ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA — Professional athletes, who believe in themselves, can often achieve things that seem beyond their abilities. Confidence plays a big part in that. But confidence can be a fragile and fleeting always needing to be fed.
The Canadiens have a solid core of young players, all with high degrees of talent. Many have that confidence and some even an abrasive attitude. Players such as Brendan Gallagher and Max Domi come to mind, and the fans love them for it. But is it enough to build a team on?
Prior to this second chance to build the Canadiens, Marc Bergevin‘s tenure was spent patching players in to support Carey Price, P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty. Sometimes it was a skilled player such as Tomas Vanek, more often it was a depth move like Steve Ott.
I contend that Bergevin didn’t have the assets to make a large deal to support a talented young core. At the end of that period, it didn’t matter as the plan fizzled due to injuries and lack of depth.
The 2017-’18 season was a season to forget. Most surprisingly, it did not lead to a wholesale change in management, though it seemed to lead to a shift in direction. There was a shift away a patch/piecemeal approach to player acquisitions that resulted in just treading water.
Since that season, it looks as though Bergevin finally has a legitimate plan. It is a plan that involves building by the draft and acquiring young players.
His first decision was to acquire Domi. Bergevin has tried to make trades for players with a good attitude. Domi has a desire to succeed that has allowed him to mostly thrive in the Montreal spotlight and become a fan favorite.
At the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in Dallas, Bergevin selected Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He was the best center available that year and the Habs were in desperate for help in the middle. It’s possible even that Kotkaniemi has the same desire to succeed as Domi.
The Canadiens lineup does not have a marquee offensive player. Their strength is in balanced scoring, rolling four lines to get production from waves of speedy players. That’s where attitude comes in.
A team lacking top offensive talent has found a way, using hard work and a belief in their skills, to become bigger than the sum of their parts. I am not saying the team is overachieving, quite the opposite. This is a team that has found ways to win games.
The true test of Bergevin’s plan will be the prospects. As touted as the prospect pool is, it has yet to make a full impact on the NHL roster. That said, fans understand that there are difficult decision ahead.
Thanks to Trevor Timmins and his drafting talent, and some shrewd trades by Bergevin, the Canadiens now have center depth. Phillip Danault, Domi, Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, and Ryan Poehling are talented centers with top six potential between the ages of 19 and 26. All have been acquired in the past three-and-a-half years.
The depth at defence in the system is still developing, but again, thanks to Timmins, the Canadiens have top-four talent on it’s way.
Bergevin recognizing his own limitations meant delegating tasks to those better suited. The general manager can then focus on immediate needs so that Timmins can provide the Canadiens with a multitude of assets that can be traded or developed. In a short time, the Canadiens have come from a disorganized looking franchise into one with a plan and a path.
The intangibles of leadership brought by Shea Weber and the maturation of Brendan Gallagher have started to bear fruit as players buy into a team mentality. Even a player like Jonathan Drouin, who has had attitude issues in the past, may have begun to mature taking on the qualities desired by management.
While the future seems bright, now is the true test of the plan and Bergevin’s managerial talents. Bergevin must balance the salary cap with signing his core group, ensuring he has flexibility to add players through trades while relying on the prospect pipeline fed by Timmins to keep adding quality youth.
While fans enjoy a resurgent Canadiens team who are relevant again thanks to shrewd decisions and a little luck with the health of the team, these next few months will decide the fate of the new plan. As Bergevin builds his team with players who embrace an attitude and hard work, he must continue to rely on his key staff be it drafting, negotiations or cap matters.
If Bergevin continues to do this, fans can expect a long period of relevance and possibly even a real chance of watching their heroes compete for the ultimate prize someday in the not too distant future.
By Blain Potvin, Staff Writer. Edited by Cate Racher.
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