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What We Learned: Canadiens continue to make themselves worse for no apparent reason

Another summer, another wasted asset? (Getty)

The Alex Galchenyuk trade was a long time coming, that’s true.

But if you saw the immediate assessment from pretty much everyone on Friday night, you fully understand that everyone sees this as another big L for the Montreal Canadiens.

The question to be asked of any trade is, “What’s the point?” and if you’re Marc Bergevin, what answers could you possibly begin to offer that make sense? Galchenyuk was a natural talent who was nearly a point-a-game player early in 2016-17, when he was already coming off a 30-goal season as an age-21 center, before a bad knee injury seemed to set him back. That was all the Habs needed to inexplicably shuffle him away from the middle of the ice forever, despite the fact that they desperately needed someone — anyone — who could play that position in a lost season when they had all the time in the world to experiment.

Instead, his most frequent linemates this season were Jonathan Drouin, a good player, and Artturi Lehkonen (not so much). Galchenyuk still ended up as the team’s second-leading scorer who was also third in goals despite playing just 16 minutes and change a night somehow.

Again, it was clear the Habs wanted little, if anything, to do with him but if the plan was seemingly always to trade him, the way they handled him this season was baffling. If you’re trying to get someone to buy high on a guy you don’t really value that much, you have to put him in more of a position to succeed, especially if you’re trying to sell people on the fact that he’s a competent center. Instead, Bergevin and by extension Claude Julien spent much of the season more or less saying, “I know this guy isn’t ready to be an NHL center after that knee injury 18 months ago,” and even if that were true and you had your heart set on shipping him out this summer, that’s not how you handle it.

The return for Galchenyuk, who will absolutely be used as a center in Arizona, was left winger Max Domi. You’ll notice that, in the Canadiens’ pursuit of a legit No. 2 center, they seem to have traded one away for a guy who is decidedly not a center at all, which is a weird decision. Moreover, while Domi and Galchenyuk have identical career points-per-game numbers, Domi has also played nearly 200 fewer games in his career.

Ah, well, Domi debuted in 2015-16, versus the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign for Galchenyuk. But here’s the thing: their birthdays are separated by fewer than 13 months. It took Domi longer to get himself to Galchenyuk’s level, and while their games are very different — Domi is more of high-skill grinder set-up man-type player — the amount of quality they bring to their respective teams should be a major point of concern.

After all, if Bergervin’s media availability about the trade referenced “energy” and “intangibles” more than once, with an ask for doubters to watch highlights on YouTube, that should be telling. That in addition to the acknowledgement that this guy is, of course, definitely not a center. You can find some really great goals scored by, like, Fernando Pisani or Alex Tuch. These aren’t the kinds of guys you trade Galchenyuks for.

Domi wasn’t exactly running with the biggest of the big dogs in Arizona (he mostly played with Christian Dvorak and Clayton Keller), but he still finished 17th in primary assists per 60 among players with at least 500 minutes at full strength this year. In the same neighborhood as Jaden Schwartz and Evgeni Malkin. Nothing to sneeze at. The question is, do they put him on Drouin’s top line immediately? If not, who else can he pass the puck to that will be able to convert at the same rate as a Keller?

No one is saying Domi is a bad player — though his worse-than-Zac-Rinaldo underlying numbers on a crap Arizona team certainly don’t say he’s a good one either — but the Canadiens don’t seem to have acquired the best player in the deal, either. And in fact, they’ve moved on from a player that theoretically could help at a position of need (even if they were reticent to try him there) for one that definitively does not help there.

Sure, he’s 12-and-a-half months younger, and came with an advantageous contract situation — the Habs immediately signed Domi to a two-year extension worth $3.15 million against the cap, after which he’ll still be an RFA due to his wholesale lack of service time — but the cap savings on this deal is only about $1.75 million, and it’s not like Montreal is right up against the ceiling or anything anyway. They have to re-sign like four guys and will have $21 million or so in cap space right now, so that’s probably an indicator that the GM is going on safari with some big game in mind.

Maybe, if you’re being charitable to Bergevin, you argue that’s $1.75 million more that can go to a big signing this summer that’s going to steer this team out of the skid. But can you honestly trust Bergevin to make such a signing? Short of John Tavares, who’s he going to acquire that makes the kind of impact Montreal needs such a player to make? The decision-making on both the UFA and trade markets exhibited by this particular group of executives has been beyond baffling for years, and it’s not about to turn around just because Bergevin may or may not have an in with Tavares’s agent.

But it once again circles back to what a guy provides, y’know? Domi is probably at a maxed-out value (pardon the pun) because it’s hard to see him staying an elite set-up man for too long; his personal all-situations shooting percentage was just six this year, well below his previous career average, but his teammates shot a whopping 11.6 percent with him on the ice. Maybe you chalk that up to his elite set-up skills, but also, there probably aren’t too many guys who can reasonably support an 11-plus teammate shooting percentage long-term. Especially with a low-talent group like the Coyotes and Canadiens both have. Most of the guys with on-ice shooting percentages of 9-plus over the past three seasons have names like Matthews, McDavid, Perry, and Pastrnak; can we really consider Domi in that group?

Unlike the Habs, Arizona actually put Domi in a position to succeed, and while they probably weren’t shopping him, one imagines that when Bergevin called, John Chayka felt it was one of those “we’re always listening but they’d have to bowl me over” offers.

Apologists will say that the jury is out until they’ve played the full 82 in 2018-19, or maybe even longer. But when the hockey world — even the national media guys who don’t usually put the boots to teams over this kind of thing — is collectively laughing up its sleeve at what seems to be another lost trade for the Canadiens, you really have to wonder.

Three summers in a row, Montreal has traded out at least one name-brand player. Subban, Sergachev, and now Galchenyuk. The return has been Weber, Drouin, and now Domi. Is that a team that’s improving? Is it even a team that seems to have any kind of direction?

The only thing Bergevin should be happy about these days is that he’s not Pierre Dorion.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: I can assure you: Teams should always always always always always take the best player available. “Should they do that?” is a question we need to stop asking.

Arizona Coyotes: Click here to see Shane Doan whining about how Galchenyuk doesn’t Play The Right Way. Also note Galchenyuk, at age 21, had as only one fewer 30-goal seasons as Doan did in a 21-year career. Doan would probably also like to see Galchenyuk chicken-wing elbow a few more opponents in the face. Get lost!

Boston Bruins: This is a nice little deal for Matt Grzelcyk. Think this could be a very good bottom-three defenseman for a number of years.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres love acquiring guys who were on BU in 2015. Insofar as they’re up to four such players. Which is a lot.

Calgary Flames: The Flames would be delighted to move up in the draft but Brad Treliving said, “I’d like a helicopter, too.” So probably don’t get your hopes up.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes should already be trying to extend budding star Sebastian Aho but the player would be very wise to refuse until he has another potentially get season.

Chicago: Well, these are definitely two guys, for sure.

Colorado Avalanche: I love to qualify my lede about the Avs maybe moving up to No. 4 by the eighth word of the first sentence.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Haha yeah, okay.

Dallas Stars: Kari Lehtonen is selling his house and maybe that means he’s done in Dallas after this season you never never know.

Detroit Red Wings: The Wings have offered pending UFA Mike Green $6 million for one year or $10 million for two. Take the latter deal, Mike.

Edmonton Oilers: There are still players who WANT to play for the Oilers? Signs and wonders.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers made a big deal out of their 25-anniversary logo and it’s…… fine I guess. I always loved the crossed-hockey-stick-and-palm-tree secondary logo.

Los Angeles Kings: I absolutely did not hear about the Kings trading for Peter Budaj again last week. So here’s that news.

Minnesota Wild: Pretty good examination of how the Wild miiiiiiiight be able to make some small changes to improve their chances to compete. But also, good luck in that division hahaha.

Montreal Canadiens: Yeah again Domi is a good playmaker but for whom is he Playmaking?

Nashville Predators: Sure the Predators don’t need to make any kind of big changes but imagine if they felt like doing that anyway?

New Jersey Devils: Here’s New Jersey governor Phil Murphy throwing $20 in the trash.

New York Islanders: I literally won’t believe a word about Tavares re-signing until it happens and even then I’m gonna be like, “Yeah, but really?”

New York Rangers: Plenty of machinations coming up for the Rangers in the week ahead. Having that many first-round picks is a nice kind of luxury, isn’t it?

Ottawa Senators: I love that the Sens finally got around to suspending Randy Lee a full 17 days after he was arrested. Dorion’s out here like “We made it clear we don’t tolerate this kind of stuff” and it’s like, come on man who are you fooling?

Philadelphia Flyers: Just in case you were wondering whether buying tickets to preseason games was a ripoff, the Flyers and Islanders are playing each other four times in September.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Horrible news about a Pens prospect and his junior teammates injured in a fire.

San Jose Sharks: If the Sharks can get a good forward this summer I like them a lot to come out of this division.

St. Louis Blues: This is an evergreen headline, to be honest.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Tyler Johnson, the Spokane Enjoyer. Say, do you think there might be an NHL team near Spokane, like maybe about four hours away, sometime soon?

Toronto Maple Leafs: Honestly, if you can get Tyler Bozak relatively cheap (which I doubt) he’d be a useful bottom-six center.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks probably should be looking at a buyout or two but probably won’t make a move there because, ah, why bother?

Vegas Golden Knights: So funny that an expansion team isn’t picking until 61st. Very sad!

Washington Capitals: I’m increasingly of the opinion that John Carlson really might re-sign after all.

Winnipeg Jets: Don’t get it twisted: Just because the Jets are really good now doesn’t mean Winnipeg is no longer a “frozen outpost.”

Gold Star Award

I always feel so happy when guys get traded out of bad markets, so congrats to Alex Galchenyuk!

Minus of the Weekend

Phew, that was a close one for Max Domi, who is no longer an immigrant now that he’s moved back to his home country. Now he’s gotta Make the Canadiens Great Again!

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “DownGoesMcDavid” is on one.

To Van:
Karlsson
Bobby Ryan

To Ottawa:
7OA
2019 2nd rnd pick
Tanev
Kole Lind
Michael Dipietro

Signoff

May I see it?

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

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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