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The Most Underrated Line and Game Notes

Some soar high into the sky, get into the limelight and get the recognition that they deserve. Others, well… not so much. Yet, they do just as good of a job but it’s not as flashy, or their names aren’t as recognized to be worthy of mention, of the recognition that they deserve. The Montreal Canadiens have a forward line flying under the radar at the eyes of both Media and fans alike, other than the ones following the team day in, day out, that is.

The line of Phillip Danault centering Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar proved once again last night that they are an elite line in this league. They were given the task of facing and keeping in check what’s arguably the NHL’s best line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, a job that few other lines in the league have been able to do successfully over the past few seasons and certainly not this year. Not only did they keep them in check, the Canadiens’ top line dominated the Bruins’ dynamic trio all throughout the game. They we in total control of the game when on the ice and that’s not an easy task. But rest assured that Bruins’ head coach Bruce Cassidy and the Bergeron line took notice. At some point, Cassidy even decided to move Pastrnak to David Krejci‘s line in hope to mix things up.

When all was said and done, Bergeron and Pastrnak finished the night with one point each (on the powerplay) but they and fellow linemate Marchand all finished the game with a minus -2 rating. In the meantime, Tatar (2 shots) had a goal and an assist, Gallagher (4 shots) an assist and Danault (3 shots) all retreated in the dressing room at plus -1 after 60 minutes.

In a league where points seem to be the determining factor to get any recognition, a top line where all three have fewer than a point per game is not important enough. After all, even the Norris Trophy (best overall defenseman) and the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) are now awarded, more often than not, to offensive-minded player who happen to be good defensively, although not the best. At some point, the NHL will have to start noticing the Canadiens’ trio as one of the top ones in the league.

Game Notes

  • Claude Julien, who was coaching his 1,200 NHL game, had some coaching to do last night and he outcoached his opponent. He did a master job at matching up the top lines but also, prior to the game, he decided to place often underrated defenseman Ben Chiarot with team captain Shea Weber and match that pair against the Bergeron line. Brad Marchand was invisible, often tangled up with the Canadiens two rugged defenseman. He did not have fun last night and it showed. Result? Julien earned his 635th career win, placing him 14th all-time in that category.
  • Fans at the Bell Centre game Zdeno Chara an ovation when they announced that he was playing his 1,500 game last night. It seems like fans have a short memory as many wanted him to have criminal charges for the incident where he drove Max Pacioretty‘s head into a stanchion a few years ago.
  • Not only did Victor Mete score his first NHL goal earlier this season, he added two more last night against the Bruins. Fun fact: Mete is tied with P.K. Subban in points this season with five, and his three goals is one more than the controversial Devils’ defenseman. Weber you ask (can’t talk Subban without saying this name)? The aging defenseman also only has two goals, but he picked up his 10th point of the season last night. Mete made this guy sweat last night…
  • Was it or was it not offside? When Charlie Coyle scored to put the Bruins ahead, Julien and his video coaches decided to challenge the goal saying that it was offside. After much deliberation and video reviews, it was deemed that Coyle was offside.
  • The debate today is to know if Coyle had “possession” of the puck at zone entry. Some say he did, I say he did not and the linemen got this one right on the review. You see, Coyle did not have possession, he was in the process of gaining possession. Having possession is being in full control which he clearly doesn’t… yet at the time he crossed the line. Was it voluntary? Absolutely. But it doesn’t constitute control.
  • So far this season, the Canadiens are 7-1-2 against teams with a 500 or better record. What’s mind boggling is that they’re 1-4-0 against teams with below 500 record. The good news is that in the playoffs, every team is over the 500 mark but in order to get into the playoffs, the Habs will have to start beating those lower tier teams too.
  • While the defense needs some work – and by that I mean defensive play, not just the defensemen), it’s the offensive production that surprises everyone. So far in 15 games, the Canadiens have scored 3.67 goals per game, good for fourth in the NHL, trailing only the Nashville Predators (4.00), Washington Capitals (3.94) and… Boston Bruins (3.73).

The Canadiens’ next game is Thursday as they visit the Philadelphia Flyers (7-5-2). Game time: 4:00 pm. Go Habs Go!

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Ben Chiarot Comparables

Ah the monetary and overall value of a player to a team. What a topic of discussion, isn’t it? You see, it’s a extremely subjective topic. We’ve all been in discussions with other people about a specific player and we’ve all disagreed with some of them about their take on a players’ worth. You see, while one may feel strongly about their opinion about a certain player, it doesn’t necessarily make them true. Oh it’s certainly true in their own mind and they’ll make sure to tell you so. But like any subjective topic, there’s more grey than there is black or white.

While it’s the same phenomenon across the NHL, we don’t have to look far in Montreal to find examples. People are still talking about a three year old trade of a defenseman who shall remain nameless for the purpose of this topic, but we know who we’re talking about, right? But we can’t blame fans for having a strong opinion about some players’ worth. Think about it… NHL General Managers disagree amongst each other about the value of certain players, killing more trade talks than we can begin to imagine. Further, those GMs are often in disagreement with players’ agents when it comes to contract talks. Here’s the only fact: everyone has a subjective opinion and the worth of a player to one team is, more often than not, not the same for the team next door.

One recent topic of discussion amongst Habs’ fans has been about the value of the team’s most recent Unrestricted Free Agent’s signing: Ben Chiarot. But before we get into this, here are some facts about the rugged Hamilton native:

Back on July 4th, Chiarot signed a 3-year, $10.5 million dollar deal with Montreal as a UFA. So far this season, he has played 14 games at the time of writing this. In those 14 games, he is averaging 20:43 minutes of ice time per game, third on the team behind only Jeff Petry and Shea Weber, who both play on the right side while Chiarot plays left. He has one goal, one assist and has a differential of plus -3. He’s second on the Habs in hits (34), 3rd in blocked shots (18) and he has 27 shots on goal, good for 8th on his team. He’s done all of that while getting accustomed to a new City, a new team, learning a new system and slowly developing chemistry with his defense partner(s) and teammates, getting to know their habits. Those are undeniable facts.

Contract comparables

You have people saying that Chiarot is overpaid, that he doesn’t always make the right decision with the puck, overcommits at times, gets caught out of position other times. While you certainly won’t find a topic of debate with yours truly when it comes to those assessments, I will certainly argue about his salary and his worth. You see, after some good discussions with other Habs’ fans on Twitter during the game in Dallas, I decided to do some research… because that’s what I do. I typically don’t just argue for the sake of arguing. I like to, as much as possible, back up my statements, my beliefs and my opinions. If I’m wrong after doing my research, I will certainly admit it too.

Let’s take a look at similar contracts around the NHL, contracts that Chiarot’s agent likely used to compare his client to, if he was doing his job (which I’m sure he was). I have added a couple of notes below the table to help you put some of those numbers into context.

NAMEAGESIGNED ASCAP HITLENGHTCAP HIT %YEAR SIGNED2018-19 GP2018-19 PTS
Marc Staal28UFA5.768.2620157913
Niklas Hjalmarsson27UFA4.156.3820138210
Karl Alzner28UFA4.6356.17201791
Calvin De Haan27UFA4.5545.7220187414
Brendan Smith28UFA4.3545.820176313
Dmitry Kulikov26UFA4.3335.782017576
Ian Cole29UFA4.2535.3520187115
Kris Russell30UFA445.3320177216
Erik Gudbranson 26UFA435.3320187610
Jason Demers28UFA4.556.162016358
Justin Braun27UFA3.855.5120147816
Michael Stone27UFA3.534.672017145
Ben Chiarot28UFA3.534.2920197820
Patrik Nemeth27UFA3.023.6820197410
Carl Gunnarsson29UFA2.933.972016257
John Moore27UFA2.7553.4620186113
Thomas Hickey29UFA2.543.142018404
Jordie Benn31UFA2.022.4520198122

* Stats from CapFriendly.com

NOTES:

  1. Whether we agree with it or not, UFA’s players’ agents definitely use comparables when negotiating a client’s contract, which is why I’ve included last year’s stats and contract info.
  2. There is a premium to pay to get most UFA’s to sign in Canada, Montreal included. Keep that in mind as well, again whether we agree with it or not.

Some will argue that the team would have been better off re-signing 31 year old Jordie Benn. That’s a very defendable point but the team decided to go with a younger, more physical Chiarot who is at the very least, a slight improvement over Benn. Three years is a very good term as well, all things considered.

Ben Chiarot

So what’s the issue here? The most logical answer is that some people’s expectations are unrealistic. You pay a player $3.5M and they’re expecting near perfection. You know what? He is what he is: a fairly solid veteran who will play physical, be okay (no more) at moving the puck, will block shots and will, more often than not, be reliable in his own zone. But he will make mistakes, more so than a defenseman who’s amongst the tops in the league.

While he’s a very good player, Petry is known across the NHL for his brain cramps. He reminds me a lot of Alex Edler in Vancouver. Those players will be playing a great game but will make a couple of very bad decisions which ultimately, will result in a scoring chance or a goal. But Chiarot is making $2 million less than Petry, and that gap will be much bigger when he signs his new contract this upcoming summer, and we all know that.

All in all, the issue is not so much with Chiarot and his play, but rather with the somewhat unrealistic expectations some people have on him… at least in my opinion. The opinions will also vary depending on when the comments are made. This discussion took place during a game where the Canadiens were getting outplayed and outscored, bringing a ton of negativity in the fan base. Regardless, Chiarot is a $3.5M player and he’s worth every penny when comparing league-wide. Now let’s go back at enjoying the games and cheer on our favourite team, shall we? Go Habs Go!

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Claude Julien On A Short Leash?

General Managers manage, players play and coaches… well, they’re supposed to coach. Marc Bergevin the GM went and robbed the Arizona Coyotes by acquiring Max Domi and giving away a player that lasted one season in the desert. Domi delivered by finishing his first season at the top of his new team’s list in scoring, with a breakthrough season which saw him get 72 points while making the difficult transition from winger to centre at the NHL level. Claude Julien took a while to understand but finally, he’s starting to coach.

You see, up until the last two games, the team’s best offensive player had been spending the vast majority of his time with Artturi Lehkonen and Jordan Weal on his wing. It’s not the first time that we question some of Julien’s decisions as we did it last year, but this one took the cake. Name me one other coach in his right mind who would play his best offensive player with third and fourth liners? Alexander Ovechkin has Nicklas Backstrom, not Lars Eller as his centreman. Patrice Bergeron has Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on his wings. And the list goes on.

In the meantime, the Canadiens’ most consistent player and the biggest offensive threat to his opponents, Jonathan Drouin, was proving doubters wrong as he was carrying a struggling Jesperi Kotkaniemi and helped Joel Armia to his best start of a season in his career. It took nine games for Julien to realise that maybe, giving offensive wingers to Domi would take a load off the Tatar, Danault and Gallagher line. In my opinion, that’s way too long to react and reward your top-end players for their hard work.

Yet in spite of that, Domi finds himself tied for the team’s lead in points with 10 in 11 games. But he was finally rewarded by getting Drouin and Armia on his wing and this line is as predicted: a secondary threat to the opposition. So if we can see it as fans, what took so long for the coaching staff to detect it as well?

Julien on a short leash?

Let’s get one thing clear here: Claude Julien is a good coach. All we have to do is to look at his winning record in the NHL and his Stanley Cup ring as an undeniable proof. However, look at what the Boston Bruins did since they fired him and went with a younger and more progressive coach. In Montreal, Julien adapted for half a season last year before reverting to his old conservative self, rewarding bottom-six type players. This season, he’s back to his old tactics again and it’s costing the Canadiens some crucial points.

Domi and Drouin finally reunited

As crazy as this may sound, there’s a reason why Bergevin went out and hired the top two French Canadian coaches available two summers ago. Dominique Ducharme is helping bring a wind of fresh air in Montreal as a new assistant-coach. He’s learning on the fly under Julien and it seems like he’s not too far from taking over from the dinosaur mentality.

In Laval, Joel Bouchard is doing an outstanding job at developing young talent, something that wasn’t done under Sylvain Lefebvre. He too has a different approach, one based on open communication with his players, a style and a coach which Rocket’s players are raving about.

I strongly believe that teams will come knocking on the Canadiens’ door for one, or perhaps even both Ducharme and Bouchard in the next few months. And when that time comes, it won’t be worth risking losing one, or even both young hockey minds to keep the old guy at the helm.

Many fans, most of whom still hold a grudge against the GM for the Subban trade, think that Bergevin’s job is on the line. It is my humble opinion that they are barking up the wrong tree and that it’s Julien who is on his last days, weeks, months as the Habs’ headcoach, particularly if the team misses the playoffs. And once this team is under a different leader behind the bench, watch this team take off!

In the meantime though, let’s enjoy seeing the young guys develop into future young stars. Don’t forget that Domi and Drouin are only 24 and the likes of Nick Suzuki, Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling, Cole Caufield, Cale Fleury, Josh Brook, Jake Evans, Alexander Romanov, Victor Mete, Jesse Ylönen, Cayden Primeau and company will be joining them in driving this bus to bigger and better things. The future is bright folks… but it may take a younger leader behind the bench to bring the team to the next level. Go Habs Go!