Habs Centres: Not a Oversight

BellCentre

If you have been around the NHL for some time, if you have followed trends, you will have noticed that the last team to win the Stanley Cup becomes the “norm” to build a winning franchise. Back when the Canadiens won their last two Stanley Cups, it was believed that you needed to have excellent goaltending if you wanted to hope to win the Holy Grail of hockey excellence. In the Red Wings’ run, it wasn’t as important as having a true number one defenseman ala Nicklas Lidstrom, or the Blackhawks with Duncan Keith. Now with the Penguins lifting Lord Stanley, you need quality centremen. The truth sits somewhere in between: you need a good team, filled with players willing to do what it takes to win and that, no matter what position they play at. 

As many feel like the centre position is pivotal (pun intended) in order to win as it stands today, November 2nd, 2017, let’s see what the Canadiens have done in order to try to draft players at that position. Understanding that drafting 17-18 year-olds in the top rounds doesn’t guarantee success, let’s see if the franchise has attempted, or not, to address the need that many are planting on Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin.

Since 2009, the Canadiens have drafted a total of nine (9) centremen in the top 3 rounds, and have tried converting one more, Michael McCarron, from the wing to centre. In a year when they lacked second and third round pick (2010), they took a flyer on centre Mark MacMillan in the fourth round. Results? Obviously not great as the team is still trying to fill that void. Does that mean that they haven’t tried? Allow me to doubt it.

Centre of attention

In 2009, the Habs selected Louis Leblanc (remember the fans chanting his name at the Bell Centre?) 18th overall. What could go wrong? A local, young future star pivoting the Canadiens’ top line? Need I say more? That year, the Habs had no second round picks and they selected Joonas Nattinen in the third round, 65th overall. That one unfortunately didn’t pan out either.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Minnesota Wild
Louis Leblanc was picked 18th overall in 2009

2010 was tough on Trevor Timmins as the team’s head draft man had no second or third round picks to play with. Still, he took a chance on selecting a centre, Mark MacMillan, with the 113th overall pick. Mark unfortunately moved on this year but as a fourth round pick, he was a long shot, let’s admit it.

After a dismal season seeing the team lose Carey Price for the season, the 2012 saw the Canadiens have the third overall pick and with it, they drafted a player whom they thought would be the team’s number one centre for years to come. Alex Galchenyuk has shown flashed of greatness, but much more disappointment than anything and he’s been reverted back to the wing by a second coach now. We know the rest of the story.

In 2013, the team drafted Michael McCarron (25th), Jacob De la Rose (34th) and Connor Crisp (71th). The last two were potential centres, and they are still attempting to see if McCarron can become a good centre, although it seems like he won’t be a top-six player at that position. We cannot say that the team hasn’t tried to fix this whole at centre, at least not that draft year!

2015 was another year with which Timmins had no second round picks so he selected Lukas Vejdemo (87th) in the third round that year. Time will tell if this was or not a good selection but when drafting that late, it takes time for those players to develop to the point of having an impact at the NHL level.

Timmins selected William Bitten in the third round of 2016, having no second round picks once again. Bitten is showing some very good things at the CHL level, which should leave the fan base hopeful.

We all know what the 2017 draft brought the Canadiens as both Ryan Poehling (25th) and Joni Ikonen (58th) drew much attention on the international stage this past summer. Those two could very well become, in due time, a very good one-two punch down the middle for a team in much need of such depth.

Conclusion

As we can see, we can argue all we want about Trevor Timmins’ effectiveness at drafting, but there is no denying that the lack of depth at the centre position was NOT a oversight by the team or its management team. Sometimes, teams need to catch a break with players coming out of nowhere, or players developing and turning into what scouts saw in them in junior. Here’s hoping that the drought is coming to an end… until a new trend comes along with the next Stanley Cup winners. Go Habs Go! 

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Five Reasons Why the Habs Are Struggling

fanspaperbag

It’s no secret, it’s the talk of town in Montreal: the Montreal Canadiens are off to a very slow start and fans and (some) media personalities alike are in full panic mode. The media because they like feeding the sensationalism to bring viewership/listenership, and the fans because… many act like drama queens, making us wonder if they can or not see beyond a 4-5 games stretch, therefore making them totally vulnerable to what those media members are saying. 

The reality, however, is not so sombre. The team is, most nights, outplaying their opponent but they simply cannot find ways to either put the puck in the opponents’ net, or keep it out of their own. Hockey is a team sport, at the same level as basketball and football. Yet, it’s composed of individuals who are occupying certain roles on the team. If the most important role players aren’t performing, it creates problems for the entire team and that, my friends, is what’s happening with the Canadiens in this early season. No, it’s not Claude Julien and no, in spite of all the misdirected information we read on Twitter, it’s not Marc Bergevin either.

For one reason or another, fans seem to find very difficult to point the finger at players, particularly their favourite player(s). Instead, they prefer blaming the coach, the GM, the equipment manager or the water boy. Basically, anyone but the culprit. We’ve noticed it many times with P.K. Subban, who was absolutely hated by his teammates for his behaviours. Fans, in fact, are still bringing him up every single day, or anytime he does something positive. We are seeing some of it today with Galchenyuk. Faultless players is key for some fans in Montreal, even when it’s far from the truth.

Five reasons for slow start

Fans can blame the coach or GM all they want, I am not willing to fall for that false excuse until the team’s key players are back at playing to the level that everyone should expect from them. If those players were performing and the team still struggled, then fine, we could look at different culprits but it’s definitely not the case here, folks… at least not yet.

1- Carey Price

So far this season, Carey Price has a record of 1-3-1. His goals against average sits at 3.45 (38th in NHL) while is saves percentage is well below NHL level at .885 (39th in NHL). For someone who is qualified as the best goaltender in the league, this is completely unacceptable. He is fighting the puck more times than not and he is not making the key saves as he has accustomed his fans to. Price is this team’s franchise player and the Canadiens have made him the best paid goaltender in the league with an eight year extension, paying him an average of $10.5 million. That contract, by the way, doesn’t kick in until the 2018-2019 season. If the franchise player doesn’t find his playing form, this team will have a very tough time to have any sort of success. That’s where it starts. He is not paid, nor are the standards for him set as a 38th or 39th goalie in the NHL. We will chill Carey, but you need to start showing signs of who you really are.

2- Max Pacioretty

NHL: New York Islanders at Montreal Canadiens
Price and Pacioretty

Goals’ scorers go though droughts out there during a long season and it happens that the captain is having a rough start. But it’s not his one goal in five games that worries me here.  He is not looking good out there. He is not generating much offensively and against the Leafs, he looked totally lost. Max Pacioretty is at his best when he finds a soft spot in the offensive zone to get open for the lethal shot of his. Right now, he’s all over the ice trying to do too much, or so it seems. The fact that the team is still searching for a qualified and deserving right winger for him and Jonathan Drouin could have something to do with it, as the Brendan Gallagher experiment has been lukewarm and Arturri Lehkonen‘s play has regressed since being brought up to that line. Yes, Alex Galchenyuk could be the solution but not until he shows that he’s willing to put in the effort, which hasn’t been the case so far this season.

3- Shea Weber

The towering defenseman leads the team in ice time this season with an average of 26:20 minutes per game, good for fifth most in the entire NHL. Although the Canadiens have allowed nine (9) more goals than they have scored so far this season, his minus -1 is quite excellent, showing that he is still one of the best shutdown defensemen in the league. Where the Canadiens need Shea Weber to pick it up however is on offense. Weber only has one assist so far this season in five games and it seems like the system and the team haven’t been able to take advantage of his booming 106 mph shot, either at even strength or on the powerplay. As a matter of fact, the Habs’ defensive corp has a grand total of 4 points so far this season, two of which belonging to… Karl Alzner!

4- Alex Galchenyuk

Everything but the kitchen sink has been said or written so far about the enigmatic Galchenyuk. Some feel like no matter his effort level or performances, he should be given indemnity and be moved to the top line with Pacioretty and Drouin but most, myself included, range with the coaching staff in thinking that he must first earn that promotion by displaying an constant effort and better focus on the ice. Either way, as a team struggling to put pucks in the net, the Canadiens need Galchenyuk’s offensive production. Something tells me that there nothing that coach Julien would love more than promote him to first line duties, but early in the season is when you want to instate your system and expectations, at the risk of losing a few games. It was great to see Chucky put one in against the Leafs, and here’s hoping that he can use this goal to get his season going.

5 – The powerplay

The Canadiens finally broke the goose egg when Galchenyuk scored the team’s very first powerplay goal against the Leafs, but that’s a very small victory in the hearts of Julien and Kirk Muller. With one goal in 16 opportunities, only the Vegas Golden Knights, New York Islanders and Anaheim Ducks have a worse success rate with a man advantage than the Habs so far this season. In a league where the first goal of a game is so important, having a strong powerplay can make the difference between a win or a loss, and on a team struggling to score goals, taking advantage of your opponents’ indiscipline is that much more important. This, folks, is where the absence of Andrei Markov is mostly felt, as the general had a way of finding passing lanes where few others could. Someone else has to find a way to get this thing going in the right direction and the sooner, the better.

 

So as you can clearly see, this is not a managerial problem at this point. When the players are playing at their full capacity, only then talk to me about Bergevin being fired! Until then, it’s a matter of players finding their game, for the coaching staff to find lines with chemistry and for key players on the team to find their legs. Which reminds me of this quote from one of my very favourite movies all-time:

Lieutenant Da

Here’s hoping that the Canadiens do have legs to find! Go Habs Go!