Rabid Habs

PART TWO: In Bergy We Trust

Habs Marc Bergevin

I previously talked in Part One of my series of three articles about the trades that Bergevin made this week. In this edition, I will talk about the players he acquired via Free Agency.

TOM GILBERT – 2 years, 2.8M a year

Gilbert was one name I wanted the Habs to look at last trade deadline. He’s an effective defenseman in his own end and he possesses a solid first pass. He brings a ton of experience (over 500 NHL games under his belt) and I believe he’s a bigger and more offensively proven version of Raphael Diaz. Diaz wasn’t a favorite for certain Habs fan due to him being sort of ‘soft’ for a defenseman but he remained a solid defender as far as defending is concerned. Gilbert brings similar elements to the Swiss defender (right-handed shot, two-way play based mostly on stick work) but he’s considerably bigger than Diaz (6’2, 206 lbs vs 5’11, 197 lbs) and much more polished in terms of experience. Similarly to Diaz, the 31 year old has never been overly physical (despite his big frame), the most hits he’s gotten in a season is 69 in 2010-11 with the Oilers. But one thing other than size that Gilbert has on the former Hab is his productivity throughout his career. Despite playing on some pretty terrible teams for most of his career, Gilbert has had 3 seasons with over 30 points (including one 45 points season in 2008-09) and he was on pace to hit that plateau once again this year on the second worst offensive team in the league.

I certainly don’t expect Gilbert to go on a tear and score at the same pace as Markov or Subban but I wouldn’t be too surprised if he reaches the 30 point mark next season. He almost had that many points last year on a Panthers team whose scoring leader only had 38 points…It’s interesting to point out that in his most productive seasons, he was mainly used on the second unit. In 2007-08, Pitkanen and Souray were used much more on the PP. Even the season he had 45 points with the Oilers, he wasn’t even on the top unit on the PP: Sheldon Souray and Lubomir Visnovsky were! Gilbert and Beaulieu should be a great second unit for the Canadiens next season (at least much better than Bouillon and Gorges who we saw together last season) and might even give Therrien the luxury to give less minutes to Andrei Markov and PK Subban which would be a huge boost down the stretch.

Gilbert has great gap control like Gorges and is not afraid to block shots (604 blocks in his career) but unlike Gorges, he can make a solid breakout pass. I believe management felt that this was an area where they could improve on. I wouldn’t say it’s too farfetched to put some of the blame for our Even Strength struggles on our lack of PMD. It’s a lot easier to counterattack when your defenseman gives you the puck a) much quicker b) right to your tape rather than banking it off the boards c) has the ability to make an accurate pass despite pressure from the forecheckers. There’s a reason why Pacioretty scores most of his goals when Subban or Markov are on the ice, he scores most of his goals from either breakaways or odd man rushes. Another situation where adding more PMD doesn’t hurt is in the offensive zone. How many times did we see the patented dump in the corner from Gorges when there was no option? A more creative player like Gilbert will be able to produce more offense simply from his better vision.

Before the departure of Josh Gorges, Montreal had too many defensemen who were either average or below average with the puck: Mike Weaver, Alexei Emelin, Jarred Tinordi and Josh Gorges. That’s 4 defenders who I wouldn’t technically label as wizards with the puck. Adding Gilbert to a group already consisting of PK Subban, Andrei Markov and Nathan Beaulieu legitimizes the Canadiens’ back-end as a scoring threat. I’ve always believed that a team should have a puck moving defenseman on every pairing paired with a shutdown guy. The best teams in the league have been using that philosophy for years: Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings. Just look at their PMD: Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, Drew Doughty and then you add guys like Nick Leddy, Kevin Shattenkirk and Slava Voynov. As for stay at home they have: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, Barret Jackman, Carl Gunnarson, Robyn Regehr and Matt Greene. Finally in terms of two way defensemen they have Brent Seabrook, Jay Bouwmeester and Jake Muzzin.

Note: Montreal is not quite there yet in terms of elite defense but I think once the young guys like Beaulieu and Tinordi get more experience, they’ll be part of that group.

2.8M for a top 4 defenseman is something rare to find in today’s NHL. Especially when guys like Deryk Engelland, Clayton Stoner, Andrej Meszaros, Kyle Quincey all got considerably more this year on the market despite being inferior players. His cap hit is comparable to players like Karl Alzner, Andrej Sekera, Kevin Klein, Marc Methot and Andy Greene who are all good defensemen in my books. If Gilbert serves his role perfectly for the Tricolore, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bergevin gives him a contract extension midway through next season.

MIKE WEAVER – 1 year, 1.75M

I don’t think I’ll see anybody unhappy with this deal. Mike Weaver might have been relatively unknown for some Habs fans before joining Montreal (just ask Francois Gagnon…) but I can assure you that it’s not the case anymore. His fearless style of play and his crucial blocked shots got him a lot of recognition and praise from the hockey world. The 36 year old probably came off the best stretch of his NHL career with les Glorieux last year. It’s almost incomprehensible to even think that he was a healthy scratch in Florida on some nights…

Considering that the likes of Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray made 1.5M last season (with a lower salary cap) shows how much of a steal it is for Bergevin. Montreal gets a steady veteran who can be a solid mentor for Jarred Tinordi, Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu. His play in the playoffs made long time Canadiens Josh Gorges expendable. This signing is a good police d’assurance to assure that the young defenders are not rushed and develop at their own pace. Considering that Montreal got both Gilbert and Weaver for only $650.000 more than Gorges’ contract minus the long term commitment makes Bergevin look like a genius.

MANNY MALHOTRA – 1 year, $850,000

I was sad by the news that Ryan White wasn’t going to be qualified which meant that he would become an Unrestricted Free Agent come July 1st. I thought maybe Bergevin wanted to save money and felt he could avoid paying him the additional money that his qualifying offer would have added but the Habs’ GM seemed to have other plans in mind. Malhotra and Bergevin had already agreed to a deal prior to July 1st and that was it for Ryan White in the bleu blanc rouge uniform. I have to admit, I always had a soft spot for White. He’s a player who doesn’t hide his emotions and he’s simply a treat to watch out there. I felt like he was showing progression as a player this year and seemed to really start gelling in his role of Penalty Killer and 4th line center this season. The fact that he’s still a Free Agent at this point proves that I may have been blinded by his long luscious hair…

Note: White was the last (and only one!) piece remaining from the abysmal 2006 draft. A draft where Montreal selected David Fischer over Claude Giroux and picked Ben Maxwell one spot before Milan Lucic…Proof that Trevor Timmins isn’t a God. 😉

Montreal definitely needed help in the faceoff circle (17th in the league and 11th during the playoffs) and this signing addressed that. Malhotra has been one of the league’s most consistent leaders in that department. He was 2nd this year in the NHL with an excellent 59.4%. In a division where there’s Patrice Bergeron (3rd), Pavel Datsyuk (23rd), Zack Smith (32nd) and Valtteri Filppula (38th), it was certainly a wise move to add a faceoff specialist. Malhotra was at one point considered one of the best 4th line centers in the league but an unfortunate eye injury (that affected his left eye vision significantly) almost cost him his hockey career. The Canucks’ GM at the time, Mike Gillis, decided that it was best for Malhotra to sit out the entire 2012-13 season. Malhotra became a UFA after that season and GMs avoided him like a kid who has chickenpox. The Missisauga native signed a PTO (Professional Try Out) contract with the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina’s AHL team) and his play was enough to get him a contract with the Hurricanes where he finished the rest of the season. His story is truly inspiring and shows that he has character. Some may find the whole character thing over the top but they can’t deny that so far, it’s getting the job done since Bergevin has taken over.

Malhotra’s experience will come in handy and I think his smarts will complement very well with Brandon Prust’s toughness and Dale Weise’s speed. We’ll have a very effective 4th line that can be given defensive missions by Therrien. It’s worth noting that Malhotra might hit a tremendous milestone with the Habs, he could play his 1000th NHL game in the Canadiens’ uniform. That’s a feat that no one could have thought possible following his eye injury.

JIRI SEKAC – 2 years, $925.000 a year

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The Czech forward was one of the most sought after Free Agent this season. Following a pretty productive season in the KHL, as many as 15 teams showed interested in the 22 year old. Bob McKenzie went as far as to say that he could see Sekac jumping right into the Montreal’s top 9. Brian Wilde also reported that a very high ranked NHL insider shared with him that he saw 30 goal potential in the Left Winger. Although I’ve never actually seen him play, I think it’d be smarter for him to start in the AHL. He’s stated in an interview with Le Journal de Montréal that he doesn’t mind paying his dues in the AHL and that his dream is to play in the NHL.

Sekac decided to sign with Montreal despite the fact that he could have very well signed with a team willing to guarantee him a spot on their NHL roster. Montreal’s center Tomas Plekanec, who’s from the same city as Sekac, might have a played a factor in convincing him to sign with the Canadiens. Plekanec talked to him about the city and the market in Montreal, I suppose Plek’s word was good enough for him because he refused many offers in order to sign here.

Here’s a scouting report from Bill Meltzer of Hockey Buzz:

“One of main knocks on Sekac is that he is an unorthodox-looking skater. Although he is not a physical player and could stand to be a little harder on the puck, he has shown a greatly improved “compete level” from the time when he a bust in Peterborough. Sekac is a stronger and more confident player than he was then. He has also developed his two-way game.”

Sekac is definitely the definition of a late bloomer. He was cut from the Peterborough Petes as an 18 year old and didn’t destroy the USHL with his 11 points in 38 games. However, the next season he showed decent progression by increasing his production by 34 points with the very same team. He decided to leave for the KHL where he mainly spent his time in the MHL (KHL’s version of the AHL) and worked his way up from there. He exploded offensively this year by producing 28 points in 47 games with the HC Lev Praha. As a 21 year old (youngest regular in the line-up) he finished second in scoring on the team with only one point less than the leading scorer in 6 less games played. Based on his highlights from this season, he reminds me a lot of former Hab: Richard Zednik. At 6’2, he’s not afraid to crash the net and has decent vision.

It’s worth noting that Sekac performed at about the same pace in the KHL as Mats Zuccarello at a younger age. If he can find chemistry with Plekanec, this will be a great acquisition. That being said my expectations are low for him but it’d be a pleasant surprise if he turns out to be more than just another Damien Brunner or Fabian Brunnstrom.

For those who have Sekac pegged in their projected line-up for next year, wait to see him play first! I recall many people looking stupid after having Finnish forward Janne Lahti on Saku Koivu’s wing in 2006-07 after Montreal signed him. He ended up scoring 9 goals…with the Bulldogs before bolting back to the SM-Liiga.

PS: His nickname better be Seks.

 

CONCLUSION

With these three signings, Bergevin has added over 2000 NHL games worth of experience on his squad. Considering the departure of important veterans like Josh Gorges, Brian Gionta and Daniel Briere, I’m sure these three long time NHLers will soften the blow it may have in the room. In my final article I will reveal my projected line-up and what I think is Bergevin’s long-term plan in terms of asset management.

Feel free to comment in the section below or on Twitter @HabsoluteTruth.