Marc Bergevin doesn’t seem to fear big trades or going the extra mile to sign a free agent, and this summer hasn’t been any different. The 2017 offseason hasn’t been easy for any general manger due to the expansion draft. The fact that the salary cap is projected to remain close to last season’s 73 million dollars hasn’t made it any easier. Let’s evaluate how well Bergevin has done up to now.
Un Petit Gars de Chez-Nous for a Russian Brute
Alex Radulov only played one season in Montreal but he will be missed. A player with a lot of skill who proved he still cared about the NHL put up 18 goals, 36 assists and a differential of plus 10 in 76 games last season. This summer he decided to sign with the Dallas Stars for a cap hit of 6.25 million dollars, representing 8.56% of the upcoming season salary cap.
Jonathan Drouin is a Quebec born player which is important to a good portion of the Habs’ french-speaking fanbase. He played 3 seasons for Tampa Bay where he had an eventful if not tumultuous start to his NHL career, and was traded this summer to the Montreal Canadiens. A player with a lot of potential, he scored 21 goals, 32 assists and a differential of minus 13 in 73 games last season. Drouin has a cap hit of 5.5 million dollars representing 7.5% of the upcoming season salary cap.
Drouin, a left winger also capable of playing centre, is obviously younger then Radulov and has a smaller cap hit than the Russian right winger. They both scored around the same amount of points in a similar amount of games last season but Radulov had a way better +/- than the young sensation. Although it is worth noting that this +/- differential could very well be amplified by the fact that Radu’s Habs faired much better than Drouin’s Lightning did as a team last season. Drouin has a lot of upside and only time will tell if he will be able to handle the pressure in Montreal. It’s too bad Bergevin wasn’t able to convince Radulov to stay and play with the young star.
Alzner In, Emelin Out
Alexei Emelin, aged 31, spent 6 seasons playing for the Montreal Canadiens. Known for his big hits he scored 2 goals, had 8 assists and a differential of plus 1 in 76 games last season. This summer he was drafted by the Golden Knights during the expansion draft and later traded to Nashville. He would of had a $4.1 million cap hit for a total 5.62% of the upcoming salary cap.
Karl Alzner, aged 28, spent 9 seasons with the Washington Capitals. Alzner put up 3 goals, 10 assists and a differential of plus 23 in 82 games last season. He joined the Montreal Canadiens as a free agent this summer with a cap hit of $4.625 million for the upcoming season, representing 6.33% of the Habs 2017-2018 salary cap.
Both player are left-side defenders so in essence Alzner will be replacing Emelin. Montreal will be losing some physicality with the departure of Emelin but they will gain a better defender in Alzner. Emelin had a differential of plus 1 last season while Alzner’s was plus 23, granted he did play for the best regular season team of 2016-2017. Karl’s critics, mostly Caps fans, say he lost a lot of speed and mobility in the last few years but Emelin’s defensive play was beginning to get rather questionable. Only time will tell if he is worth the expenditure in the latter half of his contract, but a younger and defensively superior player should surely be able to help the Habs.
The Hemsky Experiment and Bye-Bye Flynn
Brian Flynn barely played 3 seasons with Montreal Canadiens where he mostly lined up as a center but also saw minutes on the wing. The 28 year old didn’t have the biggest impact playing with the Habs netting 6 goals, 4 assists and a differential of plus 2 in 51 games while spending plenty of time as a healthy scratch last season. The Canadiens chose to not make an attempt at re-signing him this summer where he would of most likely had a cap hit of about 700,000$, representing almost 1% of the estimated salary cap for the upcoming season.
Ales Hemsky, aged 33, is a right wing who spent 3 seasons with the Dallas Stars. He missed most of last season with a hip surgery scoring 4 goals, 3 assists and a differential of minus 1. He was signed this summer by the Montreal Canadiens to a contract with a cap hit of 1 million dollars, representing 1.37% of the estimated upcoming salary cap.
Although Hemsky’s best days are behind him he still has the potential to put up between 30 and 40 points in the upcoming season which is more then Flynn has ever done. His is just 2 years removed from a 39 point season after all. Although Montreal does lose a center, a rare commodity for the organization, adding Hemsky for only 300,000$ more than Flynn has much more upside potential for the Habs. In addition, the Habs had become a little thin on the right wing. If ever the Hemsky experiment doesn’t pan out Montreal will have the opportunity to absorb the cap hit through their AHL affiliate. This, mixed with the fact that it is only a 1-year deal, makes this a typical no-risk/possible reward move.
Schlemko Takes Beaulieu’s Spot
Nathan Beaulieu was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2011 NHL entry draft and played in Montreal for 5 seasons. The 24 year old had his best offensive season last year scoring 4 goals, 24 assists with a differential of plus 8 in 74 games. Nathan was traded to the Buffalo Sabres a few days before the expansion draft for a third round pick and has yet to sign with his new club, although he is a restricted free agent.
David Schlemko, aged 30, has played for several teams in his career and played last season in San Jose. He was acquired this summer by the Montreal Canadiens from the Las Vegas Golden Knights for a 5th round pick in 2019. So in a way, you could look at this culmination of moves as trading Beaulieu+ a 5th for Schlemko+ a 3rd. Last season with the Sharks Schlemko put up 2 goals, 16 assists and a differential of plus 4. He will have a cap hit of 2.1 million dollars next season representing 2.88% of the expected upcoming salary cap.
I might be biased on this one as I really enjoyed Beaulieu’s toughness and potential but this is a move that had to be done due to the expansion draft. Schlemko is older than Beaulieu and doesn’t have the same offensive potential as the young defender. They are both left handed defenders so in essence David is replacing him. The one big advantage for the Habs here is Schlemko’s 2.1 million dollar cap hit for the next three years make him a cheap blue liner. Let’s see if he can help the club.
All in all Bergevin seems to have done a good job navigating this tricky offseason. He was able to add some serious star power and upside in Jonathan Drouin, replace a struggling Emelin with a better defender in Alzner, as well as add some potential offence in Hemsky and plugging the hole left by Beaulieu with the defensively superior Schlemko. Also he was able to lock down the organization’s best player, Carey Price, until 2026 with an 8 year $84 million contract.
The Montreal Canadiens still have a little more then 9 million dollars in estimated cap space and, in my opinion, more work to do. The one big piece that is still not settled is the veteran defenseman Andre Markov, who is rumored to be asking for 6 million a year for two years. although it’s hard to believe any other teams are offering him that amount. Maybe not the best asking price for an already old defenseman, if the Canadiens decide to not sign him they will have some room left to either better their blue line or maybe find that missing 1st line centre we’ve been dreaming of for so long through a trade. That latter option may be a little too optimistic but a fan can only hope.