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WHAT THE PUCK: Canadiens moving in wrong direction this summer

 New Jersey Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid follows the play during game against the Canadiens in Montreal on April 1, 2018.
New Jersey Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid follows the play during game against the Canadiens in Montreal on April 1, 2018.

GM Marc Bergevin's moves so far have left the team in worse shape than it was at the end of last season, when Habs missed the playoffs.


This summer is going so badly for the Canadiens I think it might be time for Habs president Geoff Molson to announce some fancy new food offerings at the Bell Centre.

C’mon, why not start with a little levity because, oh my, do we Habs fans need it. Astonishingly, the Canadiens are worse today than they were when they finished the season just out of the playoffs. T hey almost made it, they were exciting to watch and so on, but t hey missed the playoffs — again.

That’s one playoff series won during the past five years. You heard about those comments from Carey Price and Shea Weber in the Athletic a few days back, right? The two highest-profile Canadiens made it clear they’re getting frustrated that Stanley Cup contention is nowhere in sight as the clock ticks on their careers. Players like Price, Weber and Brendan Gallagher have barely played in the post-season during the last five years. This is not good.

The Habs’ competition in the East — notably the Devils, Panthers, Rangers and Leafs — have improved during the past two weeks, but Montreal has gone in the other direction. It boggles the mind. Just how badly has general manager Marc Bergevin bungled his summer deals thus far? Let me count the ways.

Just before free agency began on July 1, Bergevin traded rugged forward Andrew Shaw , along with a 2021 seventh-round draft pick, to the Chicago Blackhawks in return for … a bag of pucks. Okay, the return was actually a second-round and a seventh-round pick in the 2020 draft and a third-round pick in 2021, but you get the idea. They got little for Shaw, who scored 19 goals and notched 47 points in 63 games last season. He’s injury-prone, but he is a leader and is the kind of heart-and-soul player we thought Bergevin loved.

The reason Bergevin made the trade was to free up US$3.9 million in cap space to snare an A-list free agent. His desired target was Matt Duchene but, despite of all the talk about how Duchene grew up a Habs fan, that was never going to happen. Free agents sign for two reasons, money and to go to a team that is likely to contend for the Cup. Montreal doesn’t offer the latter.

The bungling went up several notches on July 1, when Bergevin signed a hostile offer sheet for restricted free-agent Sebastian Aho. The vast majority of pundits said the offer was so low that the Carolina Hurricanes were guaranteed to match it, given Aho is their franchise player, and they said they will. The next day, ‘Canes owner Tom Dundon and GM Don Waddell suggested Bergevin got played by Aho’s agent. On Friday, an anonymous NHL manager was quoted in Le Journal de Montréal saying “Dundon should thank the Canadiens. The Hurricanes now have an excellent player under contract at a very reasonable salary.” (The deal Bergevin offered carries an annual cap hit of US$8.45 million.)

The net result? Nada for the Habs and egg on Bergevin’s face. On Thursday, the Habs GM sheepishly waded back into free-agency waters, after all the big fish had been caught, and signed former Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot to a three-year US$10.5 million deal. Reviews were mixed with gusts up to fairly negative. Gazette columnist Marc Dumont wrote in the Athletic that “they needed a top-pairing left-handed defenceman. Instead, they acquired a mediocre player. …”

The Canadiens desperately need a left-shooting defenceman to play on the top pairing alongside Weber and everyone agrees that Chiarot doesn’t fit that bill.

Bergevin also tried to fill another important need and signed backup goalie Keith Kinkaid to a one-year US$1.75 million deal. The trouble is that his goals-against and save-percentage stats last season weren’t that different from the numbers put up by Antti Niemi, who was dumped by the Habs. (Why has Bergevin had so much trouble finding a decent goalie to support Price?)

Of course, the summer is not over and Montreal still has US$8.47 million in cap space available. But you can only evaluate what’s happened and not what might happen. The bottom line is they lost a leader in Shaw and they didn’t find a partner for Weber or a top-six forward with size and skill.

On paper, they don’t appear to be a playoff team.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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