Patching The Holes In Montreal

Shortly after 1am on the East Coast, Max Pacioretty was traded from the Montreal Canadiens after three seasons of mystery, dramatics, and off-ice controversies which had become a regular occurrence in La Belle Province. The late night trade to the Vegas Golden Knights (for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a second round pick in 2019) also marked the first time in a long time that the Canadiens made a big trade for the future, rather than a “one for one” trade focused on the present.

Remember that time he got the great idea to appease the boring core of his Canadiens team? They seemed to sour on PK Subban and his “problematic” personality and decided to ship him to Nashville in exchange for Carey’s Olympic buddy Shea Weber. The best case scenario for hopeful Habs fans was that this trade was a “one for one” deal and the team would be better off with Shea Weber running the blue line instead of the “loose cannon” PK Subban. Well. They weren’t. After two years of on and off ice issues in Montreal, we can all agree: Nashville won that trade.

The next summer, after an uninspiring first round exit in the 2017 Playoffs, Marc Bergevin decidedthat the time had come for the Canadiens to get a number one centre. It was a great idea! After all, the Habs hadn’t had one of those in roughly twenty years!  Again, they opted for a “one for one” trade.  He sent Mikhail Sergachev, an offensively gifted defencemen they drafted 6th overall in 2016 to Tampa Bay in exchange for Jonathan Drouin, a former first overall draft pick in 2013.

Drouin was highly touted, but was lost in the shuffle among the top heavy Tampa Bay Lightning.  He was also once suspended indefinitely by the Lightning for refusing to report to their AHL affiliate. While this behaviour could be seen as problematic, the Habs saw him as an ideal fit as a top line centre. He spoke French! It seemed like the team was willing to look past a litany of red flags in the hopes of having a French Canadian top line centre. Remember, this is a team who still requires its head coach to be bilingual. Speaking the language is a deal breaker (and maker!) in Montreal.

In the following 2017/18 NHL season, Mikhail Sergachev was an absolute defensive force for Tampa Bay.  He put up nine goals and notched forty points while playing big minutes with the Lightning. In Montreal, Jonathan Drouin scored thirteen goals on his way to a forty six point season. Respectable numbers, but not top line numbers.  Not franchise numbers.  Definitely not numbers that justify a trade of that magnitude in a league where offensively gifted defensemen are given a blank cheque come free agency.

Who won this trade? The jury is still out, but it’s not looking good for Montreal.


Shea Weber celebrates his goal with teammate Jonathan Drouin. Photo Credit: The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz

In case you weren’t paying attention, Bergevin made another “one for one” trade this summer when he sent Alex Galchenyuk to Arizona for Max Domi. It was the third straight summer trade that left hockey fans and media alike scratching their heads, wondering “Was that really necessary?”

The Habs spent several years refusing to play Galchenyuk at centre. That’s all he wanted. That’s all the fans wanted. But the team refused.  Sure, he got a chance here and there, but there was some strange yet fascinating mystery behind why he was relegated to the wing. Claims of “not being responsible enough on the ice to be a centre” were regularly mentioned.  This seemed like a passable reason, yet immediately after the trade in July, the Coyotes announced Galchenyuk would be getting that time at centre he’d always wanted. It’s also worth mentioning that Alex Galchenyuk and PK Subban were good friends during their time in Montreal, and still are to this day. Maybe just like Subban, Galchenyuk’s personality didn’t mesh well with that Habs’ leadership core?


PK Subban and Alex Galchenyuk while still members of the Montreal Canadiens – Photo credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Just a thought.

Max Domi is another curious case. He became a household name in 2015 when he played for Team Canada in the 2015 World Juniors (the Connor McDavid World Juniors in Toronto). He was outstanding, and was named the tournament’s best forward after winning the gold. He still has some of that positive junior hockey buzz around his name. When we think Max Domi, we think about the outstanding dynamic forward in the world juniors, rather than the Max Domi who scored nine goals the past two seasons with Arizona. Max Domi who scored nine goals last season and four of them were empty net goals. Max Domi, a winger who was traded for a former thirty goal scoring centre. Yeah. That doesn’t add up one bit.

Max Pacioretty was a key piece of this Habs team and their leadership core. All of these trades were catered for Patches just as much as anyone else on the Canadiens roster. Despite all of this, what wound up happening? He asked for a trade, twice, and left town for greener pastures, Golden Knights, and lighter tax regulations. Sure, you can question his loyalty. But can you blame him for leaving?

Listen. I love the old school approach to hockey, but you can’t be that close minded anymore. Not in life and not in hockey. You can’t keep making these ‘change of scenery’ trades anymore for Montreal. You can’t keep making trades for players that you think will mesh with your straight and narrow core. Instead of wondering “Will Carey Price and Shea Weber like playing with this player?” maybe ask “Will this player help the team score more goals and help us win more games?”. If you stop focusing on the first, you might have a more successful hockey team on the ice, Marc Bergevin.

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