It's been an issue in Montreal for ages and ages, the lack of a real first line centre. Last offseason, when Bergevin was poised to trade his captain Max Pacioretty, many thought that Ryan O'Reilly might have been the Habs' GM target. There was plenty of speculation that the Canadiens were indeed in on the O'Reilly derby but as the days passed the price tag for the big centre just kept on rising.
As a reminder, here's what the Blues had to send to Buffalo to get their man:
-2019 1st round pick
-2021 2nd round pick
And the Blues further had to agree to pay the $7.5 M O'Reilly was due last July 1st. This was without a doubt quite the hefty price tag but you'll be hard pressed to find someone who would complain about it in St. Louis these days. The 6'1 216 pounds pivot played all 82 games for the Blues this season picking up 77 points in the process which made him their most productive player 9 points ahead of Tarasenko. In Montreal, he would also have come at the top of the rankings 5 points in front of Max Domi IF Bergevin had decided to press ahead and get him.
Would the Habs have been better off though? Looking at this trade, the Blues had to let go of 2 veteran players who were never huge points scorer but still had their use on the roster, Strictly speaking, if we had to give up two vets who would have gotten 30ish points and 20ish points, we could have been speaking of Paul Byron and Philip Danault or even Max Pacioretty who only had 37 points in his last season in Montreal. On top of that, the Blues had to give a rookie in Tage Thompson (9 points in 41 games in his first season and 12 points in 65 games with Buffalo this year). On the 2017-2018 Canadiens, likely candidates could have been Charles Hudon or Nikita Scherbak for instance. In hindsight, those wouldn't have been great losses I must say. Add to that the couple of picks and the truckload of money and all the ingredients were reunited for Bergevin to walk away.
To be honest, I don't think O'Reilly could have been the answer for the Habs, the loss of Pacioretty, Byron and/or Danault would have been greatly felt on the roster and I think that became even more evident this past season. Byron now wears an A on his jersey and is used in pretty much any role by the coaches who do see to have almost a blind trust in him, shame that he was injured so often this season though. As for Danault, he centered Tatar and Gallagher most of the season and had a career year to show for it.
In the end, I believe Bergevin made the right move by shipping Pacioretty to Vegas and getting Tatar, Suzuki and a 2019 2nd round pick. Of course, the dedication showed by Tatar this season and Suzuki's performance in Halifax these days make it all the more easy to like that trade but even if the youngster didn't look that promising, it seems like the organisation has turned a corner and decided to bet and build on youth. Draft and develop, it has work for many teams and why shouldn't it for the Canadiens as well? I mean look ahead to next season and just think of what Kotkaniemi will be able to do in his second season, of what Poehling showed us in the last game of the season and of the potential that Suzuki is displaying right now...I think it's safe to say that it's worth the wait. As for the Sabres, while they did get a good bundle for O'Reilly, chances are they weren't best pleased with Berglund losing his passion for hockey and walking away in December...
That being said, I definitely hope to see the Blues raise the cup at the end of the finals but my head keeps telling me that Boston will probably be victorious. They have the experience, they know how to win and they've got a pretty good attack. If St.Louis want to triumph, it will have to exploit Boston's D by making the most of Chara's now very evident lack of speed and hope that Rask will have a few bad games which is not looking very likely right now...