The Montreal Canadiens have just shy of $8.5 million in available cap space as the 2017-18 NHL campaign nears, with all of that money burning a hole in the proverbial pockets of fans and media alike.
The franchise’s extra potential spending power became woven into a conversation with hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun Tuesday morning on Vancouver’s TSN 1040, in the midst of a discussion on whether or not the Canadiens were truly prepared to enter the season with newly-acquired Jonathan Drouin as the team’s No. 1 center.
General manager Marc Bergevin had made it clear the day prior at the Canadiens’ golf tournament that Drouin would open training camp down the middle, while Alex Galchenyuk would be a winger.
“I also think, and remember – keep this in the back of your mind guys – the Montreal Canadiens have some cap room and some unfinished business, I think, in terms of what they really want this roster to look like entering the playoffs,” said LeBrun following several minutes of Drouin-based dialogue. “We know they lost Radulov. And I can tell you I think that was one of the hardest things, most frustrating things, that’s happened to Marc Bergevin since he became GM in Montreal. He really, I think, thought he was going to get him back. To have offered him as much money as Dallas and still lose him – I think that was really frustrating for Marc Bergevin. Not just because he liked the player, but also because it’s a gaping hole again. Adding Drouin on top of Radulov sounds a lot better than just adding Drouin and losing Radulov.
“So the Canadiens, who could not score goals, really, against the Rangers in the opening round, I think still have some offensive deficiencies. But they also have salary cap room because they weren’t able to bring back Markov and Radulov. The silver lining is they have a currency that most contenders don’t have entering the year, and that’s a ton of cap room.
“So watch out. I think that’s something that Marc Bergevin will try to use at his disposal between now and the trade deadline.”
Not missing a beat, the subject of John Tavares was immediately brought up to LeBrun on 1040’s Halford & Brough.
Tavares, who is entering the final season of his six-year, $33 million contract, has been eligible to sign a contract extension with the New York Islanders since July 1.
The Islanders’ captain and franchise center, incidentally, does hold a modified no-trade clause/no-move clause.
The point was simply made that it’s hard not to connect the dots between Tavares and the Canadiens since few potentially contending teams have that sort of available capital, and there’s perhaps not a team that could use a front-line center more than Montreal.
“Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t know why I hope/feel that Tavares ends up re-signing,” said LeBrun. “Just like I was always on record for I guess the 18 months of Stamkos speculation that we had before he finally stayed put at the eleventh hour in Tampa – I just never thought he’d leave Tampa. In that case I was right.
“I don’t know why I feel that’s what Tavares really, really wants, but I guess he’s waiting for the ultimate backing in his decision to do it with the Islanders. But he hasn’t, right? I mean, as of now it’s a story because he has not signed an extension. And no question, boy, could the Montreal Canadiens use John Tavares.
“And listen, if you’re going to do the conspiracy theory on it, Marc Bergevin also has a very close relationship with Pat Brisson, who – oh – is the agent for John Tavares. Then again, Pat Brisson is also the agent for Matt Duchene, who I think is looking for a change of scenery and would also, frankly, I think, be a terrific fit in Montreal.
“At the end of the day, regardless of who it ends up being, I really do think that the Canadiens are going to be aggressive on that end over the next few weeks and months .
“I know that in his sit-down with Bob McKenzie, Marc Bergevin tried to downplay the window, and it was an excellent question by Bobby Mac – but I’m here to tell you that it is now. I mean, Shea Weber is 32, Carey Price is 30, Max Pacioretty is 28. And yeah, they do have some youth for sure. But for me, the moment you traded P.K. Subban away, you announced that your time was now in terms of getting the older Shea Weber – who, by the way, had a great year last year for Montreal.
“But losing in the first round doesn’t cut it when your window is now. So I think the Canadiens are a contender, and I think that they’re going to go out and use that cap room and try to upgrade their offense again before the trade deadline.”
While meeting with the media on Monday, Bergevin was asked about that cap space.
“It’s a nice asset to have moving forward,” said Bergevin. “Always looking to make the team better, but at this point there’s not much available, so we’ll just keep the cap space.”
The GM said it was “too early to tell” how likely it was that there would be a move made, and that he was comfortable going into the season with what he has now.
LeBrun brought up how Matt Duchene would be a terrific fit with the Canadiens, which is true, but it’s also generally thought that with Bergevin having dealt Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Drouin deal that the GM’s best and most likely chip to land Duchene is now gone. Joe Sakic is believed to be seeking a top young defenseman as the centerpiece of any Duchene trade.
So Bergevin has the space to do something, but the right opportunity has yet to present itself.
Every general manager will tell you that they want to continue to improve their team, but just how burning is that desire with him?
It’s worth revisiting a comment that Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman made near the end of July.
“I get the impression that you’ve got Marc Bergevin sitting here with a lot of cap space and I think he’s sitting on something, or some ideas,” Friedman noted on July 27. “And I’m not necessarily saying that he’s going to do something big, but I think he’s dreaming big.
“You talked about the trade earlier this year – the Sergachev-for-Drouin deal – I don’t think that trade happens if they aren’t trying to do something after what was a nightmare year for them last year to change the impression of the organization in the province.”
This train of thought is consistent with comments that Friedman has made about Bergevin in the past, including several weeks before the trade deadline last season.
“I think if you’re looking at it and saying, ‘There’s a team with the possibility of doing something big,’ they’re very high on that list,” Friedman said in February. “I mean, it’s always possible they could do nothing or tinker, but I do think there’s some GMs and they’re at the plate right now. They’ve got their Babe Ruth ‘Black Betsy’ and they’re taking a big swing at the wall. That’s what Marc Bergevin is doing right now. He’s let it be known that if there’s something out there that’s big he’s willing to listen.
“First of all, Bergevin is one of the GMs a lot of people will tell you he’s always in the middle of everything. When I first started in the business and I did a lot of baseball, the other baseball GMs would say that Gord Ash was one of the guys who was always on the phone, always saying, ‘What are you up to. What can we do. I’m ready to be a part of it.’
“Bergevin has the same reputation. He’s always making the call. He’s always like, ‘What are you thinking. Would you do this guy. I’m ready to be part of that.’ “
Again, take Friedman’s comments in the context of when they were said – but they do go to displaying the type of mindset that he believes this general manager to have.
There could be some particularly interesting months of speculation ahead for Canadiens fans.