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Jonathan Drouin: a Man On a Mission

A wise man once said: “Think before you speak”. How many people have repeated this to you from time to time? And how many people actually apply it in their life? While it is impossible to quantify, the tendency is to pin some words, some ideas, in the back of the memory bank in order to pull them out later. And sometimes, people with any integrity end up regretting their outburst, their first reaction. And if they are being honest, they will even admit that they should have taken the ‘wait and see’ approach before spewing some harsh words. But that my friends, often comes with age and experience.

If you’re a Habs’ fan, there are multitudes of examples of such behaviour and for the sake of accountability, I’ve been pointing to some in recent articles, just to bring to light the negativity too often displayed in this fan base. Whether it is the reactions when Jesperi Kotkaniemi was drafted, or when Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin traded Alex Galchenyuk for Max Domi, there is plenty of crow being served. And with Jonathan Drouin heating up, there could now be a legitimate concern about the crow population due to the high consumption. That being said, the black bird is often being consumed by the same culprits: those who simply hate Bergevin’s gut for trading their golden boy. 

Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi

That being said, there were plenty of people who didn’t like the fact that Bergevin traded blue-chip defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev for Drouin – a legitimate concern – but many went overboard by claiming that the Habs had lost that trade. You see, when you trade such young players, only time can dictate a winner and a loser, if any are to be found. No sense in climbing on a high horse and get infuriated. You don’t know how it will pan out. I don’t know either. In fact, while they are hoping for the best, the General Managers involved don’t even know! 

When Drouin was learning a new position at centre last season, his production slightly suffered, although finishing with 13 goals and 46 points which placed him in pretty good company amongst NHL centres. But that production allowed some people to pile on their displeasure in the trade, particularly that in the meantime, Sergachev raked up 40 points that year, though 16 of which were on the powerplay. 

This season is a different story. Drouin, back playing at his natural position on left wing, has found immediate chemistry with newcomer Max Domi and both are having great offensive production in the first third of the season. In 29 games so far, Drouin has 26 points (0.9 pts/GP) including 10 goals. That’s on pace for a 28 goals and 74 points season over 82 games! Domi leads the Canadiens in goals (13 – tied with Brendan Gallagher) and in points (30 in 29 GP) while doing an excellent job at centre. Oh and Sergachev this season? We don’t hear much about him… as he has yet to light the lamp after 30 games.

The Jonathan Drouin / Max Domi show

When looking at Drouin, let’s not forget that he finished the season last year with 13 points in his last 14 games so if you combine that with this year’s production, he now has accumulated 39 points in a stretch of 43 games! But Canadiens’ head coach Claude Julien will be the first to tell you that more than his offensive production, Drouin has shown a steady progression in all aspects of his game. While he likely will never be confused for a Selke Trophy candidate, the 23 year-old Ste-Agathe native is taking pride in trying to improve his all-around game and it has shown greatly, particularly in the past two or three weeks, where he has often been the first guy back to help his defensemen. 

All in all, I stand by what I originally said back in the summer of 2017 when the Canadiens acquired him. This is a good trade for both the Habs and the Lightning. Both received what they bargained for but one thing that I am pretty sure of is that Bergevin will not lose this trade. At worst, he will have tied it but so far, one thing is for sure: Drouin is making a strong case for his General Manager. Go Habs Go!

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Habs Closer to Glory Than to Mediocrity

The NHL hockey season is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You can try to analyse and break down the season in segments, as coaches often do, but no segment is a true testament of what the season’s results will be. Injuries, a gruelling schedule, travel, mental and physical fatigue, all play a role in determining which teams will be in or out of the playoffs’ race comes April. And that’s the reason why fans and media should never get too high in the face of early success, or too low when their team is going through a rough stretch. But tell Habs’ fans that… good luck!

Many see this five-game losing streak as losing five games in a row. They’re not wrong, but they’re also not being totally honest. Of those losses, two of them were in overtime so in reality, those are ties (with the extra point going to the OT winners). This means that they’ve lost two in a row. Granted, it’s not ideal but let’s not paint this situation as dramatically as some make it out to be. In addition, with the exception of the 5-2 loss to New Jersey, every other game was a one-goal game.

Stéphane Waite has worked hard with Carey Price to get his game back.

When you look at the last game against the Hurricanes, the Canadiens dominated that game. Carolina’s goaltender Curtis McElhinney stopped 48 of the 49 shots he faced, many of them of great quality, and Hurricanes’ skaters blocked an additional 26 shots! The Habs hit a few goal posts and missed at least three open nets, while Trevor Van Riemsdyk robbed Jonathan Drouin of a sure goal with a quick stick on the goal line. 

The return of a healthy Shea Weber has proven, at least for the first game, very helpful for a struggling defensive core as the Canadiens only allowed 22 shots and only had to block 15 in that game. A deflected puck in front of Carey Price and a fluke goal off Victor Mete‘s skate were the difference. If you’ve played hockey or if you’ve been around the game for any length of time, you will know that sometimes, you win games that you didn’t deserve to win and you lose some that you deserved to win. The Hurricanes know that they got away with one they shouldn’t have won. It usually balances out in the course of a long season.

Quality youth and depth

Marc Bergevin doesn’t get half the credit that he deserves for what he’s done this past summer, and even for a few moves that he’s made in the past couple of seasons. For one, Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev is looking better as time goes on. In his first season, the Ste-Agathe native was learning the centre position at the NHL level but still, he came along nicely as the season went along. As a matter of fact, in his last 39 games including last season, Drouin has 33 points, which is a pace for a 70 points season… and he’s only 23 years old! After a hot start (mostly on the powerplay) on a much stronger team last year, Sergachev only has eight (8) assists in 26 games this season. I still believe today as I believed then, that this is a good trade for both teams, but it certainly is not tipped on the Lightning’s side as some claimed last year!

Max Domi has embraced the Montreal market.

Do we need to go back on the Max Domi and Alex Galchenyuk trade? As predicted, Domi has quickly become a fan favourite in Montreal and his offensive output has surpassed what anyone in their right mind would have predicted. And he’s doing this while filling the Canadiens’ top-line centre position. Oh and he too is only 23!

Anyone wants to rehash the Max Pacioretty trade for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a second round pick? While Pacioretty has picked up his goals’ scoring with the Golden Knights after signing a four-year, $28 million extension ($7 millions cap hit), Tatar has as many goals (10) and four more points than him, while the Canadiens are playing him $4.8 million and Vegas picking up $500,000 a year for the remainder of his contract. And then, you add Nick Suzuki and the second round pick…

Without going into the other picks at last June’s draft, which are looking pretty darn good by the way, is anyone in their right mind still questioning Trevor Timmins’ decision to suggest Jesperi Kotkaniemi as a good selection for the Canadiens? While 12 points in 25 games is nothing to write a book about, he is developing nicely and has definitely shown that he belongs at this level. He’s 18 and won’t turn 19 until next July! 

The prospect pool has, aside from Suzuki, blue chips like Ryan Poehling, Jacob Olofsson, Cam Hillis, Lukas Vejdemo and Joni Ikonen at centre, with Jesse Ylonen on the wing, Alexander Romanov, Cale Fleury and Josh Brook on defense, and Cayden Primeau in goal. 

Partner for Weber

Shea Weber’s return has brought to light the fact that the Canadiens are still looking for a suitable partner for their captain, someone able to eat top minutes against the opponents’ top line. David Schlemko certainly isn’t it and they will experiment with Brett Kulak and Mike Reilly but in both cases, it’s a long shot. 

This year’s edition of the Habs has a lot more offensive capability, a lot more depth at forward with four lines capable of contributing offensively and that, even if they’re lacking star power up front. The Canadiens really could use a quality puck-moving left-handed defenseman and if Marc Bergevin can find that, this team is a lot closer to glory than it is to sliding back to what we saw of them last season. Go Habs Go! 

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NHL General Managers On The Prowl

Late November, early December. Hunting season is drawing to an end and the lucky ones have a freezer full of game. Storefronts are getting a facelift with Christmas decorations. Cities put their colourful lights up for the season. We take our own decorations out of storage in anticipation, rearrange the living room to fit the tree, and we start making plans for the holiday season. Everywhere we go, we cannot escape it. Christmas is coming.

Hockey fans are looking at their favourite team. Some have already written the season off. Others are ecstatic with where they are in the standings. For most, they are hoping that Santa brings them a shiny new player or two in time to help them make the playoffs. And General Managers are working like elves at the North Pole to make it happen. The phones are buzzing, the conversations are dense and numerous. Will someone be willing to danse? 

For various reasons, some GMs are more active than others right now. Whether their team is performing well below expectations, whether they find themselves in a playoffs’ race, a position they didn’t really expect to be in, or whether some feel the heat from above and want to save their own job, the phones are hot. But who exactly will be tempted to shake things up at this time? Who cannot wait to the February trade deadline to make moves? Let’s try to be the fly on the wall. 

Eastern Conference

Columbus

GM: Jarmo Kekalainen

The Blue Jackets are up to a very good start to the season, sitting atop the Metropolitan division, four points ahead of the Stanley Cup champions Washington Capitals. They do, however, have two key pending unrestricted free agents in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, and while there is no rush to make a decision on either of them, they likely don’t want this to become a distraction. It has been reported that Bobrovsky is seeking a deal similar to Carey Price and that is way too rich for Columbus’ blood. Rumours have also been swirling around Panarin and with so many teams looking at trading, it would be foolish to count out the Blue Jackets as a potential trade partner.

Toronto

GM: Kyle Dubas

The William Nylander saga is coming to an end and everyone in and out of Toronto will be happy about that. With or without him, the Leafs have a very potent offense and Frederik Andersen is performing at the elite level, keeping his team in most games. In spite of the stellar play of Morgan Rielly, they do have a dire need of defensive help if they want to compete against the likes of Tampa Bay and Washington in the playoffs. Sacrificing a bit of offense to round up their defense is a must for Dubas, who has yet to put his stamp on the team with a major trade.

Carolina

GM: Don Waddell

The Eastern Conference is tight… very tight. And the Hurricanes are right in the middle of a playoffs’ race, and should be until the end. They have tons of depth on defense and they need goals scoring. We have heard rumours of them going hard after William Nylander but even if they miss out on him, Waddell will (or should) keep focussing on improving his team’s offense. Too bad they gave away Jeff Skinner for practically free, isn’t it? 

Montreal

GM: Marc Bergevin

Bergevin has done, by all accounts, very well this summer in both getting his team younger and more competitive. The return of Shea Weber has been a shot in the arm for a defensive core in need of something, but it has also brought back to light the fact that while they have good depth at the blue line, they also don’t have anyone capable of eating big minutes as his defense partner. With Karl Alzner and Victor Mete in the minors, Bergevin must try to find someone to play with Weber. Will he resist paying the high price for a veteran or will he continue with his plan to get younger, quality players as he did with Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi, Joel Armia and company? And will he find a new home for Alzner?

Pittsburgh

GM: Jim Rutherford

Although only a couple of points out of a playoffs’ spot, the Penguins have been very inconsistent so far this season. The reason for it is rather simple: they are in the bottom tier of the NHL for goals against per game. Rutherford’s contract was just renewed so he’s not going anywhere. His core of players however, while still performing well, is not getting any younger. While goaltending has been an issue in Pittsburgh, their defensive core, with the exception of Kris Letang, has nothing to instate the fear of God into any opponent. Rutherford could very well be on the prowl for defensemen and goaltending improvements. 

Philadelphia

GM: Vacant

The Flyers having recently fired Ron Hextall as their general manager and two days later, they also showed the door to assistant general manager Chris Pryor and assistant coach Gord Murphy. They will certainly want to shake things up on ice as well and it’s not too farfetched to think that pending UFA Wayne Simmonds could be on the market in hope to get some much needed goaltending help. Only the Chicago Blackhawks and the Ottawa Senators have allowed more goals per game than the Flyers this season. While no replacement has been announced at the time to write this article, will team President Paul Holmgren, their former general manager, be tempted to step in to make some player personnel moves or is he still blacklisted by the NHL brotherhood of general managers? Either way, the Flyers need some change on ice too.

Florida

GM: Dale Tallon

Perhaps the biggest deception in the East, the Panthers have suffered a huge blow when Vincent Trochek shattered his ankle. Having lost goaltender Roberto Luongo for the first part of the season really exposed the team’s lack of depth at that position and we have even heard rumblings that they were interested in Canadiens’ prospect Charlie Lindgren. The Panthers are fourth from the bottom defensively, allowing a whooping 3.57 goals per game. Perhaps they could try finding an improvement behind the bench? Oh wait, they already tried that, sending Jack Adams Award winner Gerard Gallant home in a taxi a couple of years ago, gifting him to George McPhee and the Las Vegas Golden Knights! 

Western Conference

Edmonton

GM: Peter Chiarelli

If you look at the definition of “Pressure on a GM”, you’ll find a picture of Chiarelli. However, with a record of 3-1-1 since replacing Todd McLellan with Ken Hitchcock, Chiarelli might have bought himself some time. The team’s biggest need is on the blue line, although getting some speedy forwards with secondary scoring ability, most specifically on the wing, is also pointed as a high need. The problem for Chiarelli is finding someone to trade away, outside of the team’s core, players with enough trade value to bring in the help needed. For many, it feels like the Oilers are wasting some valuable Connor McDavid time to get back into the winning ways of olds. When Milan Lucic is your biggest UFA acquisition when you have a draw like McDavid, you’re doing something wrong.

Chicago

GM: Stan Bowman

Bowman is a good general manager. He has won some Stanley Cups with this core of players in the past. However, like any GM before him who have won Cups, he finds himself at a crossroad. That core of players is taking a lot of money on the cap and their production is diminishing and head coach Joel Quenneville paid the price a few weeks ago. Further, in order to keep under the cap, Bowman had to trade away some key role players over the years, and has traded some prospects and picks to get this team over the top… and he succeeded. He now finds himself in need of replenishing the cupboards of picks and quality prospects and you can’t do that unless you treat hockey as a business and leave feelings and loyalty behind. He may have to sacrifice some of his core players to do so.

St. Louis

GM: Doug Armstrong

With 19 points in 23 games so far, the Blues are tied with the L.A. Kings for dead last in the NHL’s standings. In the summer months, they traded for Ryan O’Reilly and they signed UFA’s Tyler Bozak, David Perron and Patrick Maroon. The expectations were high and saying that they are not living up to them would be a huge understatement. For a tem needing quality goaltending (Jake Allen 3.32 GAA .894 Sv%, Chad Johnson about the same), they let go of Carter Hutton (G) who is the starter in Buffalo now. So far, their solution to their problems has been to play yo-yo with Carl Gunnarsson, Chris Thorburn, Brian Flynn and Robby Fabbri all season. At some point, Armstrong will have to shake things up as it’s likely already too late for his team to make a push for a playoffs’ spot by now. 

Los Angeles

GM: Rob Blake

Ilya Kovalchuk

In spite of “winning” the Ilya Kovalchuk derby this summer, granting the UFA a three year deal with a $6.25 million cap hit on an over-35 contract, the russian star has been in the dog house with his 14 points in 25 games and his whooping minus – 13 differential. The troubles for the Kings continue from last season. After a coaching change that didn’t bring the expected results, Blake will have to come to realization that the problem is on the ice. Too slow as a team, he does have some assets of value to trade. Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Alec Martinez and/or Jake Muzzin could all fetch some quality youth in return. Everyone is expecting some action soon from the Kings, a team to keep an eye on before the December trade freeze.

As you can see, the phones are red hot and there are many willing teams in need to make some change. In a league with a hard salary cap however, trades are not easy to complete and sometimes, creativity is the name of the game when it comes to making it happen. We can expect some creativity to surface in the next few weeks, even the next few days and with any luck, the Canadiens could be involved as Bergevin has clearly shown not being adverse to changing things up and addressing his team’s needs. Stay tuned. Go Habs Go!

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Alzner’s Solution: A List of Bad Contracts

A wise man once said: “Some of the worst hockey decisions are made in July.” Who said that? None other than Marc Bergevin. He was obviously referring to some of the contracts issued to unrestricted free agents (UFA) when they hit the market. Yet, he too is human and he certainly is not immune to falling to the temptation of getting “free” help in an attempt to plug some holes in his team’s line-up. 

The last time he did it, he signed the most sought after defenseman in the pool that year, Karl Alzner, to a 5-year contract valued at just over 23 million dollars. We know the rest. Yesterday, in order to make room on their roster for the highly anticipated return of their team captain Shea Weber, the Canadiens’ management made a ballzy decision when placing Alzner on waivers for the purpose of sending him to the Laval Rockets in the AHL. Many things have to happen in order to make that decision and it wasn’t the decision of one man.

Karl Alzner might have played his last game with the Canadiens

For one thing, the Canadiens’ defensive struggles are well documented and no, it’s not all on Carey Price. Claude Julien didn’t have Alzner in his regular top-6 defensemen. Mostly, it took a General Manager to step on his pride, recognize his mistake and go to his boss to sell him on paying a player over four and a half million dollars to play in the minors. It also took Geoff Molson to not only agree to do so, but to trust Marc Bergevin and his management group that they know what they’re doing. Like them or not, it takes gutts (and deep pockets) to make such a decision, particularly that Alzner is, by all accounts, a true professional, a genuine “good guy”. 

“It was more a question of ‘who can we not lose’. There are many teams struggling on the backend and we have some guys who are cap-friendly and who would be easily picked up if placed on waivers. We protected ourselves because we like our depth. And because of his contract, Karl was the guy who would be the least likely to get picked-up.” ~ Claude Julien

Is a trade possible?

A Canucks’ fan tweeted something that intrigued me… he suggested to his Canucks’ fans friends that perhaps they should trade Loui Eriksson for Alzner. It got me thinking… Would it be possible for the Canadiens to trade a bad contract for another bad contract? Let’s have some fun here folks. Let’s play GM. I put together a list of bad contracts. Unfortunately, I don’t have the players’ stats but trust me, in all cases, those guys are disappointments to their teams (or I should say, I believe they are). Here’s the list:

  • Corey Perry (ANA) $8.625M – 2020-21 (NMC)
  • Bobby Ryan (OTT) $7.25M – 2021-22 (NMC)
  • Evander Kane (SJS) $7M – 2024-25 (Mod. NTC)
  • Dion Phaneuf (LAK) $7M – 2020-21 (Mod. NTC, NMC)
  • Ryan Kesler (ANA) $6.875M – 2020-21 (NMC)
  • Kevin Shattenkirk (NYR) $6.65M – 2020-21 (Mod. NTC, NMC)
  • Derek Stepan (ARI) $6.5M – 2020-21
  • Milan Lucic (EDM) $6M – 2022-23 (NMC)
  • Loui Eriksson (VAN) $6M – 2021-22 (NTC)
  • Johnny Boychuk (NYI) $6M – 2021-22 (NMC)
  • Erik Johnson (COL) $6M – 2022-23 (Mod. NTC, NMC)
  • David Backes (BOS) $6M – 2021-22 (NMC)
  • Ryan Callahan (TBL) $5.8M – 2020-21 (Mod. NTC, NMC)
  • James Neal (CAL) $5.75M – 2022-23
  • Marc Staal (NYR) $5.7M – 2020-21 (NMC)

So as a reminder: Karl Alzner (MTL) $4.625M – 2021-22 (Mod. NTC)

How would a motivated Lucic look against the Bruins and the Leafs?

Could any of those teams need Alzner if the Habs picked up their bad contract? Could the teams do like the Canadiens and the Golden Knights and be creative by picking up some of each others’ cap hit as they did for Max Pacioretty and Tomas Tatar to make it happen? 

Here’s an example which may or may not be realistic. The Edmonton Oilers are desperate on defense. Milan Lucic just can’t do himself justice with the Oilers. If Edmonton were to pick up, let’s say, $2.5 million of his cap hit (for the length of his contract until 2022-23), and the Habs kept $1.5 million of Alzner’s contract (until 2021-22), could a trade happen?

Got any brilliant ideas? Discuss below if you’d like. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the return of our captain, Man Mountain himself! Go Habs Go!