Call of the Wilde: State of the union

With the Habs missing the playoffs three years of the last four, that’s enough of being pleased with a good try. Try is for losers. Do is for winners. And it’s time to start winning or the GM can find another job. Four missed playoffs in five years next April would be cause for dismissal. This is a business, not a charity event for people who put in a good try.

Firstly, the organization, including owner Geoff Molson, should be facing accusations of being cheap if they don’t get close to the salary cap. Three seasons leaving $10 million on the board would be unacceptable. This isn’t a city that barely gets fans in the seats scrambling to make ends meet like Phoenix. This is an organization that fills the arena with more than 21,000 fans paying premium dollars to be entertained. They should not be taken for granted by an owner who pockets money instead of spending it. The owner needs to send the message that the bottom line is a “W,” not a “$”.

This is an off-season with a lot of excellent free agents on the board. Anyone could see how a playoff spot was won down the stretch this season: elite, high-level talent wins. Players who can elevate and succeed at a crucial time, not just try super hard. Artemi Panarin scored huge goals. Matt Duchene made massive plays. Also, Erik Karlsson can win a game almost by himself. The record when Jake Gardiner is in the lineup for Toronto is vastly superior to when he is not. All of these players are available to the highest bidder.

Make a run at one of these players. Tell Duchene’s agent you will make him an offer 20 per cent better than the best offer he receives to compensate for difficult tax laws in Quebec. Tell Panarin’s agent you will pay him the most by a big margin. Tell Karlsson you want to hear what else he can dream of because you will give it to him. Get an elite player. Take the heat that you paid too much. Compete, for God’s sakes!

If you don’t like those players, then how about Jeff Skinner, Wayne Simmonds, Anders Lee, Mats Zuccarello, Micheal Ferland or Ryan Dzingel? Spend some money!

No one should accept the Habs being under the cap by ridiculous and shameful amounts.

It’s one thing to save money when the team is building. It’s quite another to do it when the club is two points from the playoffs.

So spend it all. Every year. It’s the Montreal Canadiens. Do the New York Yankees give it half a try?

A high-level club with high-level talent can slowly break in some of the top-level prospects more easily than one desperate for a prospect to perform at a high level immediately. You can be patient with Ryan Poehling when you have Matt Duchene.

Poehling can earn a spot, perhaps not at the beginning of the year, but soon after. It’s the same scenario for Nick Suzuki and Josh Brook — some acclimation in Laval and then on to bigger things. Karlsson will hold the fort until you’re ready, Josh.

Some moves need to be made to adapt to the faster NHL. Jordie Benn can only succeed in a limited role, so move on from him. Nicolas Deslauriers can only succeed in a very limited role, so move on from him. Jordan Weal was good, but he will ask for more than $2 million after $1.75 million this year, so move on from him. Don’t settle for Weal when Zuccarello is available. Think bigger. Think like you run the Montreal Canadiens, Marc Bergevin. Think like you own the Montreal Canadiens, Geoff Molson.

Wish Antti Niemi a good life because he is done. And if you don’t believe in Charlie Lindgren, then let someone else have a chance. Get a good backup because you missed the playoffs by one win and everyone knows the backup this year surely cost you at least one win, if not five.

Get creative. You have not spent nearly enough money for too many seasons, but other teams have. Brayden Point is a restricted free agent, but the Tampa Bay Lightning can’t afford him. Mitch Marner is an elite-level talent. He might just be the main spark plug of that entire well-oiled offensive engine in Toronto. The GM has spent too much already. Kyle Dubas can’t afford Marner. Give these players an offer sheet they say yes to. An $8-million annual salary for Marner costs a first-round draft pick, a second and a third. Ten million for Marner costs two firsts, a second and a third. Sure, it’s a lot, but it’s Mitch Marner. And those firsts are going to be the 25th pick overall when finally you’re selling success to your fans, and those 25th overall picks have only a 50-50 chance of being an NHL regular anyway, and about a five per cent chance of being a Mitch Marner. So do something. Sell success. Put these other overspending GMs in a spot they can’t survive.

Make a trade if you can, because Jonathan Drouin, when you needed him most, let you down with two points in the last 17 games. All he was truly good at during the last quarter of the year was trying not to get hit. Don’t even worry about the return in a trade because the 17 minutes a night you give him trying to right his wrongs causes more havoc than his absence would. Somehow, on a team with many plus-20s, he finished with a big minus. He faced the easiest competition and it still didn’t matter. The head coach tried to massage everything for him and it still didn’t matter. He played with a lot of lines, yet somehow his linemates are all big pluses while he spread his minus around like a virus. Max Domi spent the entire season as a minus player with Drouin, but was then taken off the line with Drouin, and is now suddenly a plus 20. The return for Drouin in a trade won’t be good but it will be worse later. He didn’t show the dedication required. Everyone on that team tried to lead by example. He refused to follow. He had better have been injured. That’s what will be his only saving grace in the eyes of the faithful. If he wasn’t injured, he needs to take up the challenge right now. He collapsed in a catastrophic manner when he was needed most. He will get more chances. He was drafted in the top five. They always get more chances. Let’s see if he reflects honestly on what he lacks, because it sure isn’t talent. But if you’re going to go into every corner letting the other player take the puck first and then seeing if you can take it from him instead of going in first and taking a hit to make a play, then no winning team has use for you. The playoffs would certainly have little use for you.

Bergevin’s recent talk about how he was pleased with the season is a terrible mentality. What are you pleased with? You failed. And you’ve failed three years of four. And that’s a failure to even book a ticket into the next event — the playoffs. Never mind succeeding at that second phase — going far in the playoffs or winning it all. What’s to be pleased with? You weren’t Ottawa? All too much comfort and satisfaction over not doing a damn thing, really. If next season the Habs miss the playoffs, four seasons out of five, and you’ve left another $10 million to $20 million in the pockets of your owner, let someone else try this. That’s enough of your attempt. Failure after failure to even dance in the playoffs, never mind succeed in them, is enough time for you. Sure, you have made good trades, but a stock picker who made some good trades but whose portfolio is down 20 percent is not a good stock picker. The bottom line is not cherry picking good trades for the apologists.

Bergevin has every chance to succeed next year. The future looks bright. Jesperi Kotkaniemi will improve. A lot of high-profile prospects will land as NHLers. The team is extremely young, with only Shea Weber and Carey Price even in the conversation with respect to aging. Trevor Timmins has 10 picks this draft. The trend is up. Distinctly up. Greatness — significant greatness — is around the corner, if the team is handled correctly.

But absolutely nothing has been achieved here yet. Nothing.

There was an exit meeting one April in the not too distant past with Price and Bergevin looking each other right in the eye after another premature end to the season. The usual protocol in these meetings is that the GM tells the player how the player needs to improve his game, but in this one Price told the GM to go get better players.

The last word is therefore still Price’s, a very frustrating five years later. Marc, go get better players.

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