Time to Put Up or Shut Up

Ten days before the annual NHL Trade deadline. And while every team has had their meetings to set up game plans, not everything is set in stone. Some teams have started moving assets, others are still trying to figure out what’s available out there and there are those sitting on the fence still. But in the meantime, the teams whose GM has been proactive by moving early are gaining some precious points over their rivals… and that in itself is adding pressure on the teams battling for position with them.

And that’s the case of the Toronto Maple Leafs. When they acquired Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings on January 28th, both the Bruins and the Canadiens were right with them, within a point or two. Realizing that his team has no issues scoring goals, GM Kyle Dubas went out and addressed the Leafs’ biggest need: their defense. And it’s paying off.

With all three teams having played 57 games, the Leafs now lead the pack with 75 points, which is three more than the Bruins and, most importantly, six ahead of the Canadiens and a Wild Card spot. Yet, it’s not like the Bruins and the Habs have played badly. In their respective last 10 games, the Bruins are 6-1-3 while Claude Julien‘s team went 7-2-1. But solidifying their defense with a legitimate top-4 defenseman has helped the Leafs improve by enough to create some much needed breathing room. Since acquiring Muzzin, Mike Babcock‘s team is 6-1-1, getting 13 out of 16 possible points.

Put up or shut up

If the Bruins and the Canadiens want to keep pace with Toronto, they will have to do something otherwise, the separation will only continue to grow. As it stands today, Boston and Montreal appear safe for a playoffs’ spot but of the teams on the outside looking in, the Carolina Hurricanes are on fire and the Buffalo Sabres are hanging in there. All it takes is for one or two injuries to sabotage a season or, in this case, a playoffs’ spot. No team knows that better than the Habs, having lost Carey Price and Shea Weber for long periods of time… and having felt the dramatic impact.

Don Sweeney

The Bruins need some scoring and they are rumoured to be very active. Wayne Simmonds, Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, Artemi Panarin have all been linked to the Bruins at one point or another, and if Eric Staal or Charlie Coyle are made available by the Minnesota Wild, GM Don Sweeney will be right in there poking around.

In his February 13th Rumor Mill column, Lyle Richardson posted that according to Joe McDonald of the Athletic, Sweeney won’t be seeking help after the injury to David Pastrnak. I’m sorry but I don’t buy it. While the Bruins have the second best team defense in the entire NHL, allowing 2.56 goals per game, they score 2.93 goals per game, currently good 17th in the NHL. And that’s with Pastrnak’s 31 goals and 66 points production in the line-up so without it, their offensive production has the possibility of becoming rather anemic.

Bergevin’s move to make

Much has been said about Marc Bergevin and what he wants to do (or should do) at the trade deadline. While I strongly agree and support not overpaying for rental players or older players soon to be unproductive, I’m also of the opinion that this team, while over-performing in the eyes of many, needs a boost. Those players have been working their butts off to make liars out of us, making some “experts” look foolish in the process. They deserve something from their GM, a reward, a sign that their efforts didn’t go unnoticed or underappreciated.

Alexander Romanov

A scoring winger (or centre to move Max Domi back to the wing) would be helpful, but the Canadiens’ biggest need right now is a top-4 left handed defenseman. We recently touched on a few potential trade targets for the Habs, but there are obviously many more. While Alexander Romanov might be on the verge of making the jump from the KHL to the NHL, he still remains very young. The Edmonton Oilers have had the bad habit of rushing their prospects and we see how efficient that is. They have caused some to crumble under pressure and/or delayed the development of others. They sheltered Kotkaniemi this season and it’s paying dividends. They must try doing the same for Romanov when he joins the Canadiens.

On the right side you have Weber, Jeff Petry, Noah Juulsen (hopefully), Josh Brook and Cale Fleury in the depth chart. It’s on the left side that things get rather thin. Victor Mete is improving but a top-4 role, particularly on the top pairing in the playoffs, is not ideal neither for the team or for the young man. Then you follow that with Karl Alzner (!), Mike Reilly, Brett Kulak and Romanov coming up.

Bergevin needs to get his hands on a top-4 with term on his contract, at least two years. This will allow for better development for Mete and Romanov, while helping Weber and Petry who carry the load on their respective pairing. It’s not only for this year, it’s for the next few seasons too. With the news coming out that the Wild has received the green light to tweak their line-up, perhaps a phone call to his buddy Paul Fenton is warranted. If you know the difference between ‘need‘ and ‘want‘, filling that left defense position definitely falls into the ‘need‘ category. A scoring winger is more of a ‘want‘.

Jonathan Huberdeau

Speaking of ‘want‘, when the name of Jonathan Huberdeau was thrown around in rumours, disbelief is how I would describe many people’s reaction to the news. But when it’s coming from reputable insiders, one must listen. Just like we predicted here back in May 2017 that Bergevin would do anything to get Drouin back when he was rumoured to be shopped around, you can rest assured that the Canadiens’ GM has been on the phone with Dale Tallon in Florida to get all necessary information on this case. Yes it would cost a lot to get him, but let’s not under-estimate the impact of local talent on the Montreal Canadiens.

Until then, if you’re anything like me, you will be checking your phone regularly in hope to see the Canadiens get more help… but let’s ensure not get our hopes up too high as the higher they are, the harder it will be if things don’t pan out. Go Habs Go!

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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!