It’s not that Marc Bergevin doesn’t win trades. It’s that he doesn’t know how to build a team.
Winning trades doesn’t get you to the playoffs. Building a team gets you to the playoffs. Make it four seasons in the last five that Montreal Canadiens will miss the post-season. Bergevin has had only two playoff wins in his last five years at the helm. He’s finished eight seasons as the Habs’ GM.
But hey, he got a second-round draft pick for Marco Scandella when he only invested a fourth. He got a third-rounder for Ilya Kovalchuk when no one else wanted him. He got a fifth-round pick for Nate Thompson. And he got a fourth for Nick Cousins. Maybe, Trevor Timmins can get Connor McDavid with one of those picks.
Prices are too high when he is a buyer. Prices are too low when he is a seller.
Marc Bergevin seems to win the hour, but never the day. He makes us all assess him for individual work, but not assess the overall body of that work.
It’s easy to remember the reaction to Mikael Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin when it happened three years ago. There was excitement in the air that such a terrific talent like Drouin was coming to town. But here’s the thing: he traded a left defenceman away and he’s still looking for a replacement. You can’t try to win a trade and then lose as a hockey team because you have to, without Sergachev, bring in an aging Mark Streit, an injury-prone David Schlemko, a couple of Czech hopefuls and a partridge in a pear tree.
You are going to need a strong player at left defence to be a hockey team.
Another example is Lars Eller. Again, in the moment, the reaction was that it was not a bad trade for Bergevin. Nothing to get too upset over. Eller wasn’t that popular in town, and he was traded for two second-round draft choices. Not too much consternation, except that Bergevin didn’t have a centre to replace him. He did fine in the trade, but he forgot that he needs to build a team.
The half-measure to make up for the Sergachev trade was a roulette wheel of incapable left side defenders.
The half-measure for the Eller deal was to transform Drouin, who was a winger, to centre. That produced the fourth-worst record in the NHL that year. That’s not solely on Drouin, of course. When trading away Eller, Bergevin also neglected to notice that Tomas Plekanec was losing the battle to age.
An NHL team is built through the middle. It’s not wise to trade away a potential first-pairing defender for a winger. It’s not wise to make a winger play centre. It’s not wise to trade away a centre without a replacement for him. It’s not wise to trade away a potential first pair defender without a replacement for him.
But hey, he wins a lot of trades.
This brings us to this moment. The trade deadline has passed and he has not traded Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry. They are assets under contract only until the end of next season; then they are free to go anywhere they choose. Again, he didn’t choose to build a team. He could have had two first-round draft choices and two top prospects who could become the elite players of tomorrow. They would have been seven-year assets. They could have been the future.
Instead, he makes his worst trade yet: he chooses to trade in 2022 to 2029 for one season of trying to make the playoffs with Tatar and Petry. He made a trade of seven years for one year.
And what about that one year next season?
Even if they make the playoffs, next season — is that the definition of success now? Does everyone say that it was wise to have kept Petry and Tatar because they made the playoffs? Is that the bottom line?
Well done, Habs. You did it. You made the playoffs.
They’re not winning the Stanley Cup next year. The cup is the goal. Towards that goal, four elite assets acquired today is how to get closer to that promised land. Not one more season of Petry and Tatar, so you can perhaps make the playoffs.
If you want to argue they could sign these players, then sure, do that. Sign them after their contracts finish, if they are loved so much. They are unrestricted free agents. Go get them, if they want to come back.
It’s also being argued that they could be traded next season, but they won’t fetch the same return. Potentially 142 games of Tatar does not fetch the same return as potentially 40 games of Tatar. This is the most apologetic argument that one can possibly make.
Imagine a scenario as well that the Canadiens keep Tatar and Petry at next season’s deadline because they are close to a playoff spot, but they fail to attain it, and now the players leave for no return at all. Madness.
Marc Bergevin has had eight years. He has won two playoff games in the last five years.
He just missed a chance for greatness with four first-round assets that would be the elite players of tomorrow for two aging players in their 30s.
The next time Bergevin wins a trade, he will be lauded as savvy while the search for a left side top-tier defender continues, while the search for elite scoring talent continues. The elite talent was right there today. It was right at his fingertips; instead, he chose a chance to make the playoffs next season with the same team as this year that had two eight-game losing skids and lost four times to Detroit. He chose a chance to squeak into the playoffs next year, instead of a chance to own the playoffs for the following decade.
Year nine of his tenure will start in October. Hope will spring eternal. Fans will be excited as they push for the playoffs, if they stay healthy. Horns will be honking if they actually make them, but there is only one parade. He had a huge chance today to travel on that road to a glorious party on Sainte Catherine one spring; instead, he took a left on Montagne, because he just does not know how to work in straight lines.