Montreal Canadiens: 5 Items the Habs Need to Address Following the NHL Lockout
Excluding the usual start-of-the-season housecleaning, the Montreal Canadiens definitely have their hands full with training camps set to open. Players need to be evaluated, contracts need to be signed and, oh yeah, the Habs need to get good.
A last-place finish in the Eastern Conference last season certainly didn’t endear the latest edition of the team to many, and this year should be about wiping the slate clean, starting from scratch and, if that doesn’t work, not winnin’ for Nathan MacKinnon.
Here are five pressing items the Canadiens need to address with the end of the National Hockey League lockout.
The Anaemic Power Play
Montreal scored on only 14.3 percent of its power-play opportunities in 2011-12, good for third-to-last place in the entire league. Needless to say, that’s not good enough.
Granted, P.K. Subban—once he gets re-signed by the team, which is undeniably a top priority of general manager Marc Bergevin—should help matters there.
However, one must remember, Subban helped to lead the power play last year with those very same less-than-inspiring results. As such, something needs to be fixed.
Meet Andrei Markov. No, seriously. He’s only played in 20 games over the last two years and 65 over the last three. Fans can certainly be forgiven for forgetting who he is, is all I’m saying, and he definitely has the tools to help out greatly—well, at least for the one man advantage he’ll stay healthy long enough to see.
That brings us to other potential offensive defensemen on the roster that are theoretically capable of taking the bull by the horns and contributing.
Josh Gorges? Has a curious tendency of jumping in front of pucks instead of shooting them.
Francis Bouillon? His five-goal-season days are way behind him.
Alexei Emelin? Given enough opportunities, he might just try to check the blue line instead of keeping it.
That leaves Yannick Weber, whom the Habs clearly have little confidence in, and Raphael Diaz, who, admittedly, did post seven goals and 22 assists with EV Zug in the Swiss National League A.
Montreal does have the bodies, at least, to make a go of it, even, when speaking of the lethargic Tomas Kaberle, if it might end up more like another Weekend at Bernie’s sequel.
Speaking of Kaberle…
The new collective bargaining agreement entitles teams to two total compliance buy-outs that won’t count against the ever-decreasing salary cap, available as an option only during each of the next two offseasons.
So, yes, Kaberle could find himself with a new address next fall. But how about Scott Gomez, whose $7,357,143 salary cap hit is always a topic for discussion? Namely, just what is it that one can buy for $7,357,143 that’s more valuable than Scott Gomez?
Most notably? A hell of a lot of tomatoes to throw at Scott Gomez.
But then there’s Rene Bourque, whose annual $3.33 million hit and apathetic style of play would theoretically handicap the Habs for four more seasons instead of just two if Montreal were to decide to hang on to either Gomez or Kaberle ($4.25 million).
Sure, Montreal won’t have to decide until this summer or even the following summer if they so choose, but it’s never too early to start evaluating talent, especially seeing as the Habs were already way late to begin with in regard to the three above.
Erik Cole’s Sudden Identity Crisis
Yes, there was a time in his career when Erik Cole could legitimately be confused for someone who didn’t play hockey.
Seasons of 60, 53 and 40 games would make even the most loyal Carolina Hurricane fans suspicious, admittedly due in large part to the fact they’re actually basketball fans trying to go to the North Carolina State Wolfpack game instead but keep getting their dates wrong.
But those concerns should have been put to rest when Cole—out of nowhere, really—put together a comeback season for the ages last year by tying a career-high 61 points all the while netting a new high-water mark of 35 goals (and playing in all 82 games, of course).
I mean, all due respect to the Habs, but once-high-profile players usually only come to Montreal to end their careers, not resurrect them.
As such, news that Cole will be reassessing his career options following this season due to his unhappiness with the new CBA should shock many (via TSN.ca) and upset a large number of those, including the Habs, who had finally found a big body up front capable of inciting interest in the team stemming from matters other than an ongoing relationship with Annie Villeneuve.
If Cole is truly worried about some of his $12 million remaining on his contract being put into escrow, never to be seen again, maybe he really should find a new career, perhaps in photography, because he’s missing the big picture.
As big a body as he is, which really ain’t that big, truth be told (6’2”, 205 pounds), no one player is bigger than the game, and that’s exactly what hockey is…a game he is still being paid very handsomely to play for a living.
Just Who Makes Up the 2nd Line?
Montreal definitely had depth-scoring concerns last year. It certainly doesn’t help matters—when trying to find enough able bodies to put the puck in the net on a consistent basis—that its top three scorers constitute just “two-and-a-half men.”
If Cole, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty still comprise the team’s de facto top line (when, in all honesty, they would make for a really good second line on a playoff team), it begs the question: Just who will round out Montreal’s top six forwards?
Tomas Plekanec is a relative shoo-in, as he’s scored 50 or more points in four of the last five seasons. Captain Brian Gionta is another logical choice since his strength lies in going to the net, even if his small-in-stature nature and 31 games played last year might indicate he really shouldn’t.
In any case, that leaves a group of players vying for that last spot that would likely make for a more intriguing police lineup and Usual Suspects sequel than be able to competently complete a scoring line.
Rene Bourque, Scott Gomez and Brandon Prust are all arguably overpaid players that have scored over 10 goals at one point or another in their careers.
However, based on recent performances, they each still may have trouble convincing others of that fact, and in Gomez’s case, that he’s a former Eastern Coast Hockey League most valuable player, let alone capable of scoring 10 there.
Meanwhile, Lars Eller is an actually attractive option, a two-way forward with a pedigree, who just last year was able to pot four goals in one game, albeit against the defensively lax Winnipeg Jets.
And how about Travis Moen, a favorite of former head coach Jacques Martin, who, despite his lack of the appropriate skill set, filled in on one of the top two lines whenever, offensively, things weren’t going as they should?
Michel Therrien’s probable answer? Colby Armstrong: a player who should get more than a few looks on that second line if last year’s team-wide inability to score consistently is any indication of what will happen this season.
And then, there’s the wild card the Habs just may be itching to play against their better judgment…
Back when a second NHL lockout in eight years was but an impossibility in the minds of all but the craziest among us, hockey analysts rationally believed Alex Galchenyuk was not ready for the NHL.
Yes, he was picked third overall and former linemate Nail Yakupov, taken just two spots earlier, is poised to tear the league up this year with the Edmonton Oilers.
However, he was also taken just one spot before Griffin Reinhart, who deemed it a good idea to slash Vince Trocheck in the face with Canada down four goals, trying to get back into their World Junior Hockey Championship semifinal against the United States.
The point is that no one is guaranteed to make the NHL immediately after being drafted, and analysts simply believed Galchenyuk could use at least one more year of seasoning in the Ontario Hockey League.
One half-year later, after Galchenyuk impressively went into that same tournament second in OHL scoring with 61 points and 27 goals in 33 games and then potted eight points in the U.S. team’s first five games, it may be a different story.
All Hab prospects, and not just the Sarnia Sting forward, deserve at least some consideration at the abridged training camp to come, but that sentiment goes doubly so for Galchenyuk, who stands 6’1” and weighs 198 pounds at just 19 years of age.
Galchenyuk is a centre who can also play the wing and may very well be poised to make the Habs out of training camp. Whether he should or not is a very different story, and what the team ultimately decides is very much up in the air, but not many could say that just a few short months ago.
The Canadiens could keep Galchenyuk in juniors or with the big club, but if they decide the latter, they had better give some thought to his development, namely whether he will legitimately benefit from a spot in the bottom six, or, dare I say, if he’s good enough right now to play on a top line.
Admittedly, it wouldn’t be that hard considering his supporting cast, but it’s ultimately up to the Habs to decide what’s best for the organization as a whole.
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