1

Know Your Enemy: Death by a Thousand Stabs

To say that the Montreal Canadiens are a bit of a mess is an understatement. Ever since the missed the playoffs in 2015-16, and traded PK Subban as a response to that season, this team has been nothing short of a disaster.

As bad as Marc Bergevin has been, it hasn’t always been this bad since he took the reigns in 2012. They had a comeback year in the lockout shortened 2013 season, led by their young, Norris winning defenseman, PK Subban. They had that memorable run to the conference finals before Chris Kreider slipped and crashed into Carey Price, and basically ended it. They had the strong 2014-15 season where Price basically carried them to the playoffs and won the Hart trophy.

And then, Price had “the injury”. The one that kept him out for most of the 2015-16 season, and basically cost them a playoff appearance. Then they overreacted to it, and traded Subban for Weber. Then, they didn’t do half bad in 2016-17 (on the back of another stellar Carey Price season), but lost in the first round to a pretty weak New York Rangers team. Then, they made some more moves, brought in Drouin, and the Habs had some hope. But, they still couldn’t score, and Carey Price was really bad, and they became one of the worst teams in the league. To say it’s been an adventure since Bergevin took over is really understating it.

Bergevin started his Habs tenure with:

-Max Pacioretty entering his prime on a cheap deal

-Carey Price emerging as one of the best goalies in the league

-PK Subban emerging as one of the best defensemen in the league

-A young center picked high in the draft named Alex Galchenyuk to build around down the middle

 

And with that he:

-didn’t give Pacioretty a center to play with (think Phil Kessel), and after tarnishing the relationship with his captain, traded him for a lesser return than they could’ve

-bought insanely high on Price, and gave him his 8 year, $10.5 million AAV contract extension, then watched Price play terrible in 2017-18 before the contract even started

-traded Subban for an older, slightly worse defenseman on a much worse contract in Shea Weber

-never let Galchenyuk play center, and destroyed his trade value before trading him for a slightly worse winger who they’re now going to try and play at center.

Feb 27, 2016; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Daniel Winnik (26) plays the puck against Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty (67) during the third period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

That’s just the tip of the iceberg too. He traded a promising young defenseman in Sergachev for Drouin, who only had six more points than Sergachev last season. He let a scoring winger walk for nothing in Alex Radulov when the team desperately needed goals, and let Andrei Markov leave for Russia with no replacements for either of them. And he may have reached with the third overall pick to draft a center that they desperately needed… after just trading their best center (although I’m not going to say that Kotkaniemi was a bad pick just yet, he did make the team out of camp. But it might have been a reach).

Then again, what can you expect from the guy who’s playing career is mostly known for throwing a puck in his own net?

It’s been more than just death by a thousand cuts with the Montreal Canadiens. This is more like death by a thousand stabs. And because of that, the Habs are the mess of a team that they are going into this season.

Most teams have some kind of strength going into the season. The Toronto Maple Leafs strength is their center depth. The Nashville Predators strength is their depth on the blueline. The Edmonton Oilers strength is Connor McDavid.

That Habs don’t really have a strength.

The Canadiens scored the third fewest goals per game at 2.52. They allowed the seventh most goals per game at 3.15. They allowed the 12th most shot attempts against per 60 minutes, with a 58.33 5v5 CA60. And they did nothing to improve on that.

Let’s take a deeper dive into this. First, here is the shooting percentages of all of the 2017-18 Habs that scored at least 10 goals (not a very long list, surprisingly).

Some good news for them is that six of those 10 players shot below their career shooting percentage (although Byron and Shaw were barely under). Some bad news is that the two players who shot significantly below their career shooting percentages are Pacioretty and Galchenyuk, who are no longer on the team. And the two who scored at least 20 for the Habs were Byron, who is apparently the modern day Alex Tanguay, and Gallagher, who shot above his career shooting percentage.

Now, they did bring in a couple pieces for offensive threats (at the expense of Pacioretty and Galchenyuk) in Tatar and Domi. Tatar scored 20 last year and shot 1.5% below his career shooting percentage, so they can get a decent 20-25 from him. Domi shot 2.6% below his, although he scored a significantly fewer amount of goals, with only nine last year.

So, the best the Habs can hope for from their offense is that the pieces they brought might score the same that Pacioretty and Galchenyuk did. But, there’s still two problems from this:

  1. Pacioretty and Galchenyuk’s regressions would have given the Habs more goals on their own.
  2. Even if they break even, this team was still the third worst offensive team last season.

So, scoring wasn’t fixed. Kotkaniemi might help a little bit, but he probably won’t drastically shift the Habs offense.

Their defense didn’t get much better either. Their only addition to the blueline that made the team was Xavier Ouellet, who isn’t exactly a gamebreaker. Their best defenseman in Shea Weber is hurt for the next couple months, and might return in December. That leaves Jeff Petry as their only decent blueliner, and he showed in Edmonton that, as great as he is, he can’t be the guy on the blueline.

And then, their goaltending is a giant question mark. Carey Price has had stretches where he’s the best goalie in the league, but his health has been a question every year, and last year he didn’t really provide fans with optimism. Now, goalies are voodoo, and it’s likely he could also turn into a brick wall again, but at age 31, I wouldn’t exactly hold my breath for it. If Price falters, the back up plans are Antti Niemi, who is Antti Niemi and I don’t think I need to go more in-depth why that’s a bad thing, and Charlie Lindgren, who with a career save percentage of .914% certainly has potential, but probably isn’t capable of carrying teams like prime Carey Price.

Sep 27, 2017; Quebec City, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber (6) and Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Kasperi Kapanen (24) battle for the puck during the third period at Centre Videotron. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

So, this team doesn’t have any strengths. They can’t score, they can’t defend, and they might not be able to stop pucks. All this after being a dominant team from 2013-15.

Which brings us back to where we started. The team is in this state because Marc Bergevin took this team’s core, sold it off for lesser returns, and kept doing this until he had a significantly worse team as a result.

Team’s have windows, and eventually they close. Great teams find ways to keep it open. Good teams recognize when it will close, and make moves with that in mind. Bad teams panic, and then close the window sooner than it needed to be.

And that’s what Marc Bergevin did. He slammed that window shut. And now here they are. Their biggest contracts are 33 year old Weber and 31 year old Price, and you could argue that neither contract could get dealt, expect for maybe Price right now.

That’s not to say they don’t have any good pieces. Like I’ve mentioned before, Kotkaniemi is a great prospect, and impressed in training camp. Suzuki was part of the return for Pacioretty, and he’s another solid center prospect. If they’re bad this year, they’ll probably get another good pick.

But, it didn’t have to be this bad. But they did it to themselves.

Death by a thousand stabs.



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.