Elliotte Friedman took a few weeks off to recharge and vacation with his family after the opening of July 1 free agency, and he’s currently busy covering the Olympics.
Between then and now, though, the hockey Insider reflected on the off-season changes made by the Montreal Canadiens during an appearance on NHL Network.
Friedman was asked if he agreed with Arpon Basu’s assessment of the goings-on in Montreal as a ‘nuclear summer.’
“Yes, I do agree with that. It’s hard not to,” noted Friedman on July 22. They made a franchise-altering decision, one that’s going to have ramifications for years to come. It’s hard to disagree with Arpon’s conclusion there.
“… I was at a Canadiens game late in the season and I talked to a player about it, and he goes to me, ‘All the coaches here and the GM here, they think we’re soft. They think we’re soft mentally, and they think we’re soft physically because of what happened when Carey Price went out.’ And I think the players expected something huge was going to happen.
“I listened to the clip package you guys put together there, and the one thing I really do believe is that the Montreal Canadiens decided they were going to trade P.K. Subban before his no-trade clause kicked in on July 1. That this was a decision they had decided they were going to do. They pursued it before the draft. They couldn’t get in position where they were going to draft Dubois, who went to Columbus. And then the Shea Weber option came out.
“I just think they looked at this group and they said, ‘We can’t have this group together again because they were too soft, and we’re making a change.’ And they went for a guy who definitely doesn’t have a reputation for being soft.”
How will swapping out P.K. Subban with Shea Weber impact the Canadiens on the ice?
“I think if you look at Subban, he won the Norris Trophy in 2013,” noted Friedman. “And I do think that he is a much better player now than he was then. As David Poile said in those clips, you talk about the spectacular nature of the way he looks. He’s a lot better at the little things now too. It’s very hard to forecheck him because he’s so strong. You hit him and you bounce off him. And you take a look at a lot of those Montreal defensemen, especially Markov – when they played with him, they were better. That’s important.
“I think where it changes them is there’s a certain nastiness that’s now going to come to their game that I think they were lacking.
“I think the other thing is too is, Marc Bergevin – and I’ve asked him about this before – he doesn’t like his defensemen to carry the puck up as much. He thinks if defensemen carry the puck up, the game slows down for your team because the forwards have to wait there. P.K. liked to carry it, although he did try to change his game because they asked him. Weber is a guy who won’t do that as much. They’ll get the puck up. And I do think for the way that Bergevin wants them to play, Weber is a good fit for that.”
The addition of Andrew Shaw then, goes along with the mindset of wanting to change the team’s identity and get grittier.
“I think there’s definitely a lot of that true,” said Friedman. “Marc Bergevin has another quote he uses a lot. ‘I love to have guys who cannot stand to lose.’ And I think it goes back to the theme of this conversation that we’ve been having so far, and that is that Marc Bergevin felt his team last year was way too accepting of defeat. They went in that avalanche. They kept on losing and losing and losing and it snowballed. And nobody could stop it. Without Carey Price, they fell apart as a team. And I think he’s looking for guys who won’t tolerate that mentality. Guys who will do something to try and change it. Shaw is absolutely a critical piece of that. He’s the guy Joel Quenneville said last year was irreplaceable. Jonathan Toews, I remember him saying that he was looking at the group that they had, and said of all the guys we can’t afford to lose that we might lose, Shaw is that guy.
“So there’s no question to me that they are looking for Shaw and Weber to change the mentality in addition to the way they compete and play on the ice.”
We’ve seen the theme of the Canadiens’ perspective of their moves during this Friedman segment thus far. When it comes to the signing of Alexander Radulov to a one-year, $5.75 million pact then, NHL Network analyst E.J. Hradek delivered a transition that succinctly reflected what many hockey fans were thinking.
“I kind of find it a little hard to believe that you’re looking to have this ultra-competitive team and then go out to get a guy that really has questionable character, you’d have to say, based on what we’ve seen so far in his life,” said Hradek.
“I think it’s a very fair question,” agreed Friedman. “There’s a definite ‘prove it’ component to Radulov. Nobody has ever questioned this guy’s skill. He’s really talented. But people have always questioned the will.
“And even in Russia, it wasn’t always easy with him. This is a guy who this year was supposed to be at the world championships. Russian was expecting him at their camp and he was in New York, fielding NHL offers. So even in Russia, I think there are people who would look at him and say, ‘Yeah, he was here, but we won’t miss him.’
“He’s the ultimate ‘prove it’ guy. I think the only thing I like about this is that the Canadiens only signed him for a year. Radulov was looking for a lot more in terms of money and term. He didn’t get it. I think the thing you have to be careful about if you’re the Canadiens is, is he’s a model citizen for a year and then you extend him for multiple years and it reverts. I think that’s the biggest decision the Canadiens are going to have is, if this guy does have a great season, now what do we do contract-wise. Because I’d be concerned, and I’d be worried.”
Source: NHL Network/ Transcript: Nichols