Trade deadline day came and went without the Montreal Canadiens making a deal, severely hurting the Habs’ Stanley Cup hopes this year before the playoffs even began.
Even if the Habs did acquire depth defenseman Davis Drewiske from the Los Angeles Kings in the lead up to April 3, much bigger names were dealt with the Habs largely standing still. Of course, it being Davis Drewiske and all, most everyone else in the league is a bigger name.
The fact remains that arguably the biggest ones out there, i.e., Jarome Iginla and Jaromir Jagr, went to Montreal’s competition for first place in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins, respectively, while the Habs did nothing at all, relatively speaking.
Framing it that way, it seems really bad, but considering Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin has always been up front about only being willing to give up so much to improve his club this season at the expense of the Habs’ future, it’s at least understandable from his perspective.
One must remember that heading into this season, no one believed Montreal was going to contend for a playoff spot, much less first in the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference. Bergevin was hired essentially to develop Montreal into a long-term success story, much like the Pittsburgh Penguins.
As a result, many expected the Habs to follow much the same formula by sucking to insane degrees for a few years, stockpiling highly drafted prospects, patiently letting them develop (which Pittsburgh didn’t really need to do, it should be noted) and then dominating.
After all, this was a team that finished dead last in the conference last year (albeit in large part due to leading said conference in man-games lost with 389). Sucking again to an insane degree this year wasn’t out of the question.
Looking at it from another perspective—hindsight, for example—Montreal reportedly almost gave up Max Pacioretty, Carey Price, P.K. Subban and a first-round pick for Vincent Lecavalier in 2009 (via Jeff Marek’s Twitter account). Clearly, in the here and now, that deal looks much worse (if that’s possible, seeing as Lecavalier was already on the decline following his only two superstar-esque seasons).
Of course, it’s up to you to decide how close this rumored deal came to being finalized. It seems incredibly unlikely that Bob Gainey would give up a player in whom he had invested so much personally (and emotionally) like Carey Price, let alone him and two other highly touted prospects at the time (and a pick) just to appease a Francophone fan base by acquiring Lecavalier.
Assuming it was in the works, however, and just got vetoed by whomever, to those who argue that Bergevin should have given up the farm this year to go for it all, this “deal” irrefutably proves just why general managers shouldn’t.
Subban is a Norris Trophy candidate, sharing the team’s scoring lead with Pacioretty, and Price has developed into a legitimate All-Star goalie. That first-round pick, meanwhile? Assuming it was in 2009, it even ended up being a fellow Francophone center from Montreal who’s rivaling Lecavalier’s trademark inconsistency even now (and at a fraction of the cost) in Louis Leblanc.
Using that deal as a measuring stick, Bergevin undeniably did the right thing not going after zero-goal-scorer Ryane Clowe, a 35-year-old Iginla or a 41-year-old Jagr.
A long playoff run just isn’t worth handicapping Montreal’s future for a generation. However, in sharp contrast, looking at what was actually traded for each of those players, Montreal didn’t need to give up nearly that much. Close to nothing in all actuality.
The Calgary Flames got a first-round pick and two lower-tier prospects (Ben Hanowski and Ken Agostino) for Iginla. Ditto for Jay Bouwmeester (Mark Cundari and Reto Berra), who could have also helped out Montreal.
The Dallas Stars, meanwhile, got a similar haul for Jagr (Lane MacDermid, Cody Payne and a conditional second-round pick). For Clowe, the New York Rangers gave up two second-round picks (one of them being conditional) and a third.
None of the above prospects have impressive pedigrees, and none are projected to be anything more than second-liners. All due respect to MacDermid, but Hockey’s Future even goes so far as to rate him as turning out to be a fourth-liner, if that.
Of course, nothing is for certain. MacDermid even has two goals in two games with Dallas so far. But, looking at Habs prospects of similar caliber at the time of the hypothetical Lecavalier trade, we’re talking about guys like Olivier Fortier, Yannick Weber, Joe Stejskal, Andrew Conboy, etc.
Giving up two names of equal projected value five years down the road (Weber, who has been rendered obsolete in head coach Michel Therrien’s system, included) for a Jagr or Iginla would have been worth it. I mean, none of them have panned out yet and, while that still may change, it’s unlikely to say the least.
Stejskal is buried in Montreal’s depth chart behind Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi among others, Fortier’s currently playing in the ECHL and Conboy is apparently no longer even in the system.
One can easily argue as a result that Bergevin blew it.
Of course, there are many different variables in play here. Montreal wasn’t on Iginla’s alleged list of teams to which he wanted to be traded, and it’s quite possible Dallas didn’t want to do Montreal any more favors after Bergevin swindled Joe Nieuwendyk into taking Erik Cole off his hands for Michael Ryder and a third-round pick (a trade, by the way, which also blows up the whole argument that a deal will mess up team chemistry).
Giving Bergevin the benefit of the doubt (and it’s easy to considering how much he’s helped out the team so far), Dallas or the San Jose Sharks may very well have asked for something incredibly exorbitant from the Habs and not so much from the Bruins and Rangers.
No one really knows, but unfortunately, by the same token, no one will ever know what could have been had Bergevin been able to land a legitimate game-breaker this past Wednesday. Montreal could still theoretically win it all this year, but it’s much more unlikely now than it was two weeks ago.
In a league in which the Habs held a lottery pick last year and are now in a battle for first place, there’s no guarantee they’ll be in the same position again next year. Even with Bergevin’s long-term plan in the works, this year proves things don’t always work out as planned.
Put simply, the Habs contending right now should have led him to expedite the process at least slightly.