Smart, passionate and somewhat biased commentary about the Montreal Canadiens (HABS) from a lifelong fan now living in Toronto (LeafLand).
Oct
31
2015

The Master of Low-Key Signings

Low-key signing forward Dale Weise scores one of his three goals to carry the Canadiens to a 6-2 win last night in Calgary. Weise is a shining example of GM Marc Bergevin's under the radar signings. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Low-key signing forward Dale Weise scores one of his three goals to carry the Canadiens to a 6-2 win last night in Calgary. Weise is a shining example of GM Marc Bergevin’s under the radar signings. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Hockey fans like when their team makes a big splash in terms of a big free agent signing or blockbuster trade.

Since Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has been in charge, the only splash he makes is when he puts on his cologne.

It’s pretty much common knowledge now that if the team was to take the next step towards becoming a true cup contender this year, they had to make last year’s offensive woes a thing of the past. Many expected Bergevin to make a big move over the summer, perhaps dealing Tomas Plekanec or another pivot to get that coveted centerman who can put the puck in the net.

Didn’t happen.

What did happen was Bergevin stayed true to himself and his strategy of building a winner based on character and hard work. And he’s willing to take some low-risk gambles without sacrificing his core or his prospects.

THE MASTER OF LOW-KEY SIGNINGS

Bergevin’s moves tend to fly under the radar with who-da-f@#! pickups instead of going after big-splashy players like an Eric Staal, who you know HFILL has coveted for years now. This summer Bergevin signed Semin, re-upped on his trade deadline signings of Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn, then invited Tomas Fleischmann to camp on a PTO. He shipped the oft-injured but popular Brandon Prust out of town for troubled but potential big upside forward Zach Kassian.

Over the past few seasons, Bergevin has moved swiftly when he sees the opportunity to strike. He’s like the guy in the shadows, waiting, waiting, waiting for the opportunity to strike when nobody expects it. First it was the signing of Dale Weise. It would be safe to say that nobody heard of the rough and tumble forward, who had worn out his welcome with John Tortorella in Vancouver. He’s welcomed in Montreal, and makes the best of his opportunity. Character, grit and determination are the hallmarks of his game, and he was key in the big win over the Boston Bruins in the playoffs two seasons ago, getting under the skin of that ape Milan Lucic and just being an all-around pest — which is what you want in the playoffs.

He signed d-man Tom Gilbert; another “never heard of the him” player. He might not be a top-four defenceman ,but now that the Canadiens have Jeff Petry locked in, Gilbert has assumed a more appropriate role on the third pairing. And let’s be honest, the guy is solid and makes good first passes.

BERGEVIN’S MOVES CRITICIZED

Last year in a surprise move, Bergevin traded Jiri Sekac to the Anaheim Ducks for another character depth player Devante Smith-Pelly. The GM was roasted over the deal — critics saying the Habs weren’t patient enough with Sekac, that he has all the potential to be consistent goal scorer, something the Canadiens so desperately need. But did Sekac possess the character? Smith-Pelly came to the Canadiens a bit on the slow side, but he worked hard over the offseason and now his hard work is starting to pay off as he’s seemingly found his role on the team’s fourth line.

Then at the deadline, Bergevin takes two grinder forwards away from the lowly Buffalo Sabres, Mitchell and Flynn. Both were good in last year’s playoffs. Both have seized the opportunity allotted them. Both have had impact this year. And especially Mitchell.

Smith-Pelly skates off after scoring against the Flames, followed by Mitchell, Paul Byron and Tom Gilbert. All were low-key signings by Habs GM Marc Bergevin and are giving the Canadiens the depth they need to go to the next level as a team. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

Smith-Pelly skates off after scoring against the Flames, followed by Mitchell, Paul Byron and Tom Gilbert. All were low-key signings by Habs GM Marc Bergevin and are giving the Canadiens the depth they need to go to the next level as a team. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

Last year he had 6 goals. He already has five tallies this year. His career high is 10!! Even if he slows up, which he will, he still gives the Canadiens that “I’m gonna score if I get the chance” punch from the fourth line, a la Bob Gainey in his prime.

Then this year, besides Fleischmann, after the whole Kassian thing, Bergevin picks up Calgary Flames reject Paul Byron. Byron plays a Gallagher-type game with speed. He might not have the same talent, but the effort is there. And he was rewarded last night in the Canadiens’     6-2 win in Calgary last night, by getting the nod on the Canadiens penalty-killing unit, and scoring a nice shorthanded goal.

Kassian unfortunately may never skate with the Canadiens again. Semin? Well, if he’s not producing on a regular basis there’s probably not much room for him in the Canadiens lineup. Especially if Byron continues to contribute and show the kind of character that both Therrien and Bergevin covet. But he’s still a dangerous player and the season is long. So see him as an insurance policy.

A low-key insurance policy? Maybe not. But no doubt, Marc Bergevin’s low-key signings are providing big splash contributions to the Canadiens’ league-leading start to the 2015-16 season. We’ll see what else he has up his sleeve as the season continues.

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