The much-maligned general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, Marc Bergevin by all accounts had a strong off-season. He made the Habs younger and faster. Very early in the 2018-19 season, his plan is reaping rewards. While there is some good will being built between the general manager and the fans, Marc Bergevin faces an early test. Jacob de La Rose and Nicolas Deslauriers on the cusp of returning to the Habs lineup, Normally, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, but it will put the Habs over the 23 man roster limit. Now Bergevin has to figure out what he wants to do with his roster.
Very soon, the Canadiens have 25 healthy skaters. That means two players will need to be off the roster in the coming weeks. With 19 healthy forwards, that seems to be where the decision will be made.
Joining Deslauriers and de La Rose are healthy scratches Nikita Scherbak and Tomas Plekanec. With Plekanec’s spot with the Habs secured, that means Deslauriers, Scherbak and de La Rose are competing for one spot. Complicating issues more is that all three are waiver eligible. That means if the Habs want to send them down to the Laval Rocket, they would need to clear waivers before reporting, which means the Habs run the risk of losing the players for nothing on the waiver wire.
While the Habs are off to a better than expected start, head coach Claude Julien is not likely to change a winning lineup. Still, with the lowered expectations, it wouldn’t take much for Julien to draw players in and out of the lineup. Granted the likes of Brendan Gallagher and Max Domi are safe, but that doesn’t mean someone can play their way out of the lineup. While getting players into the lineup is important, it does not fix the Canadiens issue. The question is what to do with this overflow of players. There are three options, really. Make a trade, expose them to waivers or tamper with the current lineup.
On the October 11th edition of “Insider Trading,” TSN’s Perre Lebrun said that Marc Bergevin is letting other teams know he is open for business. This is in response to the issue of too many NHL eligible players. It’s the ideal option for the Canadiens in this situation. It’s become rare to see too many trades early into a season, but the Canadiens need to do something. Bergevin needs to rid the roster of two players. While none of these players will fetch a king’s ransom in a trade, they could be packaged with a prospect if the Habs are looking to upgrade at a position.
The issue is that teams know that the Habs are in this bind. They will look to use it to their advantage and acquire an NHL calibre player on the cheap. The reality is that even if Marc Bergevin can swing a trade for one or two of these players, he is not likely to get a fair value in return. Still, something is better than nothing.
While the trade route is the preferable one, Bergevin could roll the dice and put one of two players on waivers. He could hope that he can sneak them through and assigning them to the AHL. Again, it’s a risk because any other team can claim a player on waivers. That means the Habs get no compensation in this case. If a player gets claimed it’s the worst case for the Habs. Losing a player like Scherbak or de La Rose for nothing would be poor asset management. While neither player has been able to become an NHL regular, both are still developing. It would be frustrating for Habs fans and management to see them flourish elsewhere, especially if they lose them for nothing.
Tamper with the Lineup
Should the Canadiens want to keep Deslauriers, Scherbak and de La Rose, they may look to make some changes to their current lineup. The Habs could use the waiver wire to send down a player or two that does not need to be exposed to waivers. Unfortunately for the Canadians that means a core player like Jesperi Kotkaniemi or Victor Mete. Removing players like that from the Habs lineup seems far-fetched. It’s an unrealistic route the Habs could take, but an option none the less.
Another waiver option would be to bury the contract of Karl Alzner. If placed on waivers, Alzner would unlikely be claimed. If by some miracle he was claimed, the Habs would not complain. Especially since he has been a healthy scratch this season. While this move would probably be a fan favourite, it doesn’t seem like it’s a move Marc Bergevin would make.
What to Do
Deslauriers, Scherbak and de La Rose are all NHL calibre players. Each also brings a unique skill set to the team. Deslauriers plays the most physical game. Scherbak is the most skilled. de La Rose is the most responsible, most versatile and the best skater. Going on the assumption that it will be between these three for the remaining spot, it seems Deslauriers has the inside track. While there is potential with both Scherbak and de La Rose, the fact that neither has been able to solidify their place on the Canadiens does not bode well for them.
Of the two, Nikita Scherbak would draw more interest from around the league. His untapped offensive potential is a much more valuable commodity than de La Rose’s discipline. The thing is, the Habs are a team starved for offence. Trading a skilled forward might not be the best thing for the team.
Marc Bergevin needs to figure this out as soon as possible because he can’t afford to lose these assets for anything. It would be frustrating for fans and management alike to see one Scherbak or de La Rose blossom in another uniform after being lost for nothing.