Smart, passionate and somewhat biased commentary about the Montreal Canadiens (HABS) from a lifelong fan now living in Toronto (LeafLand).

Habs at the Trade Deadline: What’s Next?

Carey Price will win some hardware this year, but for him to win the only hardware that counts, GM Bergevin still has some work to do.

Carey Price will win some hardware this year, but for him to win the only hardware that counts, GM Bergevin still has some work to do.

48 hours to the NHL’s 2015 trade deadline. What earth shattering deals will occur if any, and will the Habs be a part of the fun?

Last year, GM Marc Bergevin pulled one of the deftest moves right at the buzzer scoring Thomas Vanek. Nobody saw that coming. While Vanek wasn’t much set in staying in Montreal, he did help the team down the stretch and provided — in theory at least — the Habs with another dangerous offensive threat whose name doesn’t rhyme with spaghetti.

After last night’s 4-0 win over the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens sit second in the league with 87 points, two behind Nashville but with a game in hand. After a truly remarkable run, Carey Price is either 1st or tied for 1st in all major goaltending stats, and is primed to win his first real NHL hardware this summer, whether it’s the Hart or Vezina. But what do the Canadiens need in order to bypass those trophies and go for the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup instead?

I’m of the mind the Canadiens really are that one or two players away from making a real and serious run for it this year. This ain’t no joke anymore. This is da real deal. Sure in 2010, the Canadiens over-excelled to find themselves two wins away from the final. Last year, the team also was within two wins of the final, this time without its All-Star goalie after he went down injured in Kreider-gate. Habs haters and pundits around the league could all have said the Canadiens got lucky, that they didn’t deserve to be there. Sure sure.

But this year, pretty much everyone has to admit the 2015 Montreal Canadiens are a top team in the league, and no matter if they ride their superstar goalie a bit too much, he’s up for it, and the team is a serious contender to emerge from the Eastern Conference and challenge for the cup. The fact is, this team has depth. And Bergevin has been slowly prepping his roster for some sort of move. Louis Leblanc was shipped off in the summer. He then got rid of some dead weight in Rene Bourque earlier this season then picked up veteran d-man Sergei Gonchar for Travis Moen. Apparently Emelin was in play but now with his injury, he’ll remain a Hab until the summer at least. Eller is also on the block but to get someone back in return who can help the team now is probably an impossibility. He’ll go for some draft picks in the summer. The emergence of a confident Nathan Beaulieu couldn’t have come at a better time and just makes the Canadiens that much harder to play against. Jacob de la Rose has shown he’s also ready for prime time with his smart hockey sense and size. And P.K. Subban found his mojo, using that All-Star snub as motivation to just show ‘em all who’s the boss.

The Canadiens as a franchise know what it takes to win a cup. Yeah, you need the Guy Lafleurs to score the big goals and yeah, we hope that Max Pacioretty can be that guy. He’s certainly taken his game to the next level this year, playing in all situations and doing what it takes at both ends of the ice. You need an extraordinary goalie: Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Carey Price. Check. You need tough defense to play against. Subban / Markov isn’t exactly Robinson and Savard, but it’s not bad. Add the supporting characters in Gonchar, Beaulieu, Gilbert and maybe even Pateryn and Tinordi or Weaver? Emelin comes back from injury and he’ll be good to go. Not bad, not bad.

Habs have improved each year under Michel Therrien. How do you knock that? (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

Habs have improved each year under Michel Therrien. How do you knock that? (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

But we all know it takes those gritty players to win. Those Clark Gillies types. The Bob Gaineys, Doug Riseboroughs, Mike McPhees. Sure Guy Lafleur tied the game up late in game 7 against the Bruins in the ’79 semis but it was Yvon Lambert who tallied in overtime, off a pass by Mario Tremblay. And so Bergevin has been stocking up on those guys: Weise, Prust, Gallagher, and Malhotra for faceoffs. We even have Christian Thomas in the AHL. And don’t forget about Sven Andrighetto — you just never know.

Of course, the naysayers out there, the Therrien dislikers, will find reason somewhere or somehow that it’s because of him the Habs came up short this year, if they do come up short. And if they win the top prize, they’ll find reason that it was Therrien’s fault they didn’t win at home, or in a sweep. I dunno. I find this chorus unfair and actually, kind of pathetic. In the almost three seasons under Therrien, the Habs have steadily improved each and every season. The team is tops in their conference and have been for most of the season. Sure there’s room for improvement, and that’s what’s actually exciting about the Canadiens right now. They can get better. And Bergevin is working hard to try to get them better before the deadline.

Devante Smith-Pelly brings the kind of character to the Habs that Bergevin likes.

Devante Smith-Pelly brings the kind of character to the Habs that Bergevin likes.

I too was a bit surprised by the Sekac / Smith-Pelly swap and it took a bit of time to sink in but in retrospect, it makes sense. And of course that deal was just another excuse for the anti-Therriens to sound off on their familiar refrain saying the coach ruins young talent, how he wasted Jiri Sekac by not playing him enough in offensive situations and ultimately misused the seemingly-talented Czech.

But you can look at it another way. The better way. The Bergevin way. Maybe Sekac isn’t adapting to the NHL as well as the franchise would have liked? Maybe Bergevin is one to come to a decision and once he does, he acts instead of waiting too long until it becomes detrimental to the team. Maybe the Habs needed a heavy hitting, hard nosed win-puck-battles-Canadian-kinda guy in Smith-Pelly — someone who knows what it’s like to play in Canada, knows what it takes to win in the playoffs and someone who not only wants to win the cup but win the cup baaaad. If he’s made one thing sparkling clear, it’s that Bergevin likes character. And all we hear is how Smith-Pelly is like a bigger Gallagher. Yeah, that kind of character. Hard to knock the deal if DVP ends up a bigger Gallagher type of player.

But who is out there now who brings the character and offense? Antoine Vermette was the oft-rumoured French Canadian possibility, but now he’s a Blackhawk. And to be honest, he’s not exactly setting the world on fire this year. Jaromir Jagr might’ve been right, but the knock at this point is that he just doesn’t have the legs to keep pace with the Canadiens’ up-tempo game. Joffrey Lupul? He’s talented, but he’s also oft-injured and doesn’t have the character Bergevin covets. What ’bout Chris Stewart? Maybe. Rough and tumble but still with a bit of offensive touch. Could be, could be. And don’t be surprised if another defenseman comes Montreal’s way. “You can’t have too many defensemen,” says Bergevin.

As the Canadiens head out to California on a western swing, do not be surprised if they come back looking slightly different. This is a team that has the chance to win this year, and why not go for it!? There’s just so many seasons you can say that about a team in today’s NHL and the Habs shouldn’t take anything for granted. Let’s win now, then worry about next year.

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