trying to predict the next big transaction and where rumor sites are as abundant as turtlenecks in Tomas Plekanec’s closet, Marc Bergevin’s moves are seldom foreseen, an impressive feat for a man conducting business within the confines of the Montreal fishbowl.

EXHIBIT A: ALEXANDER SEMIN

Alexander Semin and the Montreal Canadiens weren’t linked until the enigmatic sniper had been officially inked. In fact, the consensus among insiders was that the Canadiens would be highly unlikely to pursue such a player. After all, they’d just landed a reclamation project a few weeks earlier when they acquired Zack Kassian, surely they wouldn’t take on another. When asked directly about the remaining available free agents, Marc Bergevin quickly dismissed the notion, preferring to discuss the possibility of filling the open forward position from within. Many in the media took the bait and began speculating over which prospect would be most likely to fill the top six vacancy.

Three weeks later, with Semin still on the market and other potential top six upgrades, most notably Patrick Sharp – whom many believed was plan A – no longer available, the Canadiens GM confounded the experts once again by deciding to roll the dice on the former forty goal man.

Much like Zack Kassian, there are a combination of health and work ethic concerns that make Semin far from a safe bet. Despite these drawbacks, it’s hard not to like this move for the following reasons:

  1. BARGAIN BASEMENT PRICE

Alex Semin is not the kind of player you’d want to marry but he could end up being one hell of a one year fling. In a weak free agent market, how many teams can say they came away with a player who has the potential to score 30 goals? While a 25-30 goal season is certainly possible, I think it’s equally likely that Semin struggles to integrate into the Habs style of play and is sent packing by Christmas. The third and most likely scenario is that he finishes with somewhere between 17-23 goals, providing occasional flashes of his all-star form but ultimately proving to be a player who can be maddeningly inconsistent. At a shade over a million dollars, that would be a solid return on a minimal investment.

  1. THE RUSSIAN FACTOR

Although I generally hate when the media overemphasize a player’s nationality and the impact it will have on their performance, in this particular situation it’s an angle worth mentioning. It will be a major advantage having a respected veteran countryman like Andrei Markov to facilitate Semin’s integration into the team. Semin’s post-trade conference call made it clear that English is not his strong suit. Fortunately, Semin will be well supported in Montreal with Markov, Alexei Emelin and Alex Galchenyuk, all native speakers of Russian, being able to help him feel more at ease in his new surroundings. This new, more welcoming environment should help increase his chances of finding success in Montreal.

  1. THE YOUTH WILL BE PUSHING BUT WON’T BE PUSHED

Many fans have expressed disappointment that Semin’s signing will take away an opportunity from a young player to earn a top six spot. Conversely, bringing in a proven veteran scorer should help intensify the level of competition at training camp, ensuring the Canadiens aren’t forced into rushing a young player such as Nikita Scherbak, who would benefit from being eased into the pro game at the AHL level.

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THREE PATHS TO SUCCESS

For now, Bergevin has chosen the prudent route, deciding to conserve his assets, including nearly three million dollars of cap space, in hopes that a couple of low cost acquisitions can provide a more balanced scoring attack. These under the radar moves were creative and represent the first of three shots at filling out the top six. At the very least, the acquisitions of Semin and Kassian will buy Canadiens management some time by providing the organization with a few extra months to groom and evaluate their young forwards.

By around the mid-season mark, the Habs brass should have a pretty good idea of whether or not the new additions are working out. If one or both turn out to be busts, they can be easily jettisoned with a minor impact on the cap. This move would open the door to one of two options. Ideally, one or more of their young forwards will be tearing up the AHL, providing an in house solution.

Assuming that isn’t the case, then the final option would be to try and make a splash at the trade deadline. With an impressive list of players nearing free agency next summer, some pretty big names could be available for rental. This final scenario operates under the assumption that the team will be looking like a viable contender at this point in the season. In what promises to be a highly competitive Eastern Conference, this is far from a sure thing.

If none of these paths lead to a deep playoff run this spring, then 2016 could end up being the big off season many fans were hoping to see this summer.