To Grit or Not To Grit

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The meaning of the “to be or not to be” speech in Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been given numerous interpretations, each of which are based. The purpose of it does, in general, question the righteousness of life over death in moral terms, a non-quantifying element of life itself.

Much (even too much) has been said about NHL analytics, and extremists have taken stats to a whole new level in trying to make people believe that if it cannot be measured, then it must be a non-factor of at least, not one worthy of taking into consideration. Yet, those involved in the game will tell you that this self-preserving excuse is as far away from the truth as it gets. Intimidation, a hit, a blocked shot, a fight… all have the potential of changing the momentum of a game and either lift, or deflate a team during a hockey game, even tipping the balance in a playoffs’ series.

Had Shakespeare been a hockey fan, or a Habs’ fan, he might chose “to grit or not to grit”, that it the question. Grit has been given multitude of meanings and definitions and the purpose is geared towards toughness or fortitude also in moral terms and also a non-quantifying element of the game itself.

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Chris Nilan is the definition of “Grit”

For years, the Canadiens shied away from the rough stuff. I remember listening to Guy Carbonneau when he was coaching the Canadiens – who, ironically, spent most of his career in Montreal with none other than Chris Nilan on his wing – tell reporters that they didn’t need toughness. He stated that all they had to do was to capitalise on their power-play opportunities. While it may sound great in theory, it’s far from being a practical and realistic approach to the problem. After all, is there one NHL team not trying to have a better power-play? I’m guessing that recognizing and saying that it needs to improve or simply trying harder doesn’t mean better results?

Since Marc Bergevin took over as the Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager, he understood the need to protect his best players, allowing them to do their thing without the fear of being abused by opponents. His first move was to sign then UFA Brandon Prust to a four-year contract. Later, he went out and added the likes of Parros, Weise, Allen, Kassian, Shaw, Weber, Martinsen, King, Ott, Farnham, Deslauriers. Not all were success stories in Montreal, but the fact remains that Bergevin’s goal was none the less clear, by providing some sandpaper to a line-up in dire need of it.

I can already hear some who are chumping at the bit to tell me that skills wins game, that you can’t replace talent by grit. This is the extremists’ way of thinking. No, you don’t need to “replace” talent by grit. You need to “surround” your talent with grit. And in today’s NHL, which is now stuck with the worst rule in hockey, the instigator rule, grit doesn’t stop at fighting. You see, Bergevin is too often being ridiculed with his choice of words when putting the emphasis on “character” and “attitude” but guess what? He’s referring to grit!

Grit is blocking a shot, taking a hit to make a play, arriving first to the corner to get the puck, planting yourself in front of the net knowing that Shea Weber is shooting. Grit is defending your teammate, regardless of the size of the opponent. Grit is also doing everything to win games. No, grit is NOT penalties. Grit is being the instigator and not the retaliator.

Grittiest Canadiens

But just who does Claude Julien have available, which players will go to war for him, for his team? Here are just a few, just to highlight the work, sometimes the beating, some of those players are taking. Oh there are more, particularly amongst the younger prospects.

Who is the first one to come to mind? You guess it: Brendan Gallagher. Smallish, but one of the toughest – pound for pound – in the business. When asked who was the most difficult player was to play against, former Senators Marc Methot picked Gallagher “because he’s relentless”.

Bergevin acquired a guy who will soon become a fan favourite in Max Domi, another guy who wears the heart on his sleeve, a relentless worker. The guy doesn’t take a shift off, he can pass, he can score, he goes to the net, he will defend teammates and will drop the mitts if or when needed. Montreal fans – and most hockey fans – love that type of players.

Andrew Shaw is getting a bad rep by a group of “fans” unfortunately, but his usefulness has been severely affected by his style of play. A bit like Prust, Shaw is going up against the bigger guys. The guy has no fear and will also do whatever it takes to win, and as proven with the Blackhawks, he is a big game player. They don’t come much grittier than this guy. Here’s hoping that he’s back healthy. The Habs will greatly benefit.

Bergevin acquired Nicolas Deslauriers in hope that he could bring exactly what he has provided and the Lasalle native seems to be giving a little extra playing for his home team. In addition to the grit he brings, he has been a surprise offensively as he has shown that he can contribute in that aspect of the game as well.

It really is too bad that the fans didn’t get to see the real Shea Weber quite yet, as it seems like when he’s been in the line-up, he’s been battling injuries which, ultimately, ended up sidelining him. Yet even hurt, he’s producing like the top defensemen in this league still. Voted by his peers as the most difficult defenseman to play against, he can hurt you in many ways and you’ll find more grit in his fingernail than most have in their entire body.

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Jeremiah Addison could be a surprise at camp

Here’s an oddball for you folks as I picked Jeremiah Addison. Unfortunately, he also got hurt last season and Laval missed him greatly. This guy is a warrior and he will do whatever it takes to help his team win games. I pick him as a surprise player to steal a spot in Montreal this season. Call it a gut feeling.

Habs fans will remember Steve Begin but in Michael Chaput, they have a similar player. He will give and take hits, he will grind it out and he has surprisingly good hand. Eating home cooking and playing under Rockets’ coach Joël Bouchard could see Chaput earn a call-up if he doesn’t make the team at camp.

Okay, I admit, I like Brett Lernout. Physically dominant, he is most effective when he keeps his game simple. Many don’t see him making the big club but I feel like it will be between him and Juulsen. All will depend on which one has a better training camp. Either way, Lernout will bring tons of grit.

Now a second year pro, Noah Juulsen was giving a shot at the end of last year and he didn’t disappoint. His favourite player is Kevin Bieksa and he plays just like him. He will get the puck and if his opponent has it, they better keep their head up as Juulsen will hurt you.

We know that Mike McCarron is a tough cookie. He would be more physical if he was a better skater but he is quite gritty, as he’s shown it already at the NHL level. Both he and the Canadiens are hoping that he’s done enough this summer to improve to the point of earning a spot with the big club.

An honorable mention goes to Ti-Paul Byron, who will also do everything in his limited power to help his team win. See, grit isn’t just about fighting. Grit, character, attitude (hating to lose), all play into making a team hard to play against. If you combine and mix that with some skills like Jonathan Drouin‘s, it’s a recipe for success. Remains to see if the youngsters are ready to help the veterans in that aspect. Go Habs Go!

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Young Blueliners Bringing Hope to the Habs

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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!