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:

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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:

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!