Defenseman Eric Gelinas’ tumultuous career has taken another turn, hopefully for the positive with the Montreal Canadiens. Gelinas’ professional tryout agreement (PTO) with the team qualifies as a risk-free, potentially high-reward move by general manager Marc Bergevin.
Gelinas Can’t Make It Work in Colorado
There’s little sugarcoating Gelinas’ last few years. Marginalized as a New Jersey Devil, he was sent packing to the Colorado Avalanche back in 2015-16. Playing for the very worst team in the NHL this past season, he couldn’t make enough of an impression to stay, essentially splitting his time between the Avs and their American Hockey League affiliate.
It’s hard to imagine that this was a player whose future seemed as bright as that of any other defenseman just three years ago. It was in 2013-14 when Gelinas posted 29 points in just 60 games with the Devils. Then his lack of defensive awareness gradually got exposed to the point that he became a regular healthy scratch, and, ultimately with the Avalanche, an extra body for the machine.
In fact, that may very well be what Bergevin has in mind here. Teams are required to dress a minimum of eight veterans for preseason games. Because of his 189 career NHL games (100 minimum), Gelinas qualifies. That means, without committing to an actual contract, Bergevin has helped to fill a quota, all the while enabling head coach Claude Julien to dress fewer actual Habs in those meaningless cash grabs the league likes to call exhibition games.
Gelinas vs. Fleischmann
It’s far from being a win-win, as Gelinas can just as easily be discarded like the has-been many around the league believe he is. As Tomas Fleischmann proved in 2015 though, never say never. He caught on with the Habs despite being signed to a PTO for training camp.
Of course, anyone familiar with Fleischmann’s work that season will readily admit he pretty much used up whatever he had left in the tank to first earn the job, before gassing out one month into the season. That doesn’t change the fact that the Habs didn’t have to give up anything to sign him. It also doesn’t change the fact that Bergevin turned him (and Dale Weise) into a very serviceable NHL player in Phillip Danault.
Can Bergevin pull off the same feat of brilliance with Gelinas?
It’s admittedly unlikely. First off, Bergevin made that trade as the Habs were in a tailspin and on the cusp of missing the playoffs. If they’re in a similar situation this coming season, chances are good Bergevin isn’t even around to make the deal. If they are and he is, no one will exactly be singing his praises for his wherewithal working the phones. He’ll have bigger worries than flipping Gelinas for an asset of any kind.
Secondly, Gelinas would have to beat out some quality competition to earn a spot. There are currently eight defensemen on the roster, six of whom are left-handed like Gelinas. That’s not even taking into fellow-leftie Jakub Jerabek, who has a European assignment clause for if he fails to make the team.
Browse but Don’t Buy?
Needless to say, the deck is stacked against Gelinas to beat just Jerabek out for a job. That’s even if the native of Vanier, Ontario does fit the profile of the type of defenseman the Habs actually need: An in-his-prime leftie who can potentially play with Shea Weber.
Gelinas’ defense is a cause for concern, but his offense would theoretically complement Weber’s sound positioning in his own zone. In many ways, Gelinas is more of a valuable commodity than Mark Streit, whom Bergevin signed by all appearances as a knee-jerk reaction to Andrei Markov leaving for the Kontinental Hockey League.
Of course, Bergevin may not see it that way. In his mind, Gelinas may just be a temporary means to an end. If that’s the case, it’s still hard to fault him for reaching out. Gelinas may very well turn into dust in the wind, with this being his last taste of NHL action. If it is, no harm no foul.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to give him a shot either, though. If you’re going to play him in exhibition games, you may as well take a look.