If there is one single person to credit for the Canadiens season so far it is Marc Bergevin. Marc has done a remarkable job in his tenure. Clearing cap space by any means necessary, trading deadweight contracts and by collecting a huge stockpile of prospects via the 2012 NHL entry draft are the immediate trademarks of the Bergevin era. Marc brought pride back to Montreal, he even went as far as not allowing his players and coaches to step on the Habs precious logo. But on March 15th; over 10 months into his tenure as GM, Bergevin finally made his first mistake, and it was a big one.
Early this morning, Bergevin and the rest of his management team agreed to terms with David Desharnais on a new contract worth $14 million over 4 years. By signing the francophone pivot to this deal, the Canadiens are now committed to $55.9 million for next season, so you can kiss your pipe dreams of Corey Perry goodbye. Even with Tomas Kaberle bought out at seasons end, the Habs need to fill the roster with their leftover money.
This deal cripples the Canadiens down the middle for years and years. I’m sure you have heard of the ripple affect, and that is exactly what this deal does to the Habs.
Montreal already has the centre position locked down for the future, so this signing of Desharnais is the worst thing that could have happened. Tomas Plekanec is locked up until 2016, Lars Eller is signed until next summer and Alex Galchenyuk is on the first year of his entry level contract. The Canadiens also have a huge number of centre prospects with White, Dumont, Bournival, Pribyl and Vail. Call me an idiot, but how the heck does David fit into this team next year, let alone for 4 more years?
This deal severely cripples the Canadiens for cap space and flexibility. The thought of adding a Corey Perry, Ryane Clowe, David Clarkson or Chris Stewart is now almost impossible. The Habs currently are only committed to 18 players on the active roster next season. One can argue that some of the Bulldogs will graduate to the NHL next year to fill the void, but that argument is ridiculous. The money gift wrapped for Desharnais is the money Bergevin was supposed to spend on a big name free agent. This deal screams a message to the rest of the NHL: “we are a small team, and a small team we will stay”.
David is one of only 3 Habs forwards with a negative plus/minus rating of minus- 2 (Moen and Armstrong are the other two). A “top” centre is expected to produce points, win key faceoffs and play well defensively, Desharnais has been producing, but his defensive game and faceoff skills are in desperate need of improvement. Could the small centre be better used on the wing? Gionta and Gallagher are effective short wingers, I believe David’s skill set is better suited for the wing.
Lars Eller has been a man on a mission since being scratched by Therrien after the first game of the season. Eller has been given less ice time, lesser skilled forwards, less power play time and lesser faceoffs, and even in a smaller, limited role, but Eller has been the far better player compared to David. Desharnais currently has one more point than Eller in two more games played, so don’t count on Eller being behind David for too much longer.
Alex Galchenyuk has been snubbed of playing his natural centre position because of the overuse of Desharnais at centre. Alex does not have a better faceoff percentage than David, but his plus-8 rating is 10 better than David’s minus-2. Galchenyuk has been sheltered by Therrien by only giving his young star about 12 minutes per game. Now Galchenyuk is a rookie yes, but to simply give the reigns to Desharnais ahead of Alex, or Lars Eller for that matter is wrong.
Desharnais simply put, cannot play defense. Last time I played hockey, the number one responsibility I had as a centreman was backchecking and playing good defense. Some players are better at that job than others, but when both of your wingers beat you on the backcheck, there is a problem. Numerous times this season, Desharnais has been caught, while the opposition has gone down in transition and scored. A minus- 2 rating on a plus- 19 team calls for a significant change. David cannot be the centre of the future for the Habs with his poor defensive game. “No Excuses” is the slogan for the Canadiens this year, and it seems as though Desharnais has no excuse for how bad his defensive game has been. How many times can Therrien “forgive” David for poor effort on the defensive side of the puck? I believe David’s leash is far too long.
It’s a shame that there is still “racism” in the Habs locker room. What I mean by that is this, Desharnais is the only francophone centre for the Canadiens, and ever since the scratching of Lars Eller, Therrien has proven many times that he will not punish David no matter how poor his play has been.
David is a talented player with some slick hands. His passes and shootout moves are highly skillful. He also had a breakout year last year with the Habs, scoring 60 points with a plus- 10 rating. His numbers last year were exceptional considering where the Canadiens placed in the standings, but was David the one running the offense, or was he perhaps blessed with good line mates? Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole both had career years last year, and both outscored David. I would say Desharnais was just the benefit of good linemates rather than he benefiting Cole and Pacioretty.
We can all nickle and dime the season last year, as I’m sure we all have our own personal opinions, but fact is, last year was last year, and this year is a new one. Max Pacioretty has again found himself leading the Canadiens in scoring (Ryder leads the team with 23 points but has only 9 in a Habs uniform), Erik Cole got shipped to Dallas, and David has found himself producing at a lower rate than last year. It seems as though Desharnais had a good year last year but does not seem poised to repeat his success. Tomas Plekanec has had a terrific year so far, so has Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk. If Lars and Alex continue to improve and come back even stronger next year like we all know they will, how the heck does Desharnais fit in the Canadiens depth chart? In my opinion, he has no place on this team next year.
As I said, we can all argue over the logistics of this deal and whether or not it is a good or bad signing by Marc Bergevin, but in my opinion, this is clearly step in the wrong direction.