What Have Fans Learned on The Habs?

fanspatience

After the awful season Canadiens’ fans had to suffer through last season, and all the major changes the team has gone through in the off-season, there were many question marks on this year’s Habs and several people were very vocal in showing their displeasure with the direction the team was taking. They say that crow is best served cold and thankfully, hockey is a game played on ice. Take a seat folks, there’s plenty of servings for everyone! 

So what is it that fans and media have learned in the first quarter of the season? What were the question marks in the off-season and how have those questions been answers (if they have been at all) all things considered? Well, let’s have a look at the most “popular” topics of this off-season…

Alexander Radulov is not Alexander Semin

Yes, many were saying that Radulov would be Semin 2.0 and some were even hoping he would be. The fact is that Radulov was a gamble, but the odds were on his side. Bergevin did his homework and spoke to his former coach and GM. He even spoke to newly acquired All-Star defenseman Shea Weber about him, he who played with him in Nashville. At the time of writing those lines, Radulov has 18 points in 22 games, with 11 primary assists, second most in the entire NHL. He’s second in team points behind his linemate Alex Galchenyuk. Not Semin.

Carey Price was missed

If anyone expects that losing the league MVP, winner of five NHL awards, for most of the season won’t have a serious negative effect on a team, think again. Price was greatly missed by the Canadiens. You see, he’s so much more than just an excellent goaltender. He is the ultimate leader on this team and he’s also a third defenseman on the ice. The Habs’ breakouts are totally different when he’s playing, saving the defensemen from punishing hits facing the boards. He’s a key part of the system. He was missed.

Shea Weber is good at hockey

The hot topic of the season. We’ve learned that analytics are scratching their head trying to figure out mathematically how the Habs (and most particularly Weber) can have such a positive impact. Fans are realising that Weber is just… good at hockey! He’s a gamer, on and off the ice. We know about his leadership, we know about his booming slap shot. His detractors didn’t know about his shut-down ability, his physicality and the respect he imposes on the ice. His 18 points (including 8 goals) are good for second in the NHL in scoring for defensemen, two points behind Brent Burns, and his plus – 18 rating is also second (1st amongst defensemen) in the entire NHL. Thank you Dr. Kowalski, the kids really appreciate watching him and the Habs play some great hockey. Weber is good.

Michel Therrien’s job is not in jeopardy

We have heard and read all summer about “Ifs” and “Buts” about Therrien’s tenure as the Canadiens’ head coach. IF the Habs are up to a slow start… But he must improve his coaching… If Its and Buts were candy and nuts, it would be Christmas every day! He wasn’t my personal choice for head coach when the announcement was made but the fact is that Therrien’s record speaks for itself. Oh he’s far from perfect but players like him. Little things he does for them, days off, putting them in the starting line-up against teams they played for, rolling four lines, etc. Those are things players appreciate. His job is safe this year.

Kirk Muller knows powerplay

kirkmullerbench
Kirk Muller

Muller is a likeable guy. He’s a leader who not only played in Montreal and captained this team, but he understands the market and the pressure that comes with it. The Canadiens’ powerplay finished the season 25th overall last year. So far this season, they sit in 5th place in the NHL. As an associate coach, he has some say in the day-to-day decisions on the team and that is great for the organisation. Don’t kid yourself: while other coaches will give their input, it’s Muller and not Therrien who decides who plays on the special teams! The fact is that Muller knows powerplay.

Habs didn’t screw up Alex Galchenyuk’s development

So much was said about the way the Canadiens were bringing up Galchenyuk. As the youngster sits 5th in NHL scoring today, finally playing centre on the top line, it seems like “the plan” is paying off. Playing him all those years on the wing took some responsibility off his shoulders and, according to Galchenyuk himself, has taught him what it takes to score goals in this league. The beauty of it all is that he’s not done progressing. Therrien praised his hard work ethics just recently and they will keep on adding to his responsibilities as he improves. Not only didn’t the Habs screw up his development, they helped him develop in what he is today.

Coaches can sit David Desharnais

This is perhaps the most surprising to be honest. Here I thought that as long as Therrien was the head coach of the Canadiens, Desharnais would be a Top-6 centre. Well it looks like I was wrong. Not only is his ice time (12:52 per game) drastically cut from what it was last season (16:00), but he spent some time on the wing and was even a healthy scratch one game! Who would have thought? Even his powerplay time (1:21 per game) has been cut from last season (2:18). This being the last year of his contract, things aren’t looking so good for little Davey’s future with the team…

There you have it folks! Oh there are other topics we could have covered I’m sure, but those are, in my humble opinion, some of the key question marks entering the season. With the Canadiens sitting in first place in the NHL with a 16-4-2 record, good for 34 points, three points ahead of the New York Rangers in second place, one would be hard-pressed to convince me to be negative about this team. Yes, there is room for improvement and we are seeing a very active Marc Bergevin, trying to improve in areas where the team needs help. Anyone else curious about the GM spending a few days in San Jose considering the Canadiens aren’t playing there until… Friday?

 

Triple Low-Five for Marc Bergevin

BergevinLowFive

After breaking a franchise record with nine consecutive wins, the same group of players are breaking a record of futility with the worst performance and fall in their history. While some of it can be explained by the injury to league MVP Carey Price, something happened which made this team go on this unstoppable tailspin. Marc Bergevin, to his credit, wanted to take the heat off his coach and players by telling who ever wanted to hear that the entire blame was on him. However, we know that it’s not true.

Bergevin shares the blame with his coaching staff and with his players, we all know that. Why is Michel Therrien so adamant about playing David Desharnais so much when he’s been absolutely atrocious in the last six weeks or so? In spite of hiring Craig Ramsay to help with the special teams, why is this team struggling so much with the man advantage? Why is it that most nights, Tomas Plekanec is a non-factor, particularly since signing his contract extension and why is Andrei Markov creating more turnovers than the Pillsbury Doughboy?

Oh Bergevin has his fault, no doubt, but there are more people who must shoulder the blame for this shameful display, particularly when the GM’s goal was to bring back pride to wear the CH. While those who know and follow me know that I’m an unconditional of his work since taking over, there are, in my opinion, five key points where Bergevin messed up.

1- The Tinordi situation

Going into the season, the organization knew that both Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn would have to clear waivers if they were to be sent back to the AHL. For that reason, it was understandable to start the season with eight defensemen on the roster. After all, injuries do occur and Bergevin rightfully believes in having quality depth on the blue line. However, for some odd reasons that escapes us, there was no rotation to keep those players in game shape. Further, when someone got hurt, Tinordi didn’t get to play. As a matter of fact, the team even preferred calling up Mark Barberio and playing him instead of giving the big defenseman a chance. When he was finally traded on January 15th, Tinordi had played… three games!

This is mind boggling as how can a young player continue to develop without playing? How can he have any value if he goes months without seeing the ice? It’s to wonder if there was some miscommunication between the GM and his coaching staff, or, as I suspect, both were on the same wave length. Either way, it’s not good assets management and the return for Tinordi clearly proves that. Worse, they seem to be doing the same with Pateryn right now!

2- The medical team

When Carey Price went down the first time, the team doctors provided their diagnosis. When he came back, those same doctors and Price told Bergevin that he was at 100%. That I believe, whether he was or not is another story. But when Price went down the second time, the story kept changing or at least, the prognosis given to the fans and media did. In today’s day and age, with the technology made available to professional athletes, how can someone misdiagnose a player so badly?

Marc Bergevin is no doctor. He must rely on what the team doctors, the professionals being well remunerated by the team, to provide him the truth, to paint the real picture, no matter how painful it might be to hear. Yet, Price’s expected return date keeps on being pushed each time. When we saw him skate on Wednesday, he did not look comfortable at all. While Bergevin cannot diagnose injuries, as unfortunate and unfair it might seem, the responsibility still falls on his shoulders and the team is now in a very difficult position to even make the playoffs.

3- Lack of scoring wingers

While some will blame Bergevin for not getting a top end scoring winger last summer, there weren’t that many available. So he took a calculated risk by trading Brandon Prust for Zack Kassian, and signed UFA Alexander Semin for dirt cheap. Unfortunately for him, neither player panned out for the reasons that we know: Kassian continued his partying way and the game has passed Semin.

Where the finger can be pointed at the Canadiens’ GM however, is that to this date, he has not found a way to add some scoring touch to his line-up. Oh we’ve heard from insiders all over the place that Bergevin was the hardest working GM out there but his effort, ultimately, served nothing… so far. I say so far as often, trades take months of discussions to develop so I give him the benefit of the doubt.

4- Plekanec’s extension

Let’s get one thing straight: Tomas Plekanec is an excellent hockey player, in case you didn’t already know. He was up to a great start to the season while centering a line with Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, so on October 16th, the team announced that they had signed him to a two-year, $12 million contract extension.

Why so soon in the season? While I never agreed with Bob Gainey’s rule of not negotiating during the season, what was the hurry? Why not wait to the second half of the season to see how things go? Had Bergevin done the same with pending UFA Dale Weise, who was on pace for a 45 goals season, imagine what he would have fetched then!

5- Publicly giving Therrien the season 

BergevinPC
A visibly tired Bergevin met the media on Janruary 21, 2016

The fact that he feels like the team’s poor play is not on his coach, or that he believes in him to turn things around is one thing. Stating publicly, in a press conference, that Michel Therrien is there for the season is a bit of a double-edged sword. No doubt that Bergevin wanted to stop fans and media from speculating about the coach’s future, but going public like this has the potential to create “job security” and what comes with it. Now how does the GM save face if he feels like a change is needed? He can’t fire him. The only possibility is if he promotes him to a different position within the organisation and that can still happen.

A chance to redeem himself

Geoff Molson fully supports Marc Bergevin. He and his friend Serge Savard took a long time selecting their man, the one who best fit their own philosophy and that has not changed. Bergevin is very well respected across the NHL and amongst all General Managers. He is a hard, honest worker who respects everyone, and he doesn’t panic. He has a plan and follows it, no matter how much fans or media complain. That’s his best quality in this market and the last GM to be this patient was none other than the person who helped select him: Serge Savard, who won the team’s last two Stanley Cups.

Having said all of that, what Bergevin does from now until the opening of training camp will say a lot about him. There might be some better UFAs available on the market and he still has a great core of young veterans and youth to build around. He needs to better surround them now.

  • For now, he needs to end Price’s season. Enough of this non-sense, get him under the knife if that’s what it takes. Do it now so that he can be ready for next year.
  • Then trade Tom Gilbert to a contender wanting depth on defense, and get Pateryn some ice time.
  • Also, as I’m sure he’s doing, go very hard on Jonathan Drouin. Make it happen. He won’t save the season but he will help down the road.
  • Trading Plekanec and Desharnais is a must, although this might be easier done this summer. The team cannot start next season with those two in the middle.
  • Throw money at Steven Stamkos if he becomes available. He’s worth it. Otherwise, try getting Eric Staal.
  • In all of that, Bergevin must try to get his hands on a 25-30 goals winger.

 

It’s easy isn’t it? At least on EA Sports it is.