It’s time for Marc Bergevin to swing for the fences.How long is he going to wait before he starts seriously competing? Bergevin and his boss, Canadiens president Geoff Molson, have been extremely conservative, but I just don’t see how they can allow the team to possibly miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season and for the fourth time in five years.This is not how you manage the Canadiens and, when you get right down to it, it’s not how you manage any professional sports team. You need to strive for excellence each and every season, unless you’ve decided you’re rebuilding.
Ottawa Senators centre Matt Duchene can’t get to the loose puck as Canadiens blue-liner Joe Morrow defends in front of goaltender Carey Price at the Bell Centre on Feb. 4, 2018.
Dave Sidaway /
But the Habs are not rebuilding, as Bergevin has repeated ad nauseam. If you have Carey Price and Shea Weber accounting for more than $18 million worth of cap hit, you are not fitting into any definition of rebuilding I’ve ever heard. If you have Price — who’ll be 32 when the Canadiens kick off their season in Raleigh, N.C., on Oct. 3 — and Weber, who’ll be 34, you are in win-now mode or you don’t have a clue. Take your choice.That’s why it was so encouraging to hear that Matt Duchene was in Montreal Wednesday to meet with Canadiens management. He is the biggest fish in the free-agency sweepstakes this side of Artemi Panarin and it’s pretty clear that the Bread Man is not coming to Montreal. Reports suggest Panarin has narrowed it down to three teams, the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Florida Panthers. And the consensus is that the Panthers still have the hot hand given that they have Joel Quenneville — Panarin’s former coach in Chicago — behind the bench and have the bucks to bring in Panarin and his good pal, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. So forget about seeing Panarin in a Habs jersey next season.But is Montreal seriously chasing Duchene? Some pundits, such as Sportsnet’s Eric Engels, have suggested signing Duchene doesn’t fit into Bergevin’s stated plan of going with “youth and speed.” Yet that was also the plan last summer, or at least Bergevin told us it was. He tried to enter the John Tavares bidding war, but the Toronto native didn’t bother to meet with Bergevin and his colleagues.We don’t know if the Habs are truly hot on Duchene, but they should be. The fact is that Montreal continues to lack that bona fide, seasoned A-list centre in the point-a-game range. With Duchene, Montreal would immediately become a team to watch in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.Related
Bergevin has said he’s worried about signing pricey free agents because he has key contracts to renew in the years to come. He needs to sign Max Domi next summer — and he’ll be getting a huge raise if he again racks up something in the range of 72 points — while Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar come up for renewal the following summer. Keep in mind Bergevin is also on the hook to keep paying Jonathan Drouin $5.5 million until the end of the 2022-23 season — and, oh my, that six-year $33-million contract extension Bergevin gave Drouin looks bad today.But juggling contracts is what a GM is supposed to do. A GM is also supposed to ice a winning team. In the strange world of Habs fandom, many called this past season a success, but the reality is that you are not a winner in the NHL unless you’re at the very least in the playoffs.The other thing Bergevin should do starting Monday is look long and hard at that mouth-watering list of restricted free agents, a who’s-who hit parade that includes Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, and Sebastian Aho. Why not go for the grand slam and take a run at Marner?Make an offer sheet of seven seasons at $10 million or $11 million per year and either you get one of the best young players in the league or baby-faced Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has to grit his teeth and match the Habs’ offer — which would muck up archrival Toronto’s plans.If I were a gambler, I’d wager that they don’t get Duchene or any other top free agents. And like most observers, I think it’s written in the stars that Duchene — despite the idle chatter about how he grew up a Habs fan — will end up in Nashville. I’m even more sure that Bergevin will not wade into the restricted-free-agent waters because his boss doesn’t want to get in a public scrap with any of his partners in the profitable little business called the National Hockey League.I hope I’m wrong on both bets. Let’s talk early next email@example.com/brendanshowbiz