By JD Lagrange – It’s summer of 2021. The Montreal Canadiens are coming out of an unusually gruelling season. After a forced COVID outbreak preventing them to play for over a week, they had to play through a stretch of something like 25 games in 43 days. They came out of it banged up and exhausted. Still, the team managed to claw their way all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, upsetting the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights.
The Canadiens’ season ended well into July and then GM Marc Bergevin had very little time to make decisions about his roster before the NHL Draft, and the free agency period started. He had tried to sign some key veterans early in the season, agreeing to extensions with Jeff Petry, Jake Allen and Brendan Gallagher.
There was another pending UFA who had to be signed but the value of Phillip Danault was as murky as it gets. How much was he worth exactly? While excellent on faceoffs and defensively, Danault’s career high was 13 goals and 53 points. There was no doubt that the Victoriaville native was a valuable player for the Canadiens and the team wanted to re-sign him. The issue was agree to term and money.
After Gallagher signed his extension, we have learned that prior to signing him, Bergevin had offered Danault a six year, $30 million contract extension, an offer that the Canadiens’ center rejected. Both parties agreed to wait after the season to negotiate.
That didn’t work out well for Danault as he had a horrible season, scoring five goals all year. And while playing well defensively in the playoffs, he only managed one goal and four points in 22 playoffs’ games. Most Habs’ fans and media members claimed that the $5 million cap hit was way too much and the offer should be off the table, claiming that a strictly defensive player wasn’t worth that much.
We know the rest. The team and the Danault clan couldn’t reach an agreement on an extension and he signed with the Los Angeles Kings whom, according to most people, overpaid to get him. The Kings signed him to a 6-year, $33 million deal ($5.5 million cap hit).
More perspective, at the time, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was still with the Canadiens and few expected him to sign an offer-sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes at the time.
Change of hearts
To his credit, Danault took it upon himself to prove Bergevin and the Canadiens’ faithful wrong. He finished his first season with the Kings with a production of 27 goals and 51 points, with his usual faceoffs’ efficiency, sitting at a 53.2% success rate. Both the Kings organization and Danault are pretty happy and proud of the signing.
The issue is that as usual, fans and media in Montreal are making judgement in hindsight. They are changing their tune. The same people who were saying that the Habs shouldn’t pay that much money for Danault are now looking at his production this season to say that it was a mistake not to keep him. Typical.
The irony? Marc Bergevin is now part of the Kings’ organization and reaps the benefit of Phillip Danault, whom he pried from the Chicago Blackhawks to start with, while GM in Montreal. More irony? The pick that Bergevin also got from Chicago in that trade turned out to be Alexander Romanov, who was named the Canadiens’ unsung hero, being awarded the Jacques Beauchamp trophy this year.