- Wednesday’s Morning Skate: Price “Questionable,” Lineup Shuffled
- The Recency Bias: Game 73 – Habs Lose 2-1 to Red Wings in OT
- Game Preview: Habs vs. Red Wings
- TSN: Montreal Canadiens Are a Stanley Cup Favourite
- The Recap: Game 72 – Sens vs Habs
- The Recency Bias: Game 72 – Habs Beat Sens 4-1
- The Recap: Game 71 – Habs vs Sens
- Preview: Canadiens @ Senators
- Preview: Montreal Canadiens vs Chicago Blackhawks
- The Recap: Game 69 – Habs vs Oilers
Piecing The Habs Puzzle
- Updated: June 16, 2015
As the curtain closes on the 2014-15 NHL season, anticipation among fans builds as focus shifts to what lies ahead. Peering behind the curtain, general managers can be found pulling levers and pushing buttons in hopes of improving their respective rosters.
Despite their strong regular season results and first round playoff series victory, the Montreal Canadiens are poised to enter the fall with as many as 5 new full time players.
Although the Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup for the third time in six years, the fact is there has never been more parity in the modern NHL. A mere 18 points separated the first overall New York Rangers from the 18th place Dallas Stars this season. Over 82 games that’s a difference of 6 wins and 3 OT losses. Health plays a major role in determining success (just ask Columbus) and the Canadiens benefitted from good grace, solidifying their status as the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference. Despite this strong finish, the Canadiens have a series of deficiencies throughout the lineup. None of these issues are quite as pronounced however as the need to improve the centre ice position on the first line.
Tomas Plekanec has been a consistent regular season performer, supporting the puck defensively and driving possession offensively however he is not a 1st line centre on a championship caliber team. I do believe he has a role on this club, but it is now closer to that of a third line centre than that of a 1st liner. Lars Eller became the Habs’ best centre following the trade deadline. His consistent play, aligned with his ability to drive possession and reduce the number of careless penalties in the defensive zone helped to outline the maturation of this young star. Given additional responsibilities and resources, I believe Eller could supplant Plekanec in the number 2 role. Although the points did not necessarily materialize, Eller was among the strongest forwards on the team in terms of puck possession, consistently able to carry the play into the offensive zone and drive the net in an effort to create scoring chances and open secondary scoring lanes. I am among those who believe that Alex Galchenyuk is a first line player and deserves the opportunity to play alongside the premier talent within the organization – Max Pacioretty. Galchenyuk will benefit from playing beside Max, who has supplanted Plekanec as the best two-way forward on the team. Pacioretty will help to open ice for Chucky and has the ability to burry those chances that he consistently creates. Although I anticipate a number of changes within the top 6, I believe the bottom 6 remains almost exactly the way it left off. In summary, the organization would be best served moving forward with the following;
Pacioretty Galchenyuk RW
Prospect Eller Gallagher
de La Rose Plekanec Weise
Prust Mitchell Smith-Pelly
When the storm clears, the Habs would be without Parenteau, Desharnais and Flynn while the centre ice position would be modified to best align the player to the position. The organization, provided it can dump the salaries belonging to Parenteau and Desharnais, would be a in strong position to add a top line player and absorbing the associated cap hit. I would not be surprised if Bergevin makes a play for Phil Kessel. Either way, the Canadiens do not have the solution internally – at least not yet and therefore must explore options from outside the organization. I both hope and believe the Habs leave a roster spot open on the 2nd line. I believe this creates a healthy competition among a number of top prospects who will vie for the opportunity to fill the void. The entry level salary will greatly facilitate the Habs’ ability to introduce payroll flexibility and ultimately land a top flight scorer via trade.
The Canadiens’ defence has the potential to be among the best in the league. Considering the fact that it is the most highly paid unit in hockey, expectations are justly heightened. The top four should undergo three changes, with Nathan Beaulieu joining PK on the top unit, while Markov slides back onto the second pairing alongside Jeff Petry. I am not entirely convinced that the organization will be able to move Alexi Emelin, so I see an opportunity for him to start the season paired with Greg Pateryn on the 5/6 unit. Tom Gilbert is much more likely to be traded as his cap hit and term are easily managed. As a result, I believe the Habs open the season with the following lineup:
Goaltending is set with Carey Price, however the backup position is anything but clear. I believe the organization has lost confidence in Dustin Tokarski and will look to Mike Condon to push for the backup role. Should Condon be unable to fill the need, the organization will look for help to strengthen the position. Although Price likes to stay active, it behooves the Habs to upgrade the goaltending position.
In closing, Marc Bergevin continues to manage expectations publicly. In his season ending press conference he indicated that the stated goal remains the same, “to make the playoffs.” However, at the executive level the Canadiens must realize that their window for opportunity has now opened and that decisions going forward must be aimed at pushing for a Stanley Cup. By parting with players such as Desharnais and Parenteau, while adding help from outside the organization, the Canadiens are poised to make a run towards a 25th Stanley Cup.