Unsung Hero – Phillip Danault

The date is February 26, 2016. The Chicago Blackhawks, who had just beaten on the Toronto Maple Leafs by a decisive score of 7-2 the night before, were gearing up to take another run at the Stanley Cup. The Montreal Canadiens, on the other hand, were trying to survive having lost Carey Price after only 12 games in the season to what could be a season-ending injury. They were flirting with the .500 mark and were likely going to miss the playoffs. For a few days, Blackhawks’ General Manager Stan Bowman was on the phone negotiating with his counterpart and former employee Marc Bergevin, now at the helm of the Montreal franchise.

The centre of their discussion? Two pending unrestricted free agents: Dale Weise and Tomas Fleishmann, two solid and serviceable veterans. When the dust settled and the deal was announced, the Canadiens had acquired centre Phillip Danault and the Blackhawks’ second round pick at the 2018 NHL Draft. Danault, a Victoriaville native who had just turned 23 two days earlier, was Chicago’s first round pick in 2011.

“Phillip Danault is a young and gifted player who will be part of our core group of young forwards for many years to come. I am very pleased to have him join our organization. As a member of the Blackhawks management group, I was instrumental in the selection of Phillip in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft.” ~ Marc Bergevin after the trade.

In his first full season with the Canadiens, Danault had a career-high 13 goals and 40 points while playing all 82 games. The following season was more difficult for him due to injuries, but he still managed 25 points in 52 games, a pace to match his previous season’s 40 points.

200-foot player

When the Canadiens traded away Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk last summer, many “experts” were questioning where the offense would be coming from. Downplaying the impact that both Max Domi and Tomas Tatar would have on the team was their first mistake obviously, but Danault losing his left winger in Pacioretty brought questions marks. You see, they were several who were claiming that Danault’s offensive success was because he played with the captain on his wing. In retrospect, it turns out that they were wrong.

This season, Danault has already matched his career-high of 40 points… with 27 games left in the season! With 23 points in his last 24 games, he is also coach Claude Julien‘s appointed centre to face the opponents’ top line due to his great defensive awareness. Recently given Jonathan Drouin on his left wing, both French Canadian skaters are giving their opposition all they can handle alongside team sparkplug Brendan Gallagher. Last night against the powerhouse Winnipeg Jets, that line finished the game with a combined 10 points… while checking the Jets’ top line. It’s tough to attack when you don’t have the puck and Danault’s line put up a clinic of puck pursue and puck possession.

If you look at the definition of “underrated” in the dictionary, you will find Phillip Danault’s picture. Not literally of course, but as a figure of speech. Either way, he has found his niche in Montreal where he is well liked by his teammates, his coaches, and by the fans as well. We can only hope that he keeps on having that kind of impact when more skillful young centres are ready to contribute as ultimately, it will make the Canadiens even better.

Oh about that second round draft pick that Bergevin received from the Blackhawks… Trevor Timmins selected Alexander Romanov with it. How is that for a trade? Go Habs Go!

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Yes, Size Does Matter

SizeMatters

Well here we are, less than two weeks prior to the NHL trade deadline and the Montreal Canadiens are all but mathematically out of the playoffs this year. Talk about a huge setback, for a team thought to be fighting for top spot in the Eastern Conference! So it’s time to assess what went wrong, aside of course to the injury to league MVP Carey Price.

The fact is that this team has a good mix of young veteran and quality younger players. They have a superstar in goal, they have a 35-40 goals’ scorer on the wing, a former 3rd overall pick who continues his development and on the verge of breaking through, a heart-and-soul type player who crashes the net and creates havoc, and they have a Norris caliber defenseman as well.

What this team does not have is enough natural goalscoring ability, a top quality centermen, some grit and quality size and that’s where team GM Marc Bergevin will be trying to improve on from now until puck drops next October.

When Bergevin took over, he recognized that the team he had inherited was getting pushed around and intimidated by bigger and tougher teams, and that’s the reason why he signed Georges Parros and Brandon Prust. We all know what happened to Parros and when Prust was traded, it took any toughness out of the Habs’ line-up, something the team is still lacking to this day.

Don’t be mistaken though, as toughness does not only mean fighting, but to be able to stand up for each other and command respect when doing so. You need the right people to do that kind of work and it’s not Brendan Gallagher or Tomas Fleischmann who can do that.

GETTING BIGGER

No matter what some people want you to believe, no matter how you wiggle it, size really does matter on the sheets… of ice. What some players lack in skills, they often can make up with size, by being able to better protect the puck, separating players from the puck, playing a more physical game forcing the opponents to keep their head up and even forcing plays. A hard bodycheck can change the game, take a key opponent out of the game or make him think twice when skating with the puck.

I am in no way saying that size replaces talent, far from there. You still need skills to play in this league but you cannot have only players with the same attributes and not enough of other key components. The perfect cake needs the right amount of ingredients and while one may like sugar, it won’t work without baking powder to allow it to rise.

There are too many Plekanec, Desharnais, Andrighetto, Pacioretty, Scherbak, Hudon and company and not enough McCarron in this organization. The good news is that it’s not too late to address the issue and taking advantage of an off-season without Carey Price might provide the perfect timing to do so.

If we just look at the free agents’ market this year, there are several players who might fit in nicely with this current Habs’ roster. Granted, as a General Manager, you don’t build team through free agency but you can certainly add a piece or two, particularly of what you lack most on your team.

In the following table, I’ve added the column of “hits” as just to put things into context, the Canadiens only have Alexei Emelin (165) and Dale Weise (100) with 100 hits or more. Third on the team is Lars Eller with 88 hits.

UFA Age HT WT POS G PTS HITS
Backes, David 31 6’3″ 231 C 13 30 179
Brouwer, Troy 30 6’3″ 216 RW 11 23 139
Ladd, Andrew 30 6’3″ 200 LW 13 30 121
Martin, Matt 26 6’3″ 220 LW 6 12 267
McGinn, Jamie 27 6’1″ 205 LW 12 25 106
Okposo, Kyle 27 6’0″ 217 RW 15 44 65
Perron, David 27 6’0″ 200 RW/LW 9 28 122
Purcell, Teddy 30 6’2″ 195 RW 11 31 25
Staal, Eric 31 6’4″ 205 C 9 30 45
Stamkos, Steven 26 6’1″ 194 C 22 42 65
Stewart, Chris 28 6’2″ 231 RW 8 18 60

Of course off that list, some are more attractive than others and not all of them are physical players. The emphasis should be, at least for bottom lines players, to add that grit to better support the skills on the team.

I would like to see the Canadiens showing up with at least one big centre, and one top end winger who can put the puck in the net. I would also like to see this team become tougher to play against by adding some much needed grit and size, and a bit of toughness. Can Marc Bergevin pull it off? While some are quite pessimistic with him right now, he’s entering a key time to put his true stamp on his team and it starts now. I’d keep a close eye if I were you.

Go Habs Go!