It has been a long offseason for the Montreal Canadiens filled with both signings as well as acquisitions from the starting point of the summer through to the very end. Now, with fans patiently waiting for the 2018-19 season to commence, there has been a full blown build up of both anxiety and anticipation not knowing where their team stands in terms of success come Opening Night.
Now that we are here with pre-season play finally out of the way, I think it’s fair to say that both management as well as Habs nation has a taste of what’s coming up, however, that is something that both can be changed and is changed at unexpected times with things such as waiver deals not exempted from taking place.
That being said, with just a matter of hours to go prior to dropping the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena, perhaps general manager Marc Bergevin had one last trick to pull from up his sleeve late Wednesday afternoon, trading away Will Bitten to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Gustav Olofsson, according to a club announcement.
Oloffson was placed on waivers on Tuesday afternoon, just 48 hours before opening night got underway. The Athletic’s Michael Russo was first with the report which the Canadiens very quickly pounced in an attempt to add defence to the AHL’s Laval Rocket which is now overlooked by head coach Joel Bouchard.
Just one day prior, the Canadiens acquired defensemen Brett Kulak from the Calgary Flames in exchange for Rinat Valiev as well as Matt Taormina. Taormina was in training camp at the time of the trade while Valiev was with the Habs putting the final touches on the pre-season.
As noted by Andrew Zadarnowski of Habs Eyes On The Prize, the Canadiens are able to send Olofsson directly to the Laval Rocket by trading for him after he had cleared waivers rather than picking him up off waivers.
Furthermore, Olofsson had cleared waivers on Wednesday after Minnesota waived him in order to bring their roster to the 23 player limit. At this time, he is in the final year of his bridge contract, a one-way deal in its second year worth a total base salary of $725,000.
Olofsson, 23, was originally drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the second round (46th overall) back in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and would later go on to make his NHL debut in November in 2015 where he appeared in a total of two games played after having signed a two-year deal freshly out of Colorado College hockey.
Taking a look now at his performance for the 2017-18 season, the native of Boras, Sweden appeared in a total of 42 games played where he recorded eight assists, making for a total of eight points. He also adds 14 penalty minutes to resume of statistics.
As for the numbers surrounding his NHL career as a whole, Olofsson has appeared in a total of 56 games played, recording 11 assists, making for a total of 11 points registered while he also adds 16 penalty minutes to his resume of statistics. Olofsson will report to AHL Laval.
Taking a look now at the other end of this deal, the Wild receive 20-year-old Will Bitten from Montreal, a 20-year-old centreman from Ottawa, Ontario. Bitten, who was originally selected by the Canadiens in the third round (70th overall) back in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, spent the 2017-18 season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League where he scored 20 goals to go alongside 64 points in a total of 62 games played after having being traded from the Flint Firebirds. In his final year of junior hockey, it included a postseason run where Bitten also added on four goals to go alongside 11 points in 21 games played as the Bulldogs went on to win the OHL Championship.
As noted by Andrew Zadarnowski of Habs Eyes On The Prize, Bitten was among a throng of centres that the Laval Rocket had in their midst, and, despite showing a tenacious style of play, was deemed expendable in order to strengthen the much weaker organizational defensive depth.
Bitten was signed to a three-year, entry-level contract by Montreal back on March 7th after having put up 61 points in a total of 58 games played to that point in the season for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs where he was very obviously amongst those who were considered team leaders by head coach John Gruden.
Bitten has also made an appearance with Team Canada after he received an invitation to World Juniors summer camp for the chance to play in Buffalo, however, he would not end up going to the competitions final camp, as per a report from TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie.
Bitten’s international play is set to continue next season in Kamloops when the province of British Columbia plays host to the 2018 CIBC Canada-Russia Series where Bitten will once again get the chance to represent his home country on the west coast.
In taking a look back at Montreal’s latest acquisition in Gustav Olofsson, the former second-round pick in the 2013 draft became expendable with the signing of Greg Pateryn as well as the emergence of Nick Seeler.
It is also worth noting that this deal not only helps Olofsson get a fresh start in Montreal in exchange for a right shot forward with some potential, but also brings salary relief to the Wild as well. As far as financial terms go for each player, Olofsson is on a one-way contract which means he got paid his full NHL salary even in the minors while Bitten’s contract is two-way which means he will be paid less while playing in the minors.
During his time playing at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, Olofsson was projected as a reliable defensemen, however, he never quite lived up to expectations while constantly battling through a variety of multiple injuries sustained.
What’s particularly funny about this acquisition is the fact of which both Olofsson as well as defensemen Mike Reilly were signed to matching one way contracts to compete for a spot on the team’s third pairing, and now both defensemen have been traded to Montreal.
Back to Will Bitten, who was ranked #15 out of 25 by Habs On The Prize over the summer, he is set to join Minnesota’s American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa where he will continue to battle for a spot to make his case to the NHL.
Taking a look at Bitten’s career numbers at the Ontario Hockey League level, the promising right-winger logged a total of 217 points recorded over the span of four seasons spent combined between two teams.
During his time spent playing in Hamilton, Ontario, Bitten was viewed as a complete player with a strong two-way game. While Bitten is a smaller player coming in at only 5-foot-10, he is a fast player who does all the little things right.
As noted by Corey Pronman of The Athletic, he does need to work on his offensive production, but projects to be a middle-six or bottom-six player with the ability to bring energy and contribute on the penalty kill.
At the end of the day, as noted by Omar White of A Winning Habit, the Habs remain at 47 total contracts with this transaction now officially in the books, however it did cost them both the talent and future of Will Bitten in order to pull it off.
In other news recently surrounding the Montreal Canadiens organization, the team announced on Monday that Shea Weber had been named the 30th team captain in franchise history to replace Max Pacioretty who was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights just a week before training camps opened their doors across the league.
With this in mind, Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher were named as alternate captains on Tuesday morning at the Bell Centre when Weber was joined by both head coach Claude Julien and general manager Marc Bergevin to address the local media about the decision. For Byron, the good news continues on as he received a new four-year contract extension back on Sunday September 23rd with his current three-year deal set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018-19 regular season.
Moving onwards to Thursday, just a day after the team opened the season with a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Opening Night at Scotiabank Arena, the Canadiens announced the signing of 19-year-old defensemen Cale Fleury to a three-year, entry-level contract after he was selected in the third round (87th overall) in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft which took place at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
Much like Will Bitten, Cale Fleury was selected as a third-round draft pick and becomes the latest addition to the AHL’s Laval Rocket which is now overlooked and managed by head coach Joel Bouchard.
Fleury has spent the last four years playing in the Western Hockey League, 3 1/2 of which were spent with the Kootenay Ice prior to being traded to the Regina Pats where he spent the last half of the 2017-18 season.
Taking a look at his performance for the entire season as a whole, Fleury, who is a native of Calgary, Alberta, scored six goals to go alongside 35 assists, making for 41 points registered in a total of 51 games played and will look to keep up similar success if not more when the Rocket season gets underway on Saturday night against Providence.
As for the Montreal Canadiens upcoming schedule, they will get back to work on Saturday night against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, taking part in the first Hockey Night in Canada of the new season which will begin with pre-game coverage starting at 6:30pmET while the puck is scheduled to drop at 7:00pmET at PPG Paints Arena.
The game can be seen on Sportsnet, RDS and the Canadian Broadcast Corporation while it can be heard on TSN Radio 690 Montreal as well as 98;5FM. Both Karl Alzner and Tomas Plekanec, who both were benched for game 1 against Toronto on Wednesday, should both draw into the starting lineup as the Habs look to close out their first road trip of the year with a win before returning home to take on Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings.
While a streak of consecutive games may have been broken for Karl Alzner, a new chapter begins as the Canadiens seek redemption and a stronger season as a result of the moves made by the Canadiens front office over the course of the offseason but much like any experiments put into place, it’ll be a waiting game full of both excitement and anticipation. So far, things have only been so good and so players and fans should remain both hopeful and positive with 81 games left to play before a race for the cup begins.