Habs Entering a Slippery Slope

For a while this season, the Montreal Canadiens looked like they wouldn’t lose two games in a row. Such a record allowed them to stay amongst the top teams in the Atlantic Division, keeping up with the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. While it would have been foolish to think that the inevitable wouldn’t happen, such performances brought some hope into a fan base in dire need of it. But alas, it seems like the pendulum is starting to swing the other way on the Habs.

Last night’s loss to the Carolina Hurricanes was their second loss in a row and the team has a 3-4-3 record in their last 10 games. We can look at this the positive way, saying that during that stretch, they’re only a game below .500 but where it gets serious is when looking at how the teams ahead of them are doing.

Have you had a look at who’s leading the Eastern Conference this morning? The Buffalo Sabres, who have won their last 10 games, are tops in the East! Yes, that’s 10 consecutive wins for a team which, not so long ago, was well behind the Canadiens. They are followed closely by the Lightning (6-4-0) and the Maple Leafs (7-3), holding the top-3 spots in the Atlantic.

The Boston Bruins (5-3-2) have been without three of their top-6 defensemen and without Patrice Bergeron for a while and they have the first wildcard spot in the East. The Hurricanes, who edged the Canadiens 2-1 last night thanks to a stellar performance by their goaltender Curtis McElhinney who stopped 48 of the 49 shots in his direction, have now leapfrogged the Habs for the last wildcard spot.

Help coming

Shea Weber had a successful return.

Last night was Shea Weber‘s first game in almost a year and the veteran All-Star defenseman didn’t disappoint. Weber logged the most ice time both teams included with 25:13 minutes. So much for easing him in! He finished the night with one assist, a plus -1 rating, three shots on goal, one hit, two blocked shots and one takeaway. Not too shabby ‘Dad’!

Coincidently (or not), with Jeff Petry slotted back behind Weber, the Habs allowed only 22 shots on goal against the Hurricanes last night, a much better prestation from a team which had been allowing goals and scoring chances like Santa distributing gifts at Christmas. The turning point of that game, in my opinion, was in the second period when Hurricanes’ defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk stole a goal from Jonathan Drouin with an active stick. Had that gone in, it could have been a totally different game.

Reports around Montreal say that Paul Byron is edging closer to a return, he who hasn’t played a game in the month of November. Joel Armia is still several weeks away but both those guys are huge parts of the Canadiens’ all-around game as both are quality penalty-killers and key contributors on the forecheck and defensive coverage.

Defense shuffle

The defensive pairing of Brett Kulak and Jeff Petry was good. While he was clearly out of game shape, Weber was better than expected. But his defensive pairing partner, David Schlemko, was not. And young Victor Mete had a rough night, finishing at minus -2. Here’s what I personally would like to see happening:

Reilly – Weber

Kulak – Petry

Schlemko/Mete – Benn/Ouellet

The Canadiens don’t play until Saturday when they will be hosting the New York Rangers, who are in third place in the Metropolitan division. The next day, the San Jose Sharks, fighting for top spot in the Pacific division, come to the Bell Centre for their only time this season. The Canadiens will complete the week with a home and home with the Ottawa Senators. 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!