Rabid Habs

The Forum: What To Do With Alexei Emelin

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With Michel Therrien and David Desharnais gone, it was only a matter of time before Habs fans found a new whipping boy. Now that Alexei Emelin is the official target du jour, the question for our contributors this week is, if they were in Claude Julien’s place, what would they do with Alexei Emelin?

Kyle Roussel (@kyleroussel) – Yeah it didn’t take long for Emelin to become the new target, did it? Unfortunately for Emelin, it’s not all unwarranted. He’s been positively dreadful lately, but he seemed to have reverted to a steadier state this past weekend vs the Sens. It’s a game-to-game approach with Emelin I think. If he can maintain his form from this weekend, he can stay. If he can’t, then Julien can’t afford to have a long leash, especially once the playoffs start. Emelin’s devastating hits definitely have the opposition on red alert, but when he’s as bad as he’s been lately, he can single-handedly cost the Habs games. Obviously that can’t be allowed to happen come mid-April.

Ian Boisvert (@Boisvertian) – I’ll preface my answer by saying I was never really on board with the David Desharnais hate. What I did hate was his deployment on the power play and on the top line, which fell solely on the coach.

Emelin, regardless of deployment, has played the worst hockey of his career over the last three months. With that being said, I like what Claude Julien has been doing, and I understand why he’s been doing it. Julien is right: Emelin is a guy the Canadiens need going into the playoffs, and they need him to be the old Emelin. Could you imagine if Montreal played Boston in the second round? You need an engaged Emelin in that series.

Well what about Davidson? He’s fine, but Emelin can bring that physicality the Habs would need in a series against Boston.

And it looks like Julien has already started to rebuild Emelin’s confidence. Sunday’s contest against Ottawa was his best game in a long time. Julien has pressed all the right buttons with Emelin, and with a relatively weak schedule the rest of the way, look for Julien to lean on Emelin to rebuild that confidence.

Zach Vanasse (@ZachDropsTweets) – I don’t know about the Habs “needing” an engaged Emelin in the playoffs. What is an engaged Emelin, really? I mean, even at his best – which I think we can all agree is what we see when he plays against Boston – what is Emelin bringing to the table? A couple of big hits? Is that worth it? As one of the original Emelin detractors, I’ve repeated this endlessly at this point, so forgive me, but I still don’t understand what’s supposed to be good about The Good Emelin.

Even when he’s at his best he seems to make the dumb choice on offence about 90% of the time and – unless I’m missing something big here – he’s not exactly shutting anything down on the other end… so what’s his purpose? Once again I’m asking for someone – anyone – to please explain to me what Emelin is supposed to bring to the table that’s worth a damn. And if that thing is “big hits,” then I’m going to need that backed-up with some evidence showing he delivers enough of those to be worth anything at all.

I get what Julien is trying to do with the him, and I’m not sure he has another option, but I’ve got very little confidence in Emelin to deliver anything positive for the Canadiens anymore. He’s shown an inability to learn his entire career. He has to have one of the lowest hockey IQs in the league. And while some of you might like what you saw against Ottawa on Sunday night, I’m not interested in giving Emelin the “Donald J. Trump Incredibly Low Bar for Success Award” at the moment. He didn’t cause a goal against. so good for him for not being an absolute negative for a whole 60 minutes.

Sean O’Neill (@TheONeillFactor) – Kind of like Mike Komisarek, Emelin can be *okay* when paired with a smart, mobile defenseman who knows how to mop up his mistakes. Even then, though, I would agree that `Good Emelin’ is a below-average defenseman, and certainly not worth what he’s being paid.

He’ll look decent in a Golden Knights sweater.

Zach Vanasse (@ZachDropsTweets) – He’s got a No Trade Clause baby! I have no idea if this mean’s he’s expansion draft eligible or not… anyone, anyone?

Okay fine, I did the research. Habs are not required to protect Emelin in the expansion draft. They’re only required to protect Carey Price and Jeff Petry due to NMC or NTCs, so we got that going for us, which is nice.

But through my research I also learned he’s 30 years old. Thirty! He’s not going to figure anything out now.

Ian Boisvert (@Boisvertian) – I’m convinced that Emelin can turn this around. A lot of the mistakes he made (especially against Chicago) were positional, which is something he can change. He needs to play within himself and not try to be a star.

Maybe Julien’s system is harder for him to pick up. I don’t think Emelin is a number 3 or 4 defenseman, but he’s certainly not as bad as he was against Chicago. I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that is Alexei Emelin. I think he could be a solid 3rd pairing defenseman, but (1) he’s paid too much and (2) Montreal already has a good third pairing.

When saying they need him for the playoffs, I’m not saying they need him to lead. They need depth defenseman, which is what he is at this point in his career. You need eight guys on the back end. I don’t think Nesterov is an option Julien is even predicting, and you have to remember that Julien always saw Emelin at his absolute best when he was behind the Bruins’ bench.

He’s got the rest of the regular season to figure it out, which is plenty of time to turn it around. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been meh to absolute garbage since Julien took over, but he’s got time. Deep breath in; deep breath out.

Will Harte (@willharte) – Mind if I mention Brad Park? A Hockey-Hall-of-Fame defenseman, Park played 19 seasons in the NHL starting in the late 1960s, mostly with the Rangers and the Bruins. A perennial All-Star as well as Hart and Norris Trophy candidate, Park was known for his hard-hitting style and feared throughout the league for his hip-checking prowess. Few blueliners of his (Bobby Orr) era were better with the puck: 95 goals over 8 seasons with New York, 100 over the same time period with Boston, a total of 896 career points. Not surprisingly, Park was one of only 21 defensemen who made the NHL’s top 100 list earlier this year.

What does Brad Park have to do with Alexei Emelin, you ask? Certainly, there’s something about #74 (remember his hit on Jack Eichel at the World Cup last fall?) that reminds me of Park, whom I watched play growing up in the 70s. More to the point, though, it seems that many Habs fans see the Russian’s consistently strong physical play, the stretches of games where he keeps his unforced errors to a minimum, and imagine that #74 has the makings of a bluechip D-man like Park. He doesn’t. To state the obvious, it’s not even close.

But that doesn’t mean Claude Julien doesn’t have a use for Emelin going into the playoffs. Sure, Julien sat him in Saturday’s game away against Ottawa, but he brought Emelin back in the home return against the Sens and he responded by playing well for 19 minutes. Next month, I expect Emelin to see something close to the 22 minutes he’s been averaging this year. Regardless of who they face in the first round, Montreal is going to need the physical presence he brings to their game.

Am I the only one who is willing to forgive Emelin’s frequent defensive lapses (see Islanders’ second goal, Feb. 23) given the other facets of his game? Plenty of Habs fans sure have been hard on the guy this year, and not without reason. But here’s what Eric Engels had to say about him recently on the Andrew Berkshire podcast:

“What people don’t see about Emelin is how much his teammates appreciate what he does… They do appreciate his physical presence. They do appreciate his demeanor. He’s a guy that they root for. They like him… If Alexei Emelin can play his best hockey, he can be a big part of the team’s success in the playoffs.”

Anyhow, let’s hope Emelin is at the top of his game for the rest of the 2016-17 season. And let’s hope the Habs do enjoy some success in the playoffs that can’t, at least for this hockey fan, come soon enough.

Kyle Roussel (@kyleroussel) – Could Julien have also provided a clue to how he’ll use Emelin come playoff time? He benched him in Ottawa, but played him at home. That could be the luck of the draw, and how the circumstances played out, but it could indicate that CJ feels like he needs to protect Emelin. If Emelin remains inconsistent, then at least the advantage of having last change at the Bell Centre means Julien/Daigneault can play the match-up game with a bit more efficiency. Because I agree with Will, and by extension, Engels. The raw data suggests that Emelin is a tire fire this season, but the appreciation of teammates means *something*. Julien’s gotta walk the line with Emelin until he levels out as a solid 3rd pair guy, or the wheels fall off completely and CJ has to put him in the press box on a more permanent basis.

One Comment

  1. Bay Bye

    March 23, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    but everyone seems to forget Weber’s game-play has gone down the tube as well but everyone wants to forget about him and concentrate on others. we are still stuck to 9 more years of a diminishing player. he is getting older,slower and less effective. we bargained for a lot more when we gave up PK and 4 years, but it seems we are losing in the short term as well as the long term. we also have Shaw who although at times shows sparks of good play can still take stupid penalties in the offensive zone, so Emelin is not our only problem