But there are reasons for concern as Habs head into home stretch of schedule hoping to earn a playoff spot.
NEWARK, N.J. — Marc Bergevin believes he’s on the right track when it comes to turning the Canadiens into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
That’s why the GM didn’t make any major moves Monday on NHL trade-deadline day. But how far away is this team from competing for that elusive 25th Stanley Cup?
“I don’t know how soon,” Bergevin said when he met with the media Monday afternoon at the Prudential Center before watching the Canadiens lose 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils. “It all depends. All the guys we drafted the last few years, they’re not all going to play. Some will play for sure, some might not play. Some might be moved at some point to get other assets. I don’t know. What I believe right now, we had a different group in the past. We went to the conference final in ’14 and it didn’t work out. Then, two years ago we won our division and lost in the first round. So we made some changes because we reset, we traded some players away, we got some younger players and now we’re going in another direction.”
Bergevin is hoping that direction leads this season to the playoffs, where he likes to say: “Anything can happen.” The GM repeated that mantra on Monday.
“I believe if you get in … you get in,” Bergevin said. “You run a hot goaltender, you get the breaks, you get the matchup … anything’s possible. You could look back at teams like, I think, L.A. The first Cup they won they barely made the playoffs. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen. Teams finish first overall, they’re out first round. Anything is possible, but right now the price to pay (on trade-deadline day) to make our team significantly better was way too expensive.”
The Kings did indeed barely make the playoffs in 2012, going 12-4-3 in their final 19 games to clinch the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference in game No. 81 of the 82-game season before going on to win the Stanley Cup. The Canadiens look like they could be in a fight right down to the final game this season when it comes to making the playoffs.
“I’m confident they have what it takes the way they’ve been playing the first, you know, 60-something games that they have what it takes to make the playoffs,” Bergevin said. “Now, I don’t know if they will … I hope they do. I like the group. I like the way they stick together, they believe in each other. Yeah, I believe they can make the playoffs.”
There are reasons to believe that might not happen — starting with a power play that ranked 30th in the NHL heading into Tuesday’s game with a 12.7 per cent success rate. Captain Shea Weber has also been struggling recently along with defence partner Victor Mete. They were on the ice for both Devils goals Monday night and also struggled in Saturday’s 6-3 loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto. Weber had a minus-6 rating in his last eight games before facing the Red Wings, while Mete was minus-7 over the same span.
Weber, 33, has looked very slow in recent games and has seven more seasons remaining on his 14-year, US$110-million contract with a $7.857 million salary-cap hit. That has to be a concern looking forward to when the Canadiens might become Stanley Cup contenders. If Weber has been playing injured, Julien wouldn’t confirm it after Monday’s game.
On the bright side, Bergevin still has $8.633 million in projected salary-cap space, according to CapFriendly.com, he can spend this summer on the free-agent market if he so chooses.
“I think if you look back a year ago, if we go on the market I think it’s more appealing for a player (now) to say: ‘You know what? They got KK (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) now. They got a guy that’s upcoming, a really good centreman. I might want to play with him,’ ” Bergevin said. “So that might be an option that we have now that we didn’t have a year ago.”
The moves Bergevin made last summer, bringing in Max Domi and Tomas Tatar, definitely paid off.
“I’m really happy with the way these guys have turned out,” Bergevin said. “I think Tuna’s (Tatar’s) a great addition to our team. He brings energy, he’s fun, he loves going to the rink every day, scoring goals. You could see he’s got energy. Max is Max. He’s producing and you see how he plays … his (fuse) is about this long, but that’s how he is and you got to work with that. But also, you don’t want to take that away from him because that’s what makes him who he is. He brought a different look to our team and I really like it.”
Bergevin is hoping it’s enough to get the Canadiens into the playoffs this season. After that, we’ll see what happens.