Well here we are, less than two weeks prior to the NHL trade deadline and the Montreal Canadiens are all but mathematically out of the playoffs this year. Talk about a huge setback, for a team thought to be fighting for top spot in the Eastern Conference! So it’s time to assess what went wrong, aside of course to the injury to league MVP Carey Price.
The fact is that this team has a good mix of young veteran and quality younger players. They have a superstar in goal, they have a 35-40 goals’ scorer on the wing, a former 3rd overall pick who continues his development and on the verge of breaking through, a heart-and-soul type player who crashes the net and creates havoc, and they have a Norris caliber defenseman as well.
What this team does not have is enough natural goalscoring ability, a top quality centermen, some grit and quality size and that’s where team GM Marc Bergevin will be trying to improve on from now until puck drops next October.
When Bergevin took over, he recognized that the team he had inherited was getting pushed around and intimidated by bigger and tougher teams, and that’s the reason why he signed Georges Parros and Brandon Prust. We all know what happened to Parros and when Prust was traded, it took any toughness out of the Habs’ line-up, something the team is still lacking to this day.
Don’t be mistaken though, as toughness does not only mean fighting, but to be able to stand up for each other and command respect when doing so. You need the right people to do that kind of work and it’s not Brendan Gallagher or Tomas Fleischmann who can do that.
No matter what some people want you to believe, no matter how you wiggle it, size really does matter on the sheets… of ice. What some players lack in skills, they often can make up with size, by being able to better protect the puck, separating players from the puck, playing a more physical game forcing the opponents to keep their head up and even forcing plays. A hard bodycheck can change the game, take a key opponent out of the game or make him think twice when skating with the puck.
I am in no way saying that size replaces talent, far from there. You still need skills to play in this league but you cannot have only players with the same attributes and not enough of other key components. The perfect cake needs the right amount of ingredients and while one may like sugar, it won’t work without baking powder to allow it to rise.
There are too many Plekanec, Desharnais, Andrighetto, Pacioretty, Scherbak, Hudon and company and not enough McCarron in this organization. The good news is that it’s not too late to address the issue and taking advantage of an off-season without Carey Price might provide the perfect timing to do so.
If we just look at the free agents’ market this year, there are several players who might fit in nicely with this current Habs’ roster. Granted, as a General Manager, you don’t build team through free agency but you can certainly add a piece or two, particularly of what you lack most on your team.
In the following table, I’ve added the column of “hits” as just to put things into context, the Canadiens only have Alexei Emelin (165) and Dale Weise (100) with 100 hits or more. Third on the team is Lars Eller with 88 hits.
Of course off that list, some are more attractive than others and not all of them are physical players. The emphasis should be, at least for bottom lines players, to add that grit to better support the skills on the team.
I would like to see the Canadiens showing up with at least one big centre, and one top end winger who can put the puck in the net. I would also like to see this team become tougher to play against by adding some much needed grit and size, and a bit of toughness. Can Marc Bergevin pull it off? While some are quite pessimistic with him right now, he’s entering a key time to put his true stamp on his team and it starts now. I’d keep a close eye if I were you.
Go Habs Go!