Montreal Canadiens: Keeping Veterans Last Season Paying Off Early

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 23: Jeff Petry Montreal Canadiens Tomas Tatar (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 23: Jeff Petry Montreal Canadiens Tomas Tatar (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has been a seller as often as he has been a buyer at the trade deadline during his tenure with the Habs.

Last season, there wasn’t much question he would be selling assets and he did just that.

He tried to breathe some life into the team in early January by acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk off free agency and Marco Scandella for a fourth round pick. By the time the trade deadline passed, he would move both players out for second and third round picks.

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Bergevin also dealt Nate Thompson, Matthew Peca, Nick Cousins for draft picks. However, no matter how loud the rumours grew or how tempting the offers must have looked, the Habs GM did not pull the trigger on a much bigger deal. Getting a second round pick for Scandella and a third for Kovalchuk was impressive, but much bigger returns would have been in order if Bergevin moved a more impact player.

The two players whose names could not escape the rumour mill were Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry.

I was constantly on the fence about trading the pair of veterans. They were scheduled to be free agents following this season, but so were Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault. It seemed obvious that the four of them wouldn’t be around long term, so why not recoup some assets for one (or two) of the veterans while they still had tremendous trade value?

Especially once lesser players like Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman and Jason Zucker were all dealt for first round picks and prospects.

Suddenly, it seemed possible a team like the Vegas Golden Knights might give up a first round pick and Peyton Krebs for Petry since they needed a right defenceman. Maybe the Pittsburgh Penguins would give up a first round pick and Samuel Poulin for Tatar.

However, Bergevin decided to stick to his guns, keep his veterans and add to the core of the team over the offseason. He re-signed Gallagher and Petry to lock them in long term and has kept Danault and Tatar on the final year of their contracts.

Now, we are just two games into the new season, but with the additions of Joel Edmundson, Alexander Romanov, Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli and Jake Allen in the offseason, the Canadiens look much deeper than they have since Bergevin arrived in 2012.

They lost their first game in overtime to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Petry had a pair of assists in the first period to get the Habs off to a great start and he played over 23 minutes on the night. Tatar scored a beautiful goal on a breakaway early in the second period which gave the Canadiens a temporary two goal lead.

The Canadiens would get into penalty trouble and cough up the lead and then lose in overtime, but Tatar and Petry looked great in the season opener.

The pair looked even better in game two. The Habs traveled to Edmonton to play the Oilers on Saturday night and blasted them 5-1. Petry’s new partner, Joel Edmundson, looked much more comfortable in this one and as a result, Petry looked even better.

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Petry opened the scoring against Edmonton on the power play as he batted the puck across the front of the net and then circled the goal before picking it up and beating Mikko Koskinen.

Tatar scored next as he one-timed a quick pass from Danault and beat Koskinen over the glove side.

Petry made it 3-0 when he stepped up in the offensive zone and fired a shot that Koskinen stopped but it bounced off Ethan Bear, who was battling with Tatar in front, and landed in the net.

Jake Evans scored to make it 4-0, but Tatar matched Petry by breaking in all alone and getting Koskinen to bite on a shot fake before sliding the puck through the goaltenders legs to make it 5-0 midway through the third period.

Bergevin could have look to retool his roster at last year’s trade deadline. He could have moved Petry, Tatar and maybe even Danault between then and the NHL Draft in the offseason. The Habs hadn’t qualified for a traditional postseason since 2017 and haven’t won a playoff round since 2015.

Instead of giving up on this core of players, Bergevin kept them and added to it. It’s only a pair of games into the new season, but Petry is leading the team in points with four and Tatar is leading in goals with three.

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The Canadiens have a deep and talented team that dominated in their win over the Oilers on Saturday. Credit to Bergevin for saying no to what had to be some tempting offers for Tatar and Petry as they are a huge part of a team that has the potential to go on a deep run this season.