Size does matter. If you have any doubt, just take a look at the 2010-2011 edition of the Montreal Canadiens.
Last season, coach Jacques Martin spent far too much time rotating wingers, mostly due to lack of depth. He was at it well into March and even when he did find his lightning in a bottle he remained unsatisfied.
The problem was largely due size and depth combined with repeated failed efforts to get centerman Scott Gomez and the second line producing.
Not every player reacts well to being bounced around.
Andrei Kostitsyn was on fire on Tomas Plekanec’s wing and yet he got shuffled down to a clearly ineffective Gomez, swapping places with captain Brian Gionta who rediscovered his own scoring touch on Plekanec’s wing.
Once Max Pacioretty arrived from the Hamilton Bulldogs and fixed the second-line sputtering, Kostitsyn found a good home and some excellent chemistry on the third line with rookie Lars Eller.
The top line of Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri saw too many rotating wingers to remain truly effective, with Martin sometimes resorting to filling in the wing with his grinders and even fourth-line center Jeff Halpern.
The second line was set for Montreal going into the draft. The Pacioretty-Gomez-Gionta trio will be reunited and there’s no reason to think they won’t be as effective next season.
The problem for the Habs remains depth.
Kostitsyn is capable of playing on Plekanec’s wing, but should any of the top six go down to injury again this year there’s really no support from the lower ranks.
Benoit Pouliot had not earned himself a new contract and another season of rotating grinders in and out is not a winning formula. Plus, Kostitsyn and Eller make a deadly duo on the third line and their size and speed proved troublesome for rivals last year, so keeping them together is a smart move.
Today General Manager Pierre Gauthier filled the gap with the signing of former Carolina Hurricane right winger Erik Cole to a four-year $18 million contract.
In a thin UFA market, Cole was one of the coveted prizes.
The long-time Habs killer recorded 26 goals and 52 points last season, and his large heavy frame will provide some space for Plekanec and Cammalleri in front of the net. Like some of his former World Cup teammates Gionta and Gomez, Cole has a Stanley Cup ring and his experience should only help in an already tight room.
He’s another big solid forward with a scoring touch for the Canadiens, who now boast three such players on their top three lines in Cole, Pacioretty and Kostitsyn.
And if the Habs do suffer injuries again this season they have a bit more depth instead of having to rely on Travis Moen or Mathieu Darche to fill in a top-six slot.
Gauthier also chose to shop for a different backup goalie for starter Carey Price, turning to former Colorado Avalanche netminder Peter Budaj
The 28-year-old netminder is coming off a season to forget. Starting in 39 games, he logged only 15 wins and posted a 3.22 GAA.
However, the former second-round pick has good skills and with proven goalie coach Pierre Groulx helping to instill some sorely needed confidence he should be able to relieve Price hopefully more than 12 games a year.
The Habs still have only six defensemen signed, but RFA Josh Gorges is a certainty to re-sign with the team, as is fourth-liner Ryan White.
Last season saw the Habs take the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins to overtime in Game 7, despite injuries to key players and a pitiful 26th ranking in even-strength scoring.
This year will see not only the addition of Erik Cole but the return of healthy key players like Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Max Pacioretty.
Meanwhile, there’s still time, space and money for Gauthier to add another gritty presence to the bottom six with someone like Zenon Konopka or else give one of the prospects like Andreas Enqvist a chance to make the big team out of camp.
What he will do remains to be seen, but Gauthier has clearly taken steps today to address the team’s size and scoring problems, and that is hard not to like.
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