Tankin’ For Dahlin: The Race

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There you have it folks. The last week of activities in the 2017-2018 NHL season is about to start and it’s a six horse race… to the bottom. The grand prize? A Swedish defenseman by the name of Rasmus Dahlin, who is often compared to former Detroit Red Wings legend Nicklas Lindström. All things considered, it’s not a bad prize for finishing near the bottom of the standings for having a season of misery, isn’t it?

As the NHL has released the odds of picking first overall in its draft lottery, teams are now jostling for position in hope to get the better draft picks comes June in Dallas. Teams looking to improve are looking at those odds closely, and all are dreaming of picking first overall and land a franchise player. Those odds are as follows:

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With a week left to the regular season, it has now become a six-teams race to the finish and anyone can get that elusive first overall pick. Here are the NHL standings for mediocrity prior to Friday’s games:

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Individual Teams Schedule Remaining

Let’s take a look at the remaining schedule for those six teams, shall we? In order, from top to bottom…

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With four (4) games remaining, the Detroit Red Wings will be playing three (3) home games and one (1) on the road. Three of the four teams they will be facing are out of the playoffs’ race, with only the Columbus Blue Jackets (3rd in the Metropolitan division) being playoffs’ bound.

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The Montreal Canadiens will finish the season playing five (5) games in eight (8) nights. All but one team (Detroit) are playoffs’ teams and three (3) of those games will be on the road. That’s a tough schedule ahead of Claude Julien‘s team.

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Winners of three consecutive games, the Vancouver Canucks have been playing some better hockey as of late. They will be at home for three (3) more games before finishing the season in Edmonton against the Oilers. Columbus and the Los Angeles Kings are fighting for a playoffs’ spot but both the Arizona Coyotes and the Oilers are out of contention.

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The Ottawa Senators needed overtime to finally end a six-game losing streak last night against the Florida Panthers. That is rather mind-boggling for a team that finished in the final four in last year’s playoffs, and for a team that’s healthy as we speak. It must be full “tank mode” in Ottawa. They have two very winnable games against Detroit and Buffalo, but Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and Boston won’t be a walk in the park for the Sens down the stretch.

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Symbol of mediocrity year after year, the Arizona Coyotes will once again be in the hunt for another good draft year. The St. Louis Blues and the Anaheim Ducks occupy the two Wild Card spots in the Western Conference, while the Calgary Flames and the Canucks are out of the race. Two games at home, two on the road for the desert dogs.

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Ah the Buffalo Sabres… every year is supposed to be the year when they get out of the basement and yet, here they are again. Not an easy schedule to end the season either in Buffalo as they will have to square off against the likes of the Nashville Predators, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers (all on the road), with only the Senators as a bit of a reprieve at home.

So here you have it folks. Place your bets and see where the chips land after the dust settles comes April 8th, when it’s all set and done and the final standings are finalized. What will the Habs’ draft odds be when the seasons is all played out? Your guess is as good as mine, but if I were a betting man (which I’m not), I’d say that Marc Bergevin‘s team should finish in the bottom-five in the NHL. Sad and disappointing for sure, but with the team having eight (8) picks in the first four (4) rounds (including four in the second round), and with the possibility of adding one more if the LA Kings make the playoffs, finishing lower means better choices at the draft table… or the possibility of trading up to get an even better one. Try to enjoy this final week folks, as that’s the last you’ll see of this year’s edition of the Canadiens… thank goodness for that! Go Habs Go!

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Habs Defense And The Whole Nine Yards

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The old Detroit Red Wings under Mike Babcock were always a solid team and their biggest quality, in spite of having guys like Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg leading the way, they were always known for their solid defense, making an average goaltender like Chris Osgood look like a top one. Of course, you had a Nicklas Lidstrom leading the way but if you ever noticed at the trade deadline, they always added another defenseman or two. And this is the era when Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin played his NHL career and learned his craft in the Chicago Blackhawks’ organization. 

While it has proven true that defense will win you championships more often than not, the strength is in quality, not in quantity. And that’s where the Canadiens just aren’t quite there. In Shea Weber, they have one of the best all round defenseman in the entire NHL. Not only is he a threat at the point on the powerplay, but he will intimidate you physically as one of the toughest players to go against, as attested by anyone in the league. To round it up, he is one of the best shutdown defensemen out there and by playing over 26 minutes per game (6th most in the NHL), opponents have to work for their goals.

The problem in Montreal is that Bergevin was never able to find Weber a suitable partner and while 19 year-old Victor Mete did well at the start of the season, the game might be catching up to him a bit, and his ice time has reflected that. Further, it’s not guys like Jordie Benn, Karl Alzner, Brendan Davidson or Joe Morrow who can step in there and eat the minutes needed to be paired with Weber.

 

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The strength of a good hockey team does rely on depth at the blueline but in the Canadiens’ case, while they certainly have the quantity, it’s the quality that’s lacking. Here’s what the Habs’ defense looks like, injured players included:

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Jeff Petry is Jeff Petry, with his ups and downs and the odd brain cramp. Alzner and Benn had a slow start but both have been playing better for a few games now. Davidson and Morrow have filled the gaps when needed but they are depth players. It does look like the internal solution rests on two unknowns…

Due to Weber’s injury, the Canadiens have called up former KHL star Jakub Jerabek, who was having a good season with the Laval Rockets of the AHL, while adapting to the North American smaller ice surfaces and style of play. In his first NHL game against Nashville, Jerabek did quite well for himself as coach Claude Julien gave him over 18 minutes of ice time. Is he a solution? Possibly, but time with tell.

Then you have David Schlemko who has yet to suit up for his first game as a Habs due to injury. He has been skating and he even made the recent road trip with the team, but hasn’t been cleared to return. But even when he does, he has lost the first quarter of the season and will be jumping in without a training camp so while the negative Nancy’s in the fanbase will be quick to be on his (or Bergevin’s) case, he will need some time to get in top game shape.

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Victor Mete will likely be loaned to Team Canada Junior

As for Victor Mete, you can expect the Canadiens to make him available to Team Canada for the World Junior Championships over the Christmas Holidays. This will be great for his development as he will be playing key minutes in a very high-tempo and high quality tournament, with other kids his age. While he doesn’t seem phased by it (yet), this tournament should do wonders for his confidence as well.

But as it stands today, including Weber and Schlemko (injured), the Canadiens have nine defensemen on their roster. When they come back, expect for at least one player movement at the blueline. Jerabek is waiver free, which means that the team can send him down without the risk of losing him through waivers. Everyone else (but Mete) has to clear. Sure, losing one of them wouldn’t be a huge blow but it would affect the team’s depth at that position in the even of injuries. Unless Bergevin manages to pull a rabbit out of his hat, something we are told by reputable NHL insiders, he has been working hard at. Go Habs Go!