Rabid Habs

The Forum: Summer Time Habs Thoughts

It’s mid-summer and after an early barrage of moves around the draft and July 1, news has slowed big time in the hockey world. So we decided to ask our contributors what random Habs thoughts are bouncing around in their brain as they hang at the cottage, beach, patio, air-conditioned room this summer.


Antoine Mathieu (@Habsolutetruth) – I suppose I’m still in “expect the unexpected.” Although, historically speaking, Bergevin has rarely made any ground breaking moves past the first couple of days of July (besides Semin), I have a hard time seeing our management go into the season with more than $9 million in cap space available. There are two possible ways to spend our cap space; the most obvious one is to re-sign Markov, which I’m fully on board with. As I write this, our options to pair with Weber are either Alzner (which can work as we’ve seen with Emelin, but it remains a waste of Weber’s talent in my opinion), Schlemko (which would be my pick, despite his lack of a proven record playing such minutes) or long shots like Jerabek or Morrow. I’ve already shared my concerns in a past edition of The Forum about our lack of PMDs, but writing the line-up down makes it even more crystal clear that our defense will spend a lot of time in its own zone. Our lack of mobile defensemen will make it easy for teams to expose our weaknesses on D. They’ll simply dump it in where Price can’t play the puck and they’ll reach the puck before our D does. As good as a tactician Julien can be, there’s not a ton he can do with guys with sub-par passing abilities.

The other option is that Bergevin will wait until every RFA has had their arbitration meeting and see which teams are in trouble cap wise. That’s what Garth Snow did a few years back when he acquired the likes of Boychuk and Leddy for pennies on the dollar. As we speak, a team like the Leafs are over the cap. Many think JVR is on the way out, but it could be a guy like Bozak instead. There’s also a team like Detroit, who still has to sign Tatar and Athanasiou with less than 2.5M available on their cap.

I don’t have high hopes of us swinging in and making a great coup, but I guess we will see.

Kyle Roussel (@kyleroussel) – I’m with Antoine. I think we spent a lot of time knocking Bergevin & Co., with good reason, but when you compare the two rosters I think you can maybe make a case that this team is slightly better than last year’s. Of course there’s a HUGE hole on D without Markov. But with or without him, this team will have a tough time getting the puck out of the zone and up to the forwards. The Habs typically like to save a couple million in cap space to start the season, so I expect 6-7 million to be spent before the season starts.

We’re still in a holding pattern, but I’m not exactly champing at the bit for the season to start. I think we’re going to be in for a bit of a shock when the Habs struggle to keep ahead of teams like the Bruins, Sabres, and Leafs – yes – the Leafs.

Antoine Mathieu (@Habsolutetruth) – I suppose Kyle might be right that our roster is better than last year, if we compare the players coming in and out.

Julien > Therrien
Hemsky > Desharnais
Drouin = Radulov
Alzner > Emelin
Schlemko > Beaulieu
De La Rose > or = King
Jerabek/Morrow <<< Markov Hudon > or = Andrighetto

That being said, I’ll disagree on Kyle’s assessment that bringing back Markov wouldn’t make a big difference. Despite his age, Markov was arguably our best D after Weber. He was our best fit with Weber last season and he showed that he can still play 18-20 minutes at even strength against other team’s top lines, which is huge. Having The General for 15-17 minutes would help our transition game a ton since nobody else on the team comes close to his ability to make a proper breakout pass. The wingers will have to be lower in the neutral zone and be in a stationary position to help out the transition game due to our lack of PMDs, which will make it easy to defend against us since they won’t be coming in a full speed at the other team’s blue line and besides Drouin (and Radulov last year), we don’t really have any dynamic forward that have the skills to enter the other team’s zone solely on their hands. Another thing to point out is that without Markov, who will be our QB on the PP? Drouin? Hudon? Petry? These options don’t leave me excited to be honest. It’s in a situation like this that makes it a tad puzzling that we were so desperate to protect a bottom pairing defenseman like Benn over a guy like Beaulieu who showed glimpses of being able to QB our PP last year.

Claudio D’Andrea (@cdbytor) – I think Andrei Markov will have a great future in coaching once he retires. The fact that he is representing himself in contract negotiations, his quiet and composed leadership and smarts, makes me think this guy could be great behind the bench.

Maybe instead of just focusing on whether to re-sign him as a player, the Habs should be looking to groom him as a future coach?

Ian Boisvert (@Boisvertian) – One thing that I’ve been mulling over since the height of free agency has been the state of the Atlantic Division. Last year was arguably Montreal’s best chance to escape the Atlantic Division, as Tampa and Florida struggled with injuries. Montreal had a pretty clear path to the conference final where even the Ottawa Senators took the eventual Cup champs seven games.

So is that divisional window shut? Maybe not. Florida has shot itself in the foot with its expansion decisions. Tampa has a similar roster from last year, but can they stay healthy? Can Stamkos? What about Ottawa? Can they do all of this again? My biggest criticism of Guy Boucher has always been his longevity. It would not surprise me one bit to see Ottawa on the wrong side of the playoff bubble next April. Is Buffalo better? Probably, but not enough to consider them a playoff team. And Detroit is still Detroit. And Boston is still Boston. Both did very little to improve, and neither were good to begin with.

That leaves Toronto. Probably the most offensive team in the conference, Toronto’s biggest problem was holding leads. I don’t think they’ve done enough to improve their defense, and they had an abnormally healthy season last year. Toronto is a total coin flip for me. They could be a bubble team or a divisional winner.

So where is Montreal in all this noise? The narrative surrounding the team this summer has been maintaining status quo, for better or worse. In a division that has only moved sideways or backwards, Montreal might be okay. Looking at the powerhouses of the Metro, the same seems to be true. Pittsburgh and Washington both seem content with treading water for the time being, which bodes well for a Canadiens team that needs to win now. It seems like the East has slid a year and not much has changed.

I can see the Habs finishing atop their division once again, but any of the three divisional spots should be expected.

(And I’m operating from the pretense that Montreal re-signs Markov)

Antoine Mathieu (@Habsolutetruth) – I don’t have any concerns about Montreal making the playoffs. Ian’s analysis of the division is pretty spot on, but I have a hard time seeing us going deep in the playoffs with our current roster and that’s much more important in my book than making the playoffs. I know MB lives by the mantra that anything can happen in the playoffs, but when you’ve been eliminated every single playoff for the same reason (lack of scoring) and you fail to adapt or correct that problem, I think it’s time to start looking for a new GM.

Zach Vanasse (@ZachDropsTweets) – The transition game is absolutely going to suffer in a big way if Markov doesn’t come back, not to mention the fact that Montreal’s best player when it came to getting the puck through the neutral zone and retrieving dump and chases was Alex Radulov, who now takes his talents to Big D. That’s a scary thought.

For me, the big thing we’re not talking about enough this offseason is Claude Julien, especially when you consider just how much we obsessed over Michel Therrien. If Therrien really was the detriment to our Montreal Canadiens the way we all believed he was, why has the transition to Claude Julien – who everyone agrees is a good to great coach – done so little to encourage our confidence in this team? Was a first round exit to the Rangers all it took for us to give up on Julien’s abilities? Were our hopes and dreams cut down when Julien sent Galchenyuk to the wing on the 4th line for a couple of playoff games?

Speaking of Galchenyuk, I feel like there’s a lot more writing-off of him over one set back from an injury than there should have been. He may or not be a centre, time will tell, but the kid is still just 23 years old and this has been his career progression thus far:

Year 1: 9 g – 18 a = 27 pts
Year 2: 13 g – 18 a= 30 pts
Year 3: 20 g – 26 a = 46 pts
Year 4: 30 g – 26 a = 56 pts

And then there was last season, where he missed 20+ games with a tough injury and was slowed to a season of 17 goals and 27 assists (the most assists of his career to date, by the way) and had been one of the Habs’ best players up until the injury.

The narrative on Galchenyuk seems to now be that no matter what, he’s somewhat of a bust, considering his draft position. I’m not so convinced yet. Even if his defensive game has too many lapses to make him a centre, I’m not writing his potential stardom off just yet.

Also, hard disagree with Antoine on Beaulieu showing signs he could QB the powerplay.

Kyle Roussel (@kylesoussel) – I remember the day Julien was brought in, and I half-jokingly asked Twitter what we’d say about Julien if he kept Galchenyuk on the wing as well? After all, Therrien was such a dope and couldn’t see what we all saw, right? Lo and behold, Julien doesn’t necessarily see him as a centre, either, so maybe that’s just it. Our confidence in Julien is already somewhat shaken. The first round exit didn’t help, either. The penalty kill and team defense immediately improved under Julien which is good, but ultimately not enough when we know this team’s problem is scoring goals…

Ian Bosivert (@Boisvertian) – I’m not sure I agree with this. My confidence in Julien as a coach dealing with Alex Galchenyuk hasn’t changed. If you’ve listened to him talk this summer, you know he’s open to the possibility of Galchenyuk returning to centre. The problem with the Galchenyuk question is that fans have chosen one of two sides that are inherently incorrect. It’s either Galchenyuk’s fault or the coach’s fault (whoever that is). The reality of the situation is that Galchenyuk played centre at an elite level before his knee injury. His skating noticeably lost a step, and he was burned in the defensive zone because he couldn’t keep up. There wasn’t a peep about his defensive play when he was successful early on last year. That’s what Alex Galchenyuk can be.

You’re entitled to believe whatever you want, but Alex Galchenyuk can be this team’s number one centre. Julien hasn’t had a healthy Galchenyuk yet, and I’m thinking he wants to see what he’s got.

Will Harte (@willharte) – Several issues dominate my thoughts (distracted as they are at the moment by baseball) on the Habs this summer as we wait to see whether Marc Bergevin has anything else up his sleeve prior to the start of the season:

1. When will Andrei Markov eventually come on board? The clear consensus is that the Habs desperately need him, an opinion which I share. For some reason, though, I don’t see the Russian (or any Russian, for that matter) playing for MB again in the near future. For Shea Weber’s sake, I hope I’m wrong.
2. What are the short- and long-term ramifications of Carey Price’s astonishing 8-year, $10.5 million/yr contract? Short-term, a huge cap hit, to be weighed against an elite-level goaltender around which Montreal will build its team this coming season. In the long-term, potentially a huge gamble that stands to restrict the Habs’ ability to pay for talent at other positions. And that’s assuming Price stays healthy.
3. Where will Claude Julien play Alex Galchenyuk come October?
3. Who will finish higher in the Atlantic Division this season, Toronto or Montreal? Alas, my money is on the Leafs. But, as Antoine says, I guess we’ll see!