Let’s give Marc Bergevin his due.
The Montreal Canadiens general manager was fitted for clown shoes last summer after he traded defenseman P.K. Subban, 28, to the Nashville Predators for defenseman Shea Weber, 31. The main justification for that trade was the short-term benefits to Montreal. Instead, Subban’s shutdown role with the Predators helped bring them two wins away from the Stanley Cup.
But that was last summer. On Thursday, Bergevin made another trade, ostensibly another win-now proposition: Acquiring forward Jonathan Drouin and a 2018 conditional sixth-round pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning for blue-chip defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev and a 2018 conditional second-round pick – the condition being that Sergachev played over 40 games combined between the regular season and the playoff for the Lightning.
Instead of a 31-year-old veteran, it’s a 22-year-old burgeoning French-Canadian star. Instead of a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman going the other way, it’s a prospect – a can’t-miss one, to be sure, but a prospect nonetheless.
While the hockey world was waiting for an Alex Galchenyuk trade, Bergevin pulls off a blockbuster for Jonathan Drouin.
“Like I always say, expect the unexpected,” he said.
There’s a lot to love here for Montreal. A lot. But again, credit where it’s due: Bergevin played this perfectly.
He waited. The Canadiens were in on Drouin last year. Maybe they could have landed him in a package, and maybe Lightning GM Steve Yzerman wouldn’t have parted with him. Either way, the conditions for this trade to happen changed dramatically since then, with the Lightning feeling the cap ceiling crashing down on them in trying to sign free agents like Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.
“There were discussions. From year to year, things change, where a team has to make a tough decision. I’m sure it was not easy for Stevie to let Jonathan go. But sometimes there’s an opportunity based on the circumstances,” said Bergevin.
Here’s the circumstance: The Lightning were desperate for a puck-moving defenseman. They needed one that didn’t have a large contract. In a perfect world, they needed one that didn’t have to be protected in the expansion draft.
Enter Sergachev, 18, with four NHL games to his credit.
“The No. 1 reason was to acquire a defenseman. He has a very bright future. It helps us in acquiring a player that we don’t have to protect. Our biggest need, and our biggest goal, was to acquire a puck-moving defenseman,” said Yzerman.
“Jonathan’s an extremely talented young man. I expect that he’s going to have a long and successful career,” said Yzerman.
Drouin broke through last season with 21 goals and 32 points in 73 games for the Lightning, after posting 14 points in 17 games in the 2016 playoffs. That was scratching the surface of his potential. As Steven Stamkos put it: He’s going to be a stud.
He can play both wings, although he’s been most productive on the left side. The temptation will be there to play him at center, considering the Canadiens’ needs, but the NHL has seen countless “star winger shifts to center only to quickly move back to wing when it fails” scenarios, and this could easily be another one.
“It’s hard to say,” said Drouin on his best position. “For me, it’s just coming in … I played a lot of positions. At the end of the day, I don’t decide where to play. Claude [Julien] will.”
But let’s call this what it is: The acquisition of a potential French-Canadian star by the Montreal Canadiens. And from the Tampa Bay Lightning no less, years after the Habs pursued Vincent Lecavalier on a seemingly annual basis to fill that role.
“I’m a hometown boy. You don’t really think that day is going to happen, where you’re playing for the Canadiens,” said Drouin.
Drouin immediately signed for six years and a $5.5 million cap hit, which might be the biggest surprise of all.
Jonathan Huberdeau signed at 23 for six years and a $5.9 million cap hit in 2016. Filip Forsberg signed for six years and $6 million annually at 21, also in 2016.
This contract, given what we’ve seen from Drouin, is a bargain now and will be a bigger one in a few years.
Look, any organization that made the Subban trade and, years before Bergevin, another infamous “young defenseman for offensive difference-maker” deal – oh hi Ryan McDonagh – is going to have some asterisks and caveats attached to any trade.
Sergachev has a chance to be really, really good, and the Canadiens’ blue line is going to have a gaping Sergachev-sized hole in a few years if he becomes a legit NHL top four defenseman. They’ve hesitated to throw him into any number of trade scenarios in the past because you don’t just find that kind of young defenseman every year. (Bergevin admitted as much on Thursday.)
Then there’s the chance that Drouin can’t handle the Montreal thing. This is almost a weird riff on the Tyler Seguin trade, which is only appropriate given Claude Julien is going to coach Drouin: Incredible but maligned young player is traded from low-pressure media market to high-pressure one, rather than Seguin’s Boston-to-Dallas shift.
He’s saying the right things, however:
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) June 15, 2017
Listen, worst case scenario for Bergevin is that this ends up being a glorious, mutually beneficial hockey trade for the Canadiens and Lightning. The best case scenario is that he’s acquired one of the most dynamic young scorers in hockey and he will absolutely terrorize his former team within their shared division for at least the next six years.
“There’s risk involved in every trade,” said Yzerman, regarding that scenario.
Indeed there is, and Bergevin deserves credit for taking it on this one.
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