Is Steve Yzerman Obsessed with the Montreal Canadiens, or Just Savvy?

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Is Steve Yzerman Obsessed with the Montreal Canadiens, or Just Savvy?
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There are currently four ex-Habs in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, not to mention the entire former Bulldogs coaching staff running the show at ice level. So why does Steve Yzerman keep poaching from the Montreal Canadiens?

When it comes to the coaching staff, it’s not hard to see the logic. Guy Boucher had just won Coach of the Year for the Hamilton Bulldogs, Montreal’s AHL affiliate. He was backed by a solid team and there was no place for him to advance in the Canadiens organization.

But what about the players that Montreal has seen fit to cut loose does Yzerman find so attractive? And if they’re good enough for Tampa Bay, who went on to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, shouldn’t they be good enough for Montreal?

Well, yes and no.

Tom Pyatt, signed today by the Lightning, is a good, fast skater who blocks shots and kill penalties. If that was all Montreal required from its fourth-liners they’d have likely kept him. But Montreal has small forwards and Pyatt is a small forward who also doesn’t score.

He contributed only two goals and five assists for the Habs last season. He also doesn’t fight, hit hard or add any grit or depth whatsoever. He was also coming off a one-way contract with Montreal which was really a mistake on general manager Pierre Gauthier’s part. Pyatt is a hard worker and likeable guy, but is a borderline career AHLer.

For the Canadiens, who struggle mightily with scoring, their fourth-liners have to add more than some speed and penalty killing ability.

For Tampa Bay, who have Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis and possess some actual fire power and grit, they can pick up a penalty killing shot blocker and with a two-way contract signed they can send him to their AHL affiliate if they don’t actually need him.

Dominic Moore, who excelled with Montreal during their postseason Cinderella run in 2009-2010, was let go really only due to cap space and length of contract. Montreal tends to sign its fourth-liners for a year only, and if they warrant a pay increase recent cap constraints have meant that skater usually goes to free agency and Gauthier goes shopping.

Last year’s acquisition of Jeff Halpern to replace Moore is a classic example. Halpern has since signed with the Washington Capitals, and we have yet to see who will replace him.

Marc-Andre Bergeron, who has earned himself another contract with the Lightning, came to Montreal as a free agent to shore up the power play and help contribute from the blue line with some puck movement. 

The reason he didn’t stay with Montreal is that the Habs are led by a defense-first coach in Jacques Martin, and Bergeron possesses a nifty point shot and not much else. He did his job when it came to offense, but not to defense.

He often refused to take a hit to retain or gain possession of the puck, and made hair-raising blind passes through the neutral zone even through the playoffs

It was a case of square peg, round hole. He fits much better on Tampa Bay which has a more offensive minded coach in Boucher.

Mathieu Garon is another free-agent signing by Yzerman. Montreal chose to trade Garon and a draft pick for Radek Bonk and Cristobal Huet in 2004, and he now represents some depth to the Lightning organization when it comes to goaltending.

When it comes to Montreal there is currently no place on the roster for a small, offensive defenseman who represents a defensive liability. There is also no place on the roster for a small, penalty killing but offensively deficient soft fourth-liner.

For Yzerman these signings seem to be designed towards plugging some minor holes. For Gauthier, who has much bigger holes in his team that need filling; these players represent luxuries he simply cannot currently afford.

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