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.

 

Log jam

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!

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Top Cheese: June 2017 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as they are getting set for the the Free Agents’ Frenzy on July first. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

While some Habs’ fans like calling team GM Marc Bergevin “Bargain Bin” due to his history of getting good deals for bottom-6 forwards and bottom pairing defensemen, they will have to be more creative in their attacks since Bergevin made the two of the biggest trades of the summer two years in a row with the Weber trade last year and the Drouin trade this summer. Perhaps those who have an axe to grind against the organization should look at new and more creative ways and material to find fault if they wish for people to listen to them.

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The French side of the media found yet another way, the political one, to blame the Canadiens, Trevor Timmins in particular, for not drafting French Canadian players for a second year in a row. While I will agree about the importance of having local talent on the team, those media members are going to war days only after Bergevin gave top prospect Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin. They also “forgot” to mention that only nine Quebec-born players were drafted in this year’s draft in seven (yes 7) rounds of 31 teams picking! If you want to bark, at least bark at the right tree: Hockey Quebec, the poor boys of the CHL for decades now, fail drastically in comparison to their counterparts in the WHL and the OHL.

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Andrei Markov

Reports out of Montreal came out that Andrei Markov is insistent on a two-year deal. While he did perform well last season, one has to wonder why the 38 year-old is so adamant on those terms at this stage in his career. With his final two contracts, Nicklas Lidstrom signed one-year deals with the Detroit Red Wings. Rob Blake did the same with the LA Kings for his last two contracts. Other Hall of Famers like Scott Niedermayer, Chris Chelios and Joe Sakic, just to name a few, all did the same. What makes Markov so special that he can’t help the team that helped him through his entire career, including through three injury-plagued seasons? It pains me to say this as I would love him to retire as a Habs, but I would personally offer Markov a one-year, $5.5 million contract, take it or leave it.

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Much is being said about Alexander Radulov‘s contract demands but the fact remains that those are just rumours and even if they were not, they are simply a starting point for contract negotiations. Having said that, if Radulov’s camp was remotely close to what the Canadiens are willing to offer, he would be signed by now. We must now face the fact that he may not be back with the Canadiens next year unless he brings his demands closer to what the team can live with. Personally, while I would prefer three years, I would go up to four years, $26 million maximum for Radulov. I can’t talk about Radulov’s contract without touching on those so-called experts on Montreal radio who have been claiming that Radulov and Markov had contracts signed prior to the expansion draft. Hoping Habs’ fans learn their lesson by ignoring those so-called insiders and trust the true ones: Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, Pierre LeBrun and Elliott Friedman.

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One of the reasons why Bergevin has to be careful with the money he is handing out to Markov and Radulov is the fact that Carey Price is scheduled for a big raise starting in time for the 2018-19 season. Price is on record saying that he wants to stay, and Bergevin is also on record saying that re-signing him is a priority. But as Bergevin said in a recent interview, it’s difficult to negotiate contracts with other players not knowing how much it will take to re-sign his top player

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A young man by the name of Josh Wegman wrote a spot on The Score which drew the ire of many Habs’ fans, myself included, when he ranked the Draft for all Atlantic Division teams. He gave the Toronto Maple Leafs, his favourite team, the highest mark of the division and ironically, the Canadiens the worst marks for this year’s draft. The problem is that in the article itself, he recognizes that he has watched video highlights and stats from HockeyDB.com to justify his findings. How can a company like The Score allow this is beyond me as there are many people following those prospects in person who could provide a much better, more accurate and more professional opinion on the topic? One of my followers pointed this out to me:

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It is important to note for Habs’ fans that just about every Prospects Expert, those who have gone to games to watch those prospects play, have ranked Timmins’ work as amongst the top not only this year, but in the last three summers. Time will tell.

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Twice in the last few days since the Jonathan Drouin trade, Marc Bergevin told the media to “expect the unexpected” when asked about trades. Yet, nothing has happened at the time of  writing these lines. Should we read anything into it and if we should, what exactly? We know that rumours have been swirling around Alex Galchenyuk and it was reported on Draft day that as many as 14-15 teams had shown interest in the Canadiens’ young forward. Could it be that Bergevin, not receiving any offers that would help his team get better, decided to keep his trade chip and re-sign him to a shiny new contract, hoping that the departure of Nathan Beaulieu and his negative influence reflects on his performances? It’s very much a possibility folks. As I’ve stated all along, Bergevin isn’t looking at unloading Galchenyuk but if a hockey trade is to be made, one that would improve the Habs, he would pull the trigger. That obviously hasn’t happened… yet.

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The Las Vegas Golden Knights picked Alexei Emelin from the Canadiens at the expansion draft, leaving the team a little thin at the blue line, they who are already looking to add someone to play alongside All-Star defenseman Shea Weber. While Bergevin has added some quality depth in acquiring 30 year-old rearguard David Schlemko, I have a feeling like the team has pretty high expectations on another player we tend to forget about. Signed in late April, the Canadiens added Czech Republic native Jakub Jerabek, a 26 year-old offensive defenseman who finished last season with 34 points in 59 games playing for Vityaz Podolsk in the KHL and who likely made Beaulieu expandable. Bergevin shouldn’t have any problem finding a partner for Weber as there are many available. Finding top-6 offensive players is a whole different story though, one that could very haunt the GM.