What We Learned: After Subban failure, Montreal GM passes test

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(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Before you go around heaping praise all over a GM for doing something that's seemingly part of the job description, you have to take note of how often such a simple thing such as “signing your young stars to reasonable deals” gets punted.

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Ask Marc Bergevin.

It's really not so long ago that he was heavily and rightly criticized for signing PK Subban to a silly bridge contract that ended with him getting paid $9 million against the cap for each of the next eight years. Yeah, that's market value, and yeah the Habs got two years of Norris-quality prime years for the low, low AAV of $2.875 million. But let's not forget they could have locked him in for the last two seasons plus three or four more for closer to $5.5 million and did not do so.

This was a foolish move that will probably cost the Habs some cap flexibility over the next few years, and this one, even if it did involve the Habs basically paying one of the best young players in the league $77.75 million for 10 years of service through his age-33 season. Pretty good value overall, but in the short term, when the cap is smaller, not so much.

But it seems safe to say that Bergevin's lesson is now good and learned, because he has since gone on a bit of a campaign to lock in his younger, more skilled (and thus potentially quite expensive) players at low cap hits over multiple years.

Subban's contract drama extended a little beyond the start of the most recent lockout-shortened season, and since then Bergevin has moved to lock down David Desharnais (March 15, 2013: four years, $3.5 million cap hit), Alexei Emelin (Oct. 31, 2014: four years, $4.1 million cap hit), Lars Eller (July 24, 2014: four years, $3.5 million cap hit), and now Brendan Gallagher (Saturday night: six years, $3.75 million cap hit) to something of a bridge-bridge contract. That is, a bridge between huge money for lots of years reserved for stars like Subban and Carey Price, and the short money and one or two years typically sought by teams trying to get cute with the cap.

With this kind of deal, the acrimony of the Subban “holdout” (which we know was not actually a holdout since he wasn't under contract) and of Ryan O'Reilly in Colorado the same year (mercifully ended by Jay Feaster's ill-advised offer sheet) and the similar and uglier situation in Columbus with Ryan Johansen this past year (which likewise ended in a bridge-bridge deal), can be altogether avoided. You know it's a good compromise because teams give up more money than they'd like up front, and players lose the chance to really cash in if they put up big numbers. It is, essentially, paying for potential and not past performance, the latter of which has been a scourge upon the league, and indeed all professional sports in North America, for decades.

Now, the other thing to keep in mind about Bergevin's burgeoning genius in cap management is that he's being given an awful lot of whacks at the piñata by his predecessors, who for all their faults drafted and traded extremely well (at least, for the most part; lest we forget much of the Rangers' current success is built on the Scott Gomez trade netting the Blueshirts Ryan McDonagh).

Bergevin has the ability to offer these young players such contracts because he is blessed with a team which has young players worthy of them, but which he largely has not built. He wasn't the one who traded for Eller, and he didn't draft Desharnais or Subban or Emelin or Gallagher or Price.

But charged as he is with stewardship of this team, one has to praise his approach.

Combined, this very nice, relatively young core of the Canadiens makes a relatively small amount of money against the cap — $34.85 million for an elite goaltender, a Norris-winning defenseman, a No. 3 D, and two-thirds of a top-six between Price, Subban, Emelin, Max Pacioretty, Desharnais, Eller, and Gallagher — that really gives the team a lot more flexibility than its biggest rivals in the East. The Bruins, for instance, are likely going to be in a state of perpetual cap crunch for the next few years at least, Pittsburgh likewise has no space against the ceiling, and Tampa's pretty squeezed as well.

Having less than $35 million committed to six players of such quality and in such key positions is exceedingly rare in this league, and the GMs who are able to finagle such situations are those that have a lot of success.

Los Angeles has a “core” of Kopitar, Gaborik, Richards, Williams, Doughty, Voynov, and Quick at around $37 million. Chicago has Kane, Toews, Hossa, Shaw, Seabrook, Keith, and Crawford at around the same price point. This is probably not any sort of coincidence. And it must be said that both those teams' situations are helped by pre-Luongo Rule contracts, which is not the case for Montreal.

That's not to say the Habs — or the Kings or Blackhawks — don't still carry some iffy contracts, of course; but the key to successful GMing is minimizing those bad deals, or at least buying yourself some wiggle room with good ones. Without having re-signed a few RFAs (most notably Alex Galchenyuk, who will almost certainly get a similar deal to Gallagher's, and perhaps just a little cheaper), Montreal has 15 guys under contract for next season and more than $11.5 million to spend. They'll move guys like Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi into more prominent roles on still-cheap second contracts, and off we go into a brave new world in which the Canadiens are probably sustainably good for some time to come.

Great? I don't know; they probably need a little more help on the back end. But the building blocks are there.

Coaches talk a lot about what they call, “Teachable moments,” in which players can make a dumb mistake and not pay too dearly for it. Maybe they concede a goal, maybe they even cough up a game, but they can learn from it. I think it's safe to say the Subban mess was just such a moment for Bergevin, and since then he's passed every test related to a young player with flying colors.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks tried to push a comeback in the third period, but it turns out you can't concede five to San Jose in the first 40 and expect to win.

Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes are seriously awful.

Boston Bruins: The Bruins are shuffling things around trying to make something work, and it seems putting Milan Lucic with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson has done the trick. For now.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres have won four of their last five games. All things are possible. Buy a lottery ticket.

Calgary Flames: Karri Ramo hasn't allowed a goal in more than 140 minutes but yeah the Flames just work harder than their opponents and definitely aren't really lucky almost every single night. (In this game against the Coyotes, though, they were indeed dominant.)

Carolina Hurricanes: Jordan Staal is getting closer to returning from injury but still hasn't started skating. And if they have a look at the standings, and what Eichel and McDavid are doing, they might not want to rush him.

Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks pretty much killed the Kings in their first rematch since the Western Conference Final.

Colorado Avalanche: Of all the embarrassing things that happened to Dallas on Saturday, this might be the worst. Low-angle goal by Danny Briere from a mile out? Yeesh.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets are officially last in the NHL. No one saw this coming.

Dallas Stars: What an awful game. Something is very wrong with this team. The Stars should be so much better.

Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings are scoring a lot of goals lately, as is their wont.

Edmonton Oilers: Ben Scrivens with the scoop of the century.

Florida Panthers: Bad team to trade middling forwards in December? You don't say!

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings haven't been great or anything even when he's been healthy, but losing Marian Gaborik hurts a lot.

Minnesota Wild: Just give every decent young defenseman in the league a lot of years and $4 million, at this point. Make it automatic. It basically is already.

Montreal Canadiens: The Habs are starting to lose a lot more games, which makes sense because their underlying numbers suggest they have a serious problem. (It's the coach.)

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Can't say the Preds didn't earn this game-winner from Colin Wilson (who, by the way, has been very good this year even if the point totals don't reflect it, at 65.5 percent corsi). Look at that shot total for the game.

New Jersey Devils: New Jersey went 4-8-2 in November. Whatever it is that made them a dominant possession team the last few years seems to have escaped them. This appears to be bad.

New York Islanders: The Isles might never lose again.

New York Rangers: The Rangers have been playing well of late but it helps when you've played the Flyers three times in the last five games.

Ottawa Senators: The Oilers stand to lose even more ground financially in the coming years as the Canadian dollar continues to fall in value. Just what they needed up there.

Philadelphia Flyers: Vinny Lecavalier is unhappy with his role in Philadelphia. The Flyers would probably agree, because “well-paid hockey player” doesn't seem to suit him these days.

Pittsburgh Penguins: If Rob Bortuzzo had been a truck, he could have driven himself through the hole the Hurricanes defense opened for him here.

San Jose Sharks: Leave it to the Sharks to get Tommy Wingels, who's fine and everything but should otherwise be a fairly inconsequential player, four points on Saturday night, and 15 in 25. You can put anyone with Joe Thornton and make them decent.

St. Louis Blues: Oh come on.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts are off to an historically good start this season. Getting 34 points from 24 games puts them on pace for 116 for the year, and the underlying numbers suggest that even if this hot start is a bit of a fluke, they're not going to drop off too precipitously.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Guys, it's not even December yet.

Vancouver Canucks: Breaking news, Ryan Miller is better than Drew Miller.

Washington Capitals: The good news for Barry Trotz is that both of his goalies have played about equally well in the last little stretch here. The bad news is that they haven't actually played well at all.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets took 19 points out of 15 games in November despite a busy schedule. Is this the year they make the playoffs and we have to listen to all their fans get all conceited again about how great this team can be? Hope not.

Play of the Weekend

Always worth seeing that Tyler Ennis goal again. Goal of the Year. Just end that contest now.

Gold Star Award

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Bozak has five goals in his last three games? The Tyler Bozak?

Minus of the Weekend

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Solid report here. And only two years late.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “DocBrown” knows it's getting to be that time of year.

To Toronto:
Hall
Yakupov
Schultz
Scrivens

To Edmonton:
Kadri
Rielly
Dion
Bernier
2015 1st










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Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here

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