Featured

Tankin’ For Dahlin: The Race

RasmusDahlin

There you have it folks. The last week of activities in the 2017-2018 NHL season is about to start and it’s a six horse race… to the bottom. The grand prize? A Swedish defenseman by the name of Rasmus Dahlin, who is often compared to former Detroit Red Wings legend Nicklas Lindström. All things considered, it’s not a bad prize for finishing near the bottom of the standings for having a season of misery, isn’t it?

As the NHL has released the odds of picking first overall in its draft lottery, teams are now jostling for position in hope to get the better draft picks comes June in Dallas. Teams looking to improve are looking at those odds closely, and all are dreaming of picking first overall and land a franchise player. Those odds are as follows:

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 6.18.26 AM

With a week left to the regular season, it has now become a six-teams race to the finish and anyone can get that elusive first overall pick. Here are the NHL standings for mediocrity prior to Friday’s games:

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 5.54.12 AM

Individual Teams Schedule Remaining

Let’s take a look at the remaining schedule for those six teams, shall we? In order, from top to bottom…

NHLdetS

With four (4) games remaining, the Detroit Red Wings will be playing three (3) home games and one (1) on the road. Three of the four teams they will be facing are out of the playoffs’ race, with only the Columbus Blue Jackets (3rd in the Metropolitan division) being playoffs’ bound.

NHLmonS

The Montreal Canadiens will finish the season playing five (5) games in eight (8) nights. All but one team (Detroit) are playoffs’ teams and three (3) of those games will be on the road. That’s a tough schedule ahead of Claude Julien‘s team.

NHLvanS

Winners of three consecutive games, the Vancouver Canucks have been playing some better hockey as of late. They will be at home for three (3) more games before finishing the season in Edmonton against the Oilers. Columbus and the Los Angeles Kings are fighting for a playoffs’ spot but both the Arizona Coyotes and the Oilers are out of contention.

NHLottS

The Ottawa Senators needed overtime to finally end a six-game losing streak last night against the Florida Panthers. That is rather mind-boggling for a team that finished in the final four in last year’s playoffs, and for a team that’s healthy as we speak. It must be full “tank mode” in Ottawa. They have two very winnable games against Detroit and Buffalo, but Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and Boston won’t be a walk in the park for the Sens down the stretch.

NHLariS

Symbol of mediocrity year after year, the Arizona Coyotes will once again be in the hunt for another good draft year. The St. Louis Blues and the Anaheim Ducks occupy the two Wild Card spots in the Western Conference, while the Calgary Flames and the Canucks are out of the race. Two games at home, two on the road for the desert dogs.

NHLbufS

Ah the Buffalo Sabres… every year is supposed to be the year when they get out of the basement and yet, here they are again. Not an easy schedule to end the season either in Buffalo as they will have to square off against the likes of the Nashville Predators, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers (all on the road), with only the Senators as a bit of a reprieve at home.

So here you have it folks. Place your bets and see where the chips land after the dust settles comes April 8th, when it’s all set and done and the final standings are finalized. What will the Habs’ draft odds be when the seasons is all played out? Your guess is as good as mine, but if I were a betting man (which I’m not), I’d say that Marc Bergevin‘s team should finish in the bottom-five in the NHL. Sad and disappointing for sure, but with the team having eight (8) picks in the first four (4) rounds (including four in the second round), and with the possibility of adding one more if the LA Kings make the playoffs, finishing lower means better choices at the draft table… or the possibility of trading up to get an even better one. Try to enjoy this final week folks, as that’s the last you’ll see of this year’s edition of the Canadiens… thank goodness for that! Go Habs Go!

Featured

Young Blueliners Bringing Hope to the Habs

RaisingTheBarHabs

When Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin said, last Fall, that his defensive group was stronger than the one from the year before, it left many people rather perplexed. It didn’t take long for that group to prove their GM wrong as David Schlemko was on the injured list, newly signed UFA Karl Alzner was showing signs of being unable to keep up and Jordie Benn, who was outstanding for the Habs the season before, wasn’t the shadow of his old self.

And to compound the issue, All-Star goaltender Carey Price, usually a saviour in the Canadiens’ net, was having a horrible start to the season. It was later discovered that he was struggling from chronique fatigue syndrome, and a concussion later in the season put him on the shelf once again. Backup goaltender Al Montoya didn’t fair any better and was later traded to the Edmonton Oilers. Prior to the game against the Buffalo Sabres, only six teams in the NHL have allowed more goals than the Habs.

Further adding to the team’s porous defense is an anemic offense, as coach Claude Julien‘s team is third in the league in offensive futility, as only the Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes have scored less goals than them. Brendan Gallagher is the team’s leading points getter with 45 points in 74 games.

Young defensemen

As the season progressed and with the team out of playoffs’ contention, the Habs’ management is able to test the development of some of their top prospects by bringing in some of the Laval Rocket’s players. Charlie Lindgren was given a shot during Price’s injury, as did Nikita Scherbak, Mike McCarron, Jacob de la Rose and Daniel Carr at forward.

VictorMete
Victor Mete

The biggest tests, however, seem to be at the Canadiens’ blue line. Surprisingly, 19 year-old Victor Mete spent the entire season with the Canadiens and he has shown that he can play in this league. The Woodbridge Ontario native won’t turn 20 until June and he pretty much has a spot on the team comes September.

Brett Lernout has been impressive since being called up. Standing at 6-foot 4-inches tall, he is an imposing physical presence with remarkably good mobility for a guy his size. The 22 year-old Winnipeg native is keeping his game simple and is a pleasant surprise so far. He is on the cusp of playing full time in the NHL.

NoahJuulsen
Noah Juulsen

Another player who has been a very pleasant surprise since being called-up is Noah Juulsen. Growing up in Surrey BC, Juulsen’s favourite player was former Vancouver Canucks’ Kevin Bieksa and we can certainly see some of the same qualities, a mobile, hard-nosed defenseman. Turning 21 in a couple of weeks, he still needs to fill-in a bit as at 175 lbs for his 6-foot 2-inches frame isn’t quite heavy enough for the rigorous NHL season and competition.

 

It is unfortunate that Rinat Valiev, the 22 year-old Russian defenseman the Canadiens obtained from Toronto in the Tomas Plekanec trade, has been injured two games into his first stint with the club as he is a big, mobile defenseman on the left side. Depending on how young Bergevin wants to get on the blueline and what he will do with the likes of Schlemko and Benn, Valiev could cause some pleasant surprises at camp next Fall.

ReillyHabs
Mike Reilly

Perhaps the most impressive to the fan base but not to yours truly, Mike Reilly is finally given an opportunity to show what he can do. When you play behind the likes of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin, your ice time and chances to showcase what you’ve got is rather difficult. I was fortunate enough to have watched Mike play here in Penticton for a full season and I remember thinking that he was the best talent playing for the Vees since… Duncan Keith! Don’t get me wrong, he won’t be the new Keith but he does have a lot of the same skills, while giving a fifth round pick to get him is a steal of a deal. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him given a chance, along with Mete, to be paired with Shea Weber next Fall.

It is highly doubtful that the Canadiens’ brass would want to start with such a young line-up but as it stands right now, the youngsters have outplayed some of the veterans and do deserve a chance to show what they can contribute.

Reilly/Mete – Weber

Alzner – Petry

Reilly/Mete/Valiev – Juulsen/Lernout

So if someone tells you that there is no future talent in Montreal, do yourself a favour and ignore them. It’s far from the truth. Go Habs Go!

Featured

Rebuild… Retool… Resomething!

DustBG

With just over five weeks to go before the NHL trade deadline, we have reached the time when some teams are already thinking about what to do in order to become competitive again. Unfortunately for the Montreal Canadiens, they are one of those teams and the thought of the Habs being out so early has many fans and media members steaming at the collar… with reason.

And this tweet by Brian Wilde of Recrutes.ca, quoting Elliott Friedman, has the fanbase stirring prior to the game against the Washington Capitals.

It makes you wonder though… are Carey Price and Victor Mete really untouchable players on the team? In my humble opinion, they are also very much touchable, even Price if, for nothing else, because of his contract.

As a matter of fact, in my opinion again, anyone not named Jonathan Drouin should be considered touchable. Drouin is a very talented and young local product, and it looks like Marc Bergevin paid a high price to get him from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Local, young and talented players are difficult to get and we have touched before, on this very blog, on the importance of having local talent on the Canadiens, a very unique market. They paid a high price for Shea Weber as well but unlike Weber, Drouin’s best years are ahead of him.

There is no doubt in my mind that Bergevin’s best asset is Max Pacioretty. The Habs would get a great return for their captain, who is still under contract for one more year with a cap hit of $4.5 million. If he is offered a return anywhere close to what the Colorado Avalanche got for Matt Duchene, Bergevin cannot pass on trading him.

maxpacioretty
Max Pacioretty is a likely candidate to be traded

While we know that Bergevin has always supported Carey Price (remember the grocery store comment), the fact that the goaltender is scheduled to take $10.5 million of the team’s cap hit for the next eight years starting next season should be enough to make him consider testing his value on the market, at the very least. Is Charlie Lindgren the caliber of Price? Absolutely not. But he is ready to take the next step in his career and paired with a quality veteran backup, goaltending wouldn’t be a big issue, particularly if the team improves on other weaknesses.

Would he dare trading Weber after giving up on P.K. Subban, a fan favourite? Again, I’d say that it would depend on what he can get in return. But in my opinion, Weber will be kept no matter what. If Pacioretty is traded prior to the draft as I’m anticipating, the team will need a new captain and while Brendan Gallagher is also an excellent candidate to wear the “C”, Weber would be even more. Why? Because when either of them stands up and speaks, teammates are more likely to listen to Weber. He has this presence and respect from everyone. You need some quality veterans to lead by example, as the Edmonton Oilers finally realized. Having said that, if a team is willing to pay the big price for him, then pull the trigger.

There are some glaring holes in the Canadiens’ line-up, everyone who knows a little bit about hockey can see it. But there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Bergevin tried to improve his team at the centre position. He’s not a dumb hockey man, as some around Montreal seem to think. But he was unsuccessful doing so and that is his biggest failure since taking over the team. Trading a couple of veterans would be the fastest way to replenish the blue-chip prospects’ cupboards while filling key holes in the organisation, the centre position being one.

Team’s best trade candidates

GettyImages-Plekanec
Tomas Plekanec could be gone by trade deadline.

Prior to trade deadline, the Canadiens’ best trade candidates based on fair return is pending UFA Tomas Plekanec. If a team knows the importance of quality depth at the centre position, it’s the Canadiens and while he’s not the offensive player that he used to be, Plekanec is an excellent defensive and responsible centre who would play a key role, particularly on a third line. He does carry a cap hit of $6 million so the Habs might have to eat some salary to help a contender pull the trigger, but the return should be excellent because of the position that he plays.

 

Max Pacioretty, Carey Price, Shea Weber, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher are the team’s best assets for potential trades, but they would get best value during the off season. Why? Not only are they the team’s best players but only Price has any say in where they could be going with his full non-movement clause. It’s then up to the highest bidder with any team in the NHL and everyone has cap space in the summer, not so much at trade deadline. Put quality players and add bidding wars between teams and you have the recipe for a good trade return.

No matter what happens from now on, Bergevin cannot miss on any major trade from now on. He cannot waste his best assets without getting full value in return. The team that he built is underwhelming and under-performing and even Geoff Molson’s patience has to have its limits. The Canadiens’ GM is playing big from now until the trade deadline as what he does will likely decide if he will be the one getting a chance to rebuild, retool or resomething this upcoming summer. Go Habs Go!