Rabid Habs

PART ONE: In Bergy We Trust

We’re only a couple years in his tenure but Marc Bergevin has already shown that he’s more than a pretty boy with undisputable charisma and a questionable wardrobe! He dealt two veterans in Josh Gorges and Daniel Briere, let his captain Brian Gionta walk, added a promising prospect in Jiri Sekac (via free agency) and signed three Free Agents who will have key roles in Montreal (Manny Malhotra, Tom Gilbert and a familiar face in Mike Weaver). He also pushed hard for the services of goal scorer Radim Vrbata but alas he ended up signing with Vancouver. In part one of this series of three articles, I will analyze the two trades made by Bergevin this week.

DANNY BRIERE TO COLORADO FOR PIERRE-ALEXANDRE PARENTEAU & A FIFTH ROUND PICK IN 2015

This one shocked me, not because I didn’t think Briere was going to be moved but because I thought he had LITERALLY zero value. After seeing what Sam Gagner fetched (a 6th round pick WITH salary retained), I expected that the best we could get for him was a 5th round pick or a marginal prospect. The second I saw that we got Parenteau in return for Briere, I was ecstatic. The last time I was that happy following a trade was Jaroslav Spacek for Tomas Kaberle… Doh.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Briere signing when it happened since it was clear that the former Flyer had been regressing in recent years and that he had practically become a Power Play specialist for them. Another reason why I wasn’t too fond on his acquisition was that I felt he was a bad fit on this team. Considering the lack of size up front and the mold of our forwards, he was simply redundant. My opinion on Briere seemed to materialize when he struggled to show anything in his first month with the Habs before suffering a concussion to the hands of Eric Nystrom. I was actually (as cold as this may sound) glad that he was out of the line-up with his injury because I believed at the time that he was a nuisance to the team and was a complete liability on the ice.

But slowly he started to grow on me; I became a fan of his vision and his feistiness. He was showing chemistry with Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec but for some reason Michel Therrien didn’t leave that line intact AND that really angered me. Finally Briere seemed to find his role on the team and Therrien unjustifiably separates them but that wasn’t the first mind boggling decision the Head Coach has made as far as Briere is concerned. The two clearly didn’t see eye-to-eye which made the trade inevitable for the Gatineau native. To Therrien’s defense, the way he used Briere in the playoffs made a ton of sense and I’ll give him credit for that. He’s too weak physically and defensively to play regular minutes. He gave him a winger with size in Dale Weise and a smart and responsible kid in his own end in Michael Bournival. The trio found chemistry and took advantage of their favorable match-ups against weaker competition. I came in as a hater when the move was made but I can honestly say that Briere turned me into a fan of his throughout of the year. I wish him good luck in Colorado under Patrick Roy.

Now let’s talk about Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau. I think Parenteau is very similar to a former Canadiens player who’s also a Quebecer: Alex Tanguay (although I would argue that Tanguay is more talented than PAP). I wrote a bit about him when I tried (and failed miserably) to predict NHL trades that I could see happening this summer. As mentioned in that article, the 31 year old needs to play with talented players to be at his best. It was the case with the Islanders with John Tavares and history repeated itself in Colorado with Matt Duchene. Obviously, Montreal doesn’t have a player of that caliber up front but I think Max Pacioretty is just a tier below those guys. Parenteau is a great playmaker and is pretty feisty despite his small frame. He’s also a pretty productive player at Even Strength: 30 of his 43 points in the shortened season were at ES, plus in 2011-12 only 19 of his 67 points were obtained on the PP. To contextualize those numbers, in 2012, his 48 ES points put him in the same range as players like Jarome Iginla, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrick Sharp and James Neal. His production at 5 on 5 will help the Canadiens who struggled all year to produce at ES. To give you an idea, their most productive player this year at ES had 42 points (Pacioretty). Parenteau is also a great option for shootouts (11 goals on 24 attempts in his NHL career).

There are a couple of reasons to explain Parenteau’s drop in production this season. In 2012-13, the Quebecer was used on average 19:08 a game. Under Roy this year, that ice time dropped to 16:57 a game. In his first year with the Avalanche, he spent the most minutes on the PP and had the highest average (2:52). This season six Colorado players averaged more minutes than him on the man advantage. Also, in 2012-13, he played on Duchene’s line more than 70% of the time at ES. This year, he was only used with Duchene roughly 30% of the time at ES. (It’s worth noting that those numbers can be explained by the fact that both Duchene and Parenteau were injured throughout the season which prevented Roy from using them on the same line).

That being said, I don’t think Parenteau should play on the same line as Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty already has his go to guy in terms of playmaking in David Desharnais. Having both Desharnais and Parenteau on the same line with the American sniper would be overkill in my opinion. I think Gallagher should stay on that line for now, given their success in the last two seasons. Considering his mediocre defensive game, I think Parenteau should play with Lars Eller and Rene Bourque. I think the two of them could make room for PAP and they could both benefit from Parenteau’s vision offensively.

JOSH GORGES TO BUFFALO FOR A 2016 2ND ROUND PICK

I was surprised to learn that Bergevin put Josh Gorges on the trading block and THAT took a lot of balls to do so. Gorges has been a fan favorite and vocal member of the team for years now. He’s the type of player that Bergevin respects and with the way that 24ch was presenting him, I thought for sure that he was next in line for the C once Gionta left. I would have never expected in a million years for both Gionta and Gorges to leave this summer. Josh Gorges is what he is, an undersized defenseman who will sacrifice his body at all cost to ensure victory. Like a married couple, after 8 years of being with the same person, you start noticing their flaws a lot more than when you first started dating them. Gorges is completely inept with the puck and isn’t the fastest skater or the strongest guy on the ice, he realizes that and that’s why he made a name for himself as a character guy who blocks shots. But in today’s NHL, you can’t afford paying a shot blocking specialist 3.9 million a year and that for 4 more seasons…Ever since Pierre Gauthier signed him to that contract back in 2012, I’ve had concerns that he could turn into the next Jay McKee. For those who don’t know, Jay McKee was a defenseman, like Gorges, that made a name for himself in the 2000s by willingly blocking shots like a masochist. In 2005-06, following a brilliant season with the Buffalo Sabres where he recorded 241 blocked shots (by far the most amounts that year), he signed a big fat contract with the St. Louis Blues worth 16 million for 4 years. Unfortunately for the Blues (and McKee), his style of play caused him to miss a lot games due to injuries (he only played 23 games in his first season with the Blues) and lead to him being bought out after his third year. McKee retired from the NHL (and hockey) in 2010.

Obviously I don’t wish Gorges the same fate as McKee but it’s definitely a concern worth sharing. With that style of his, injuries are bound to happen unless he has some sort of secret power I’m not aware of. So far he’s been relatively lucky but that won’t be the case forever…It’s a fact that due to Gorges’ inability to make an effective breakout and his subpar defensive skills (there’s a reason why he blocks so many shots people, the other team constantly has the puck when he’s on the ice), the Canadiens were pinned in their own end most of the time. It happened a lot in the past playoffs and I think it’s that aspect of his game that lead to him being dealt. As shown by the acquisition of Mike Weaver at the past trade deadline, players like Gorges aren’t that hard to replace. It’s a lot harder to replace a player of Markov’s caliber than it is to replace someone like Gorges, that’s just a fact. I think ideally, the coaching staff wants to have a defensive squad consisting of guys who can all move the puck efficiently. For those who’ve watched 24ch, Michel Therrien and JJ Daigneault (defense coach) have put a lot of emphasis on the defense being able to come in and support the forwards in the offensive zone by making a well calculated pinch. Gorges can read the plays defensively but he doesn’t have the vision or the hands to create offense at the NHL level. Another element that the coaching staff has pushed for has been a quick breakout from the D for the counterattack. Sadly that’s not the type of system where Gorges will shine.

Note: This system pushed by the coaching staff might explain how Weaver went from recording more points with the Canadiens (7) than with the Panthers (6) despite playing only 17 games with Montreal compared to his 55 games with Florida.               

I think the coaching staff has the right philosophy when it comes to a defensive’s squad role. Foremost, they should be able to defend well in their own end but they should also be able to chip in offensively here and there. Obviously getting a ton of offense from your backend doesn’t automatically translate to success (Ottawa was 3rd in the league for productivity from defensemen) but it’s a start. The Blackhawks, the Blues, the Senators, the Bruins and the Lightning were the top 5 teams in that category this year. I think those teams make a pretty good case that sometimes your best offense is your defense. That’s not to say that there aren’t any exceptions to the rule, for example Calgary, Nashville and Phoenix (I’ll call them what I want dammit) were part of the top 10 and those teams (including Ottawa) all missed the playoffs despite their very productive defense.

Buffalo wasn’t Gorges first destination! The 29 year old had a say on not going to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the draft weekend. As reported by TSN, Gorges decided to use his No Trade Clause to veto a potential deal with the Leafs. Many people speculated that Cody Franson would have been the player coming back to Montreal. It makes sense considering that Franson is a right handed shot (Bergevin confirmed in his press conference that it was something he was looking to add so certain players can play on their natural side) and brings a ton of offense. But Franson isn’t a perfect player: he’s been the scape goat for Leafs fans this year due to his lackluster defending skills, I would have not been too enthusiastic if that was the actual return for the trade that Gorges vetoed.

I’m a lot happier about getting a second round pick. Some might have been underwhelmed that Gorges only fetched a 2nd round pick but Jason Garrison (plus Costello and a 2015 7th rounder) returned a late second round pick in this year’s draft. Those second round picks are money in terms of filling the prospect pool (Zachary Fucale, Jacob de la Rose and Artturi Lehkonen were all picked in the second round at last year’s draft).

People have to view this trade as cap dump, because essentially that’s all it is. Montreal cleared 3.9 million from their cap and this will come in handy for the contract renewals of Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk next season. Also it’s worth mentioning that next summer could be very interesting in terms of possible defensemen UFAs. Andy Greene, Marc Methot, Johnny Boychuk, Andrej Sekera, Marc Staal, Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff, Zbynek Michalek, Justin Braun could all possibly test the market.

One concern I have about this decision to part ways with strong leaders like Josh Gorges and Brian Gionta is that it could be a bit too early to hand the keys to the young players in term of leadership. Bergevin said at the press conference after his team’s elimination that he felt like the Pacioretty’s, Price’s, Subban’s and Gallagher’s showed they were leaders but I’m afraid that Bergevin might be underestimating the impact that Gorges and Gionta had on the team. We saw what happened when Bryan Murray misjudged the loss of longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson last summer. The Senators seemed to have lost their identity and struggled all season long. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Ottawa blew so many leads last season, there’s clearly a lack of leadership on that team. They gave the captaincy to Jason Spezza and less than a year later he’s now a Dallas Star following his trade request.

I firmly believe that Bergevin knows what he’s doing and that he’s just replicating the way the Blackhawks were built. Jonathan Toews was only 20 years old when Chicago named him their captain in 2008. The Habs still have veterans like Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov and Brandon Prust to support the young leaders on the team.

Part two should come in the upcoming days!

You can share your thoughts at @HabsoluteTruth or in the comments section