Top Cheese: September 2018 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as training camp is in full gear and the Canadiens are working at making amends for a poor season last year. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Three exhibition games down, four more to go and while no one should read too much in pre-season results, the fact is that this year is a lot better for fans’ morale than what the team showed at the same time last season when they won two of the eight games they played. So far, they beat the New Jersey Devils and the Washington Capitals, while dropping a game against a veteran-filled Florida Panthers’ line-up. It is exciting to see a bunch of new faces in a Habs’ uniform and the battles for a spot are very interesting to watch as well.

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Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Max Domi deserves to be suspended for a sucker punch on Florida Panthers’ defenseman Aaron Ekblad. It was clear that Ekblad wanted nothing to do with fighting Domi and those putting the blame on the defenseman for “not defending himself” or “not expecting the punch” are way out of line. No, he did not expect it and no, he did not protect himself… nor should he have to. If we can tell Ekblad’s intentions on TV, Domi should have been able to see the same looking into his eyes. Habs’ fans spent years defending Alexei Emelin because he couldn’t fight because he had a metal plate by his cheek and they now blame Ekblad for refusing to fight because of his concussion history? I’m sorry folks but that doesn’t sit well with me.

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Back when he was the NHL’s Vice-President and in charge of discipline, Brian Burke – who loves the rough stuff and fighting in hockey – condemned Tie Domi‘s sucker punch on then bad guy Ulf Samuelsson. “If anyone thinks that it’s an acceptable response to a verbal taunting, I’ve got news for you because it’s not.” Tie received an eight game (regular season) suspension for his action.

This action by Max Domi doesn’t define him as a hockey player or as an individual and people, particularly those who aren’t happy about the fact that Marc Bergevin traded Alex Galchenyuk for him, should not hold that against him or make an early judgment.

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Now on to more positive news. A few  young prospects are doing very well for themselves so far at camp. One of them is none other than the Canadiens’ first pick at this year’s draft, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who seems more and more comfortable as pre-season progresses. In a Cinderella-like story, he scored his first goal in a Habs’ uniform in his first game at the Bell Centre, and while fans are discovering his great skills, he is showing good composure for such a young man. Jokingly (and to rub it in a bit), I posted this after his goal:

 

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Another young man doing things well and drawing praise from everyone is Nick Suzuki, acquired in the Max Pacioretty trade along with Tomas Tatar and a second round pick. He’s showing great composure with the puck and finds himself on the right side of the puck defensively as well. And he’s only 19 folks! Claude Julien likes what he sees of him and you can be sure that he will be given every opportunity to show what he can do before the team makes a decision in his case.

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Last but not least, defenseman Josh Brook has also opened the eyes of many as did Victor Mete at last year’s camp. Not the biggest guy, he makes quick decisions with the puck and plays his angles very well. All of that while wearing number 76, a number which, by the way, was handed to him by the organization, not because he asked for it (so don’t be too quick to hate him). If we go by performances only, he ranks third amongst right-handed defensemen at camp, with only Jeff Petry and Noah Juulsen surpassing him on the right side. Unless the team suffers further injuries, it would be unlikely to see him earn a spot in the opening day line-up but he will be on the radar.

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Jonathan Drouin was flattered to see that he had an “A” on his jersey for the game against the Florida Panthers and he had this to say:

“I want to lead this team … I want to be one of the leaders on the squad.” ~ Jonathan Drouin

When asked after the game if management was sending a message to Drouin by putting an “A” on his jersey, Julien said:

“A couple of things. Jonathan came in this year in much better shape than he was last year and he did a lot of good things during the summer. We’re playing preseason games and those guys, you reward them for those kind of things. Tonight with our lineup I thought he was worthy of wearing an ‘A’ and I wanted him to wear it with pride and play the way we wanted him to play and that’s the reason he got the ‘A’. We’re moving them around. We’ll probably get some new ones tomorrow as we play it game by game.”

You can bet that Drouin appreciated the gesture and that he is slowly but surely taking on a bigger leadership role, even at the tender age of 23. Moved to the wing while Domi was available, he seemed more comfortable.

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Speaking of letters on the jersey, much has been said and written about the vacant spot left by the departure of team captain Max Pacioretty. Who will be his replacement? Do they need to have a captain? Here’s my humble opinion on the topic: Yes, yes they do need a captain. And they have two very solid candidates for the position:

Brendan Gallagher is a born leader. He was captain of the Vancouver Giants in the WHL and has been wearing the “A” on his jersey for a couple of seasons now with the Canadiens. No one will outwork him so he’s a leader by example. And in normal time, I’d say: give it to him.

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Shea Weber should be the team’s next captain.

But when you have a guy like Shea Weber on your team, a Mark Messier Award winner, an alternate captain for Team Canada, former captain of the Nashville Predators for many seasons, you simply cannot pass that along. Weber is not the type to be phased or intimidated by reporters. As a matter of fact, he’s the one who brings the fear of God in them, as did guys like Bob Gainey and Larry Robinson back in the days. And if he stands up in the dressing room, you bet that everyone is listening. In my opinion, he will be the Canadiens’ captain. Whether it’s announced before the season starts or when he’s ready to come back, we’ll see.

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When Marc Bergevin told everyone at the end of last season that there needs to be an attitude change in the dressing room, he wasn’t talking about Weber – who was out with an injury – or about Brendan Gallagher. He wasn’t talking about Paul Byron or even Jeff Petry. Seeing the moves that have been made this summer, the finger was obviously pointed to Pacioretty, who completely folded like a towel when things got tough, and about Galchenyuk whose effort simply wasn’t there.

But something tells me that he wasn’t impressed with his biggest leader, Carey Price, and I’m convinced that he had a long talk with him. Bergevin committed a lot of money in Price and most see him as one of the team’s biggest leaders. But much like Pacioretty, he too seemed to have packed it in early last year. True leaders don’t do that. Look at Jonathan Toews and Connor McDavid. They gave it all in spite of their teams’ lack of success. Bergevin wants Price to have that mentality. He needs Price to be like them… and he will.

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Love him or hate him, Marc Bergevin did extremely well in comparison to his peers in his trades of big name players. When you look at what the Buffalo Sabres received for Evander Kane (conditional 1st, conditional 4th and former 5th round pick Danny O’Regan), and what Don Waddell and the Hurricanes received for Jeff Skinner (2nd, 3rd and 6th round pick and former 3rd round pick Cliff Pu), how can someone not be happy with what the Habs receive for Pacioretty? Getting a 20-25 goals’ scorer in Tomas Tatar, three years younger than Pacioretty and under contract for another three years, former first round pick Nick Suzuki and a 2nd round pick is an excellent return. Further, he convinced George McPhee and the Golden Knights to pick up $500,000 of Tatar’s contract for each year remaining on his contract?

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Then rewind a bit… Many fans are still hurt by the fact that P.K. Subban is no longer in Montreal but the Canadiens received Shea Weber in return! Shea freakin’ Weber! Pierre Dorion probably wishes he could have received a Weber in return for a much, much better defenseman than Subban when he traded his captain Erik Karlsson to San Jose. What did he get? In exchange for Karlsson, the Senators received four players: Chris Tierney (career high 40 points), Dylan DeMelo (bottom pairing defenseman), former 1st round pick Josh Norris and former 5th round pick Rudolfs Balcers. They also got a 1st and a 2nd round pick and if Karlsson re-signs with the Sharks, they get another 2nd round pick. Now if you’re from the school that quantity equals quality, you will like this one but most hockey experts are unanimous in saying that Doug Wilson robbed Pierre Dorion in this one. This trade makes Bergevin look like Sam Pollock!

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So here you have it folks! Your Canadiens are NOT is as bad of a shape as some want you to believe. As a matter of fact, they are in pretty good hands in spite of what those who are still butt-hurt by the Subban trade are trying to make you believe. The future is bright and the sun will rise again tomorrow in Montreal. Enjoy this time of year and hop in for the ride, it will be a fun season! Go Habs Go!!!

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Top Cheese: June 2018 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as the NHL Draft is fast approaching and the Canadiens are set to make a splash, whether it be by trade or by drafting up to 5 times in the first two rounds. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Rumours, rumours and more rumours and that, both from our traditional nameless rumouroids and by more reputable hockey insiders. What will John Tavares do? If not Tavares, who will play at the centre position next season? Will Shea Weber finally have a defense partner worthy of logging quality minutes on his side? Will the Habs start the season with the same captain? So many questions, all of which should be answered within the next few weeks. Exciting times to say the least.

But before we get too deep into the Canadiens’ situation, the shameful presence of an expansion team reaching the Stanley Cup finals is now over and Alexander Ovechkin‘s liver is taking a major league beating as he and his Washington Capitals have ended the 2017-2018 season on a high, taking away the Cup from Gary Bettman. Whoo-hoo! Who cares?… aside from a few who still hold a grudge against Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin that is.

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Yes, some attention-seeking media personalities and constantly disgruntled ‘fans’ have ensured to point out to whoever would listen to their cries, that former Habs Lars Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly have raised the Cup and were key contributors in the finals. One can see the point in regretting losing Eller, due to the fact that the Canadiens are looking for centres but Smith-Pelly? Really folks? The guy who was released by the New Jersey Devils not all that long ago? The guy who, while in Montreal, enjoyed the nightlife a little too much, along with a few young quality players? The guy who managed eight points in 24 games in the playoffs and 16 points all year in the regular season? If you genuinely think that this guy is missed in Montreal, give your head a shake.

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And onto the beloved Canadiens… Unless you live under a rock, you have certainly heard or read Montreal reporter Mathias Brunet speculate on his beliefs that perhaps the Habs should go after Milan Lucic. For the record, Lucic managed 10 goals with the offensively gifted Edmonton Oilers last year. Further, he carries a contract on which he is still owed five more years with a cap hit of $6 million… and some people in Montreal complain about Andrew Shaw?

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Milan Lucic

Even if the Oilers sweetened the pot by adding value to the trade and/or taking back a ‘bad contract’, what good would Lucic, who can’t keep up with today’s fast paced NHL, bring to the team? The Habs need centres, not left wingers. I don’t have a problem with overpaying for a player but if you overpay, at least do it to fill a team’s need! In other words, I can see overpaying for a Ryan O’Reilly or a Oscar Klefbom, but not for Lucic. It makes absolutely zero sens.

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But wait… what if Bergevin managed to talk Peter Chiarelli to, in addition to Lucic, include the 10th overall pick at this year’s Draft? If you keep Lucic, it doesn’t change that his contract is an albatros and should not be touched. The only way it might make sense is if the Canadiens managed to use that 10th overall or their own 3rd overall to get a quality centre. For example, if the Oilers’ 10th overall pick was included in a package to land O’Reilly? After that, be creative and find a way to trade Lucic for a bag of puck. See NOW you’re addressing a need and now it’s starting to make some sense. But folks, don’t read it as a rumour because as of now, it’s only an idea thrown out there by Mr. Brunet.

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There are a few NHL insiders worth listening to and Bob McKenzie comes at the top of the crop. So when he came out to say that the Canadiens had some sort of interest in pending UFA Jack Johnson, one should listen… although how often does information leaks from Bergevin and his crew? It makes me wonder where that came from. But seriously, is Johnson really the solution for the Habs?  Wouldn’t it be preferable to find a mobile defenseman instead? I’m hoping that Johnson is not Bergevin’s target. As mentioned in a couple of previous articles, there are plenty of choices out there either via free agency or even by trade. But for for me, Johnson is not one of them.

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For some odd reason, it’s all over Twitter: Habs’ fans wishing for the team to draft left-winger Brady Tkachuk, in hope to turn him into a centre. Yes, you’ve heard it right folks. In all due respect, Those people must have a very short memory. The team still has a player that they drafted in hope that he would become a top-notch centre and they had to scrap the experiment. Yes, we’re talking about Alex Galchenyuk. But then again, there is another one, Mike McCarron, who is trying to turn into an NHL player, let alone a top-end centerman. Last but not least, people were all over Bergevin for trading Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin, only to ask him to learn to play centre. When do we stop with the experiments and pick players who are used to their position? Lets hope that the organization has learned.

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Tomas Plekanec

There is no denying that Tomas Plekanec would like to return to the Canadiens. He loved his time in Montreal and would like to finish his career in his notorious number 14. Plekanec is 35 and will be turning 36 by October so his next contract will count against the cap no matter what happens. The Czech only managed six goals and 24 points in 60 games with the Habs and the Leafs last season, but he was one of the few players on his team to have some pretty good playoffs.

Beyond the points, Plekanec is only two games away from reaching the prestigious plateau of 1,000 NHL games and what better story than to see him do it with the Canadiens? While he has lost his offense, he knows Claude Julien‘s system to a tee and he is still very reliable defensively and on the penalty kill. Many fans would like to see him back for one last season if he is willing to take a substantial pay cut from the $6 million he was making.

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Something else made the news recently: the infamous ‘concussion protocol’ and the Canadiens were named as one of the teams fined for not respecting the NHL’s protocol in that regard. Of course, those who have an agenda against the current organisation took full advantage of the situation to run with it, conveniently forgetting that George Gillett was the owner and Bob Gainey the GM back then.

That aside, anyone who has had concussions and/or have coached or played a competitive sports will tell you that it’s very easy for players to fool the coaches, even the medical staff. More often than not, a concussion is not easy to diagnose, particularly in pro sports when players are so competitive that they will go to great extends to get back on the ice, on the field, on the track, on the bull… and that, even with the baseline tests. You need an MRI to determine the gravity of the brain injury and teams don’t have one readily available. So let’s take a deep breath before accusing anyone. More often than not, players are driving the bus here.

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Last week, I created a poll on both this website and on a pin on my Twitter account. The question was simple: I was asking the fans what they thought the future of Habs’ captain Max Pacioretty was, in their opinion. Here’s what you guys think:

I guess we will see…

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Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman

We like to complain about the Habs but come to think of it, this organisation is in great shape… particularly if you compare it with what’s going on down the road in Ottawa! The team’s downward spiral after a great playoffs run is worse than what the Canadiens have done… There have been rumours up to the trade deadline surrounding team captain Erik Karlsson‘s future with the team. Then former captain Daniel Alfredsson comes out and publicly states that the Sens need a new owner, a direct shot at Eugene Melnyk. Not judging if he’s right or wrong, but coming from Alfredsson, that’s a statement that stirred the pot for sure. As if it wasn’t enough, assistant-GM Randy Lee was arrested in Buffalo and charged with second-degree harassment after allegedly inappropriately touching and making lewd comments toward a hotel employee. To top it all up, there’s the story of Karlsson’s wife, who filed a protection order against her husband’s teammate Mike Hoffman‘s girlfriend. I will spare you the details but that one is very nasty. So before you complain about your favourite team, Habs’ fans, look around you a little bit.

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The Canadiens and their fans are all-in, perhaps more than they were over the Stanley Cup finals, as the future of the team – and perhaps GM Bergevin – will be played in the next few days, or weeks. Here are some of the key dates coming up:

  • June 15-30 – Last chance for NHL teams to buyout their bad contracts
  • June 22 – The NHL Draft. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy the excitement!
  • June 24 – NHL players scheduled to become UFA’s can talk to other teams
  • July 1st – The UFA market officially opens, and players with one year remaining to their existing contracts can sign an extension (Pacioretty, OEL, Karlsson…)

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Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, take your seat, buckle your seatbelt and hang on to your hat and your popcorn as the next few weeks promise to be filled with excitement… something that has been lacking all season long with the Canadiens, let’s admit it. Enjoy the ride! Go Habs Go!!!