Habs in discussion with the Flyers?

What’s the Montreal Canadiens’ biggest need? You would have asked that question a year ago, many would have said “depth at the centre position”. After the outstanding work done by Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins last summer, very few would have the same answer if asked today. Instead, they will be pointing to yet another position that’s been seriously lacking for years: a quality top-4 left-handed defenseman to play with either Shea Weber or Jeff Petry. A guy who can log big quality minutes against the opposition’s top lines.

The good news? There are a few options out there if we believe what’s being thrown around the rumour mill. Some link the Canadiens to soon-to-be UFA Jake Gardiner but it is yours truly’s opinion that because there will be a high demand for him, he will be highly overpaid for what he brings to the table and his next contract has a good chance to become, with Erik Karlsson‘s, a huge albatros contract for whomever signs him.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Canadiens are better off giving assets to get the player that they want, but with a reasonable contract, than not giving assets by signing an overpriced free agent. Really, what they need is a stop-gap on the left side until Alexander Romanov can have an impact at the NHL level.

That is not surprising, at least not for me. Shayne Gostisbehere has seen his ice time diminish by the end of last season in Philly as he seemed to have fallen out of interim head coach Scott Gordon‘s good books. I really thought that the Habs would try to snag him at the trade deadline and who knows? There might have been talks about it and they could have agreed to keep talking this summer. It seems like they are talking now.

The Ghost Bear, as they call him, is a mobile, puck moving defenseman with a good offensive upside and while he’ll never be in the running for a Norris Trophy, he can hold his own defensively. He has a good stick and his foot speed allows him to skate out of trouble for the most part. Can he play against the top lines on the other side? The Jury is still out on that one.

Shayne Gostisbehere’s name is linked to the Canadiens

Is anyone surprised that the Flyers would be eying Andrew Shaw? Talk about prototype in Philadelphia: gritty, in-your-face forward who can cause havoc in front of the net? I would hate losing Shaw (or Paul Byron for that matter) but unless you were born yesterday or have been hiding under a rock your entire life, you should know that in order to get something of quality, you have to sacrifice quality heading the other way. The Habs had to sacrifice P.K. Subban, Mikhail Sergachev, Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty in order to get Weber, Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi, Tomas Tatar and top prospect Nick Suzuki. Also, the Habs are deeper on the wing than any other position so they would be trading from a position of strength, which is what you want.

Personally, I’d be more inclined to go with Nick Leddy, also rumoured to be available. Bergevin knows the 28 year-old veteran very well from their days in Chicago. Leddy is stronger defensively than Gostisbehere and he has tons of experience. He has three years remaining to his contract, with a cap hit of $5.5 million. In my opinion, he would be the perfect fit in Montreal, allowing just enough time for Romanov to properly develop.

June 15th

The past two seasons, Bergevin and the Canadiens have pulled the trigger on major trades on June 15th. Two years ago, Bergevin shipped Sergachev to Tampa Bay for Drouin. Last year, Galchenyuk was sent packing to welcome Domi to Montreal. The year before, June 24th was a big day when Lars Eller went to Washington for picks, and Shaw came to Montreal, also for picks. That year, the BIG trade happened on June 29th, a trade that some fans have yet to digest.

So the next few days, few weeks, will be very exciting if you’re a Habs’ fan. Keep a close eye on Bergevin but please, please take every rumour with a grain of salt, even the one mentioned above. The rule of thumb is: if it doesn’t come from Bob McKenzie, Pierre Lebrun, Elliotte Friedman or Darren Dreger, there’s a very good chance that it’s not true. Oh and one last thing: remember to follow this simple guide not to get caught up with fake Twitter accounts! Go Habs Go!

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Questionable Decisions Costing the Habs Playoffs’ Hopes

Management can put the team together, coaches can set systems and game plans but ultimately, the players are the ones who have to put it all together on the ice. They’re the ones scoring goals, defend, stop pucks. They’re the ones deciding if they’re going to put the necessary effort to make things happen or not. And when players put it all on the line for 55 games, exceeding expectations according to most “experts”, you have a team like the Montreal Canadiens battling for a playoffs’ spot at trade deadline.

This group took it upon themselves, coaches included, to go against everyone’s predictions and played an uptempo, fast game that gave opponents nightmares night in, night out. Several players had career years and the team remained relatively healthy. When, by the time team captain and undisputed leader Shea Weber came back from a year’s absence, the Canadiens were in a good position to keep battling for a playoffs’ spot and they did just that… until recently.

What happened?

The team’s anemic powerplay certainly hasn’t helped. It was actually a huge factor. Having said that, it’s been like that all year, even when the team was winning. That alone isn’t enough to explain the drop in team success. Pointing fingers to the coaching staff for the man advantage is, in my opinion, not right. That one is on the players. It’s not a strategy problem, but rather an execution issue here. Coaches aren’t the ones telling players to make high-risk passes getting intercepted. They’re not the ones saying “give it to Shea” all the time. They are certainly not the ones making the wrong decisions at the wrong time resulting in turnovers in the offensive zone and ultimately, the Canadiens’ players chasing the puck behind their own net.

As of trade deadline day of February 25th, the Canadiens were sixth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 33-23-7, comfortably in a playoffs’ position and closing in on the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins.

In the days leading to the trade deadline, every General Manager of teams battling with the Canadiens made trades to improve their team substantially. Instead of addressing needs at positions where the Canadiens needed help most, like improvement on left defense and secondary scoring, Marc Bergevin decided to add depth to his fourth line and added an outcast defenseman from the Philadelphia Flyers. By “playing it safe”, Bergevin dropped the ball and failed to reward his players for their great work.

Coaching decisions

Aside from the powerplay, Claude Julien and his assistants have done an outstanding job this season… at least until shortly after trade deadline. The first very questionable decision taken by Julien was on March 2nd against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The night before, the Canadiens had defeated the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden by the score of 4-2. Shea Weber had a reasonable 23:40 of ice time. The Penguins had also played the night before, dropping a 4-3 contest in overtime against the Buffalo Sabres.

Yet against the Pens, seeing that Mike Sullivan was sending Sidney Crosby‘s line to start the game, Julien – who had the last change being at home – decided to respond by sending the pairing of Jeff Petry and Jordie Benn. A mere 21 seconds after the initial puck drop, Benn turned the puck over at his own blue line and Crosby made him pay to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.

Claude Julien

As if this wasn’t enough for Julien to realise that for one, the Petry-Benn pairing didn’t work well last year or this year for that matter, and two, they were outmatched by Sid the Kid, he insisted in keeping them against the player voted in a recent NHL players’ survey as the best player in the league. Results? Habs lost that key game 5-1 and Crosby left Montreal after a four-points night. Never has Julien adjusted in that game and put his best shutdown defenseman against the Pens’ top line. Mind boggling decision to say the least.

The following week, the Canadiens were on their annual road trip to California facing two bottom dwellers in the L.A. Kings and the Anaheim Ducks, facing the powerhouse San Jose Sharks in between. Julien, claiming seeing fatigue from his young player, decided not to dress Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Further, he chose to start Antti Niemi against the Sharks instead of against the Kings, a decision that left many perplexed. The Canadiens ended up losing two out of three games on that road trip.

After a lackluster effort against the New York Islanders, forward Andrew Shaw, who was one of a few Canadiens who showed up from start to finish in that game, did not mince his words when asked about the difference in the game.

“They came out to win the game from the start. They wanted to win more than we did. We need to be a team playing hard. Everyone. All lines, all D, goalie; everyone has to be playing their best every night. Lines are taking nights off, players are taking nights off. They don’t have that fight.”

You see, Bergevin went and got Shaw for his leadership, big game ability and because he knows what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. Last night, Shaw continued his inspired play.


Julien continued with his questionable decisions. In a game when the Canadiens were looking for solutions on offense, his second most utilised forward was… Jordan Weal. Kotkaniemi finished the night with 7:56 of ice time, the least utilised player on both teams. Asked after the game why the rookie only played 44 seconds in the third period, Julien explained that the young centre missed a couple of defensive assignments. Geez Claude, if you’re going to sit everyone who misses defensive assignments, I hate to tell you this but you won’t be able to field a team!

As a result, the Canadiens now find themselves three points out of the last Wild Card spot held by the surging Columbus Blue Jackets, and four points back of Carolina who also have a game in hand on both the Habs and Jackets. To make matters worse, the Canadiens can’t “tie” those two teams in points as both have more regulation and overtime wins, which means that Montreal has to finish at least one point ahead.

As much as it pains me to say this folks, forget the playoffs this year and that’s very unfortunate. It could have been prevented. The players brought the team close, management and coaching have let them down. It will be an interesting end of the season as there should be a lot of frustration showing from everyone, from players to media members, and of course fans. Particularly those who were waiting in the weeds all season to pounce on Bergevin.