GM Bergevin confident Habs can still make playoffs; not yet ready to make moves

By Bill Beacon

The struggling Montreal Canadiens aren’t ready to give up on their season quite yet.

General manager Marc Bergevin said he’s still confident the Canadiens can have a big second half of the NHL season and make the playoffs. The Canadiens, who are 18-29-4 following a Sunday night victory against Vancouver, find themselves in the league’s bottom five at the mid-point of the season, with five teams to climb over to snag a playoff spot.

"As of now we haven’t thrown in the towel," said Bergevin. "We have a lot of work to do to get into the playoffs and for the next 41 games, we’ll evaluate the team closely and make the necessary decisions for the good of the organization in the short and long term.

"I believe it’s possible (to make the playoffs) but I also believe a lot of things have to change for us to do it. If we keep on the same pattern as the first half, it’s not going to be possible, but I believe."

Bergevin, who has taken much of the heat for the weak first half, called himself a fighter who expects his coaches and players also to fight to the end.

But if the team continues to struggle, he will look at making deals to help build the team for the future. He did not set any time frame for when that may happen.

There are five highly-rated prospects for the 2018 draft, led by Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin, but Bergevin said tanking as a tactic is too risky because, with the expanded draft lottery system, there is no guarantee of getting a top pick even for teams at the bottom, as was seen at the 2017 draft.

The Canadiens finished first in the Atlantic division last season with 103 points, but the off-season went badly. They lost veteran Alexander Radulov to free agency and defenceman Andrei Markov opted to play in the KHL, leaving Bergevin with US$8 million in cap space he has been unable to spend.

He also traded top prospect Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay for Jonathan Drouin, who has struggled to adapt to a new position at centre.

Bergevin said Drouin would be playing on the wing in an ideal world, but without a true No. 1 centre on the team, that’s where he’s been needed most.

He also signed free agent defenceman Karl Alzner, who he said had so far played below his own and the team’s expectations.

Markov, who felt he wasn’t shown respect in contract negotiations with Bergevin, would likely have signed if he had used an agent, the GM said. Negotiating for himself, the two sides were unable to agree on money or term.

The Canadiens opted to bring rookie defenceman Victor Mete back to the NHL club rather than return him to junior, where he would have been eligible to play for Canada at the Winter Olympics. Bergevin said Mete, who played 27 games for Montreal before being loaned to Canada’s gold medallist squad at the world junior championship, was NHL-ready. He is to rejoin the club Friday afternoon.