Mike Reilly And the Habs’ Misfit Toys

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Bargain Bin… that’s what some of Canadiens’ GM detractors were calling him. Yet, he has been one of the NHL’s most aggressive General Managers since taking over the reigns in Montreal. He has proven that trading a big name player is not only possible, it must be done when needed. P.K. Subban, Mikhail Sergachev, Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk are all playing elsewhere while Shea Weber, recently appointed team captain, Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar, Max Domi and Mike Reilly are proudly wearing the CH. Wait… Mike Reilly?

You see, while everyone in Montreal and others around the NHL are starting to notice the Canadiens’ flavour of the month, yours truly has been warning you, faithful readers of this blog, about the possibility of that happening. I’m no prophet but you see, I was given the opportunity to watch this guy skate for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL and I was extremely impressed by this young man’s aptitudes. He wasn’t just good, he was a dominant force in what is known as the best Junior A development league in the country and that, on a team – the Vees – that would have beaten most Major Junior team that year.

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Mike Reilly – Penticton Vees

I was shocked that Marc Bergevin only gave up a fifth round pick for the guy and I certainly was thrilled to see him coming to my favourite team. Way back in March, I was telling you that Reilly was a serious candidate to become Weber’s best option as a defensive pairing partner. More recently, in August to be precise, Reilly made my list of the Canadiens’ top candidates for a breakthrough season. He is the real deal and it seems that like several players we discovered on the Las Vegas Golden Knights last year, all he needed was a true opportunity to showcase what he could do, a chance to gain the necessary confidence to do what he knows he can do… what I and many Pentictonites knew he could do.

 

The Misfit Toys

Come to think of it, Bergevin and his team sure have a knack at finding players that nobody wants and getting the most out of them, doesn’t he? Think of Dale Weise who, prior to being acquired by that Habs, had 10 goals in 162 games for the Rangers and the Canucks. He scored 27 in 152 games in a Canadiens’ uniform and was a key penalty killer for them. Weise has since scored 12 in total for the Flyers.

Perhaps the biggest steal by Bergevin was when he claimed newly appointed alternate-captain Paul Byron off waivers from the Calgary Flames. Ti-Paul had 17 goals in 138 career games for the Sabres and the Flames. In a Habs’ uniform, he has contributed 56 goals in 231 games so far, including two consecutive 20+ goals seasons while being one of the NHL’s best penalty killers.

In a smaller sample size, Canadiens’ gritty winger Nicolas Deslauriers had a grand total of 12 goals in 211 career games with the Sabres before finding his niche with the Habs. Last season alone, the LaSalle native tallied 10 goals in only… 58 games!

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Tomas Tatar leads the Habs in scoring

In the trade sending disgruntled Max Pacioretty to the Golden Knights, young centre Nick Suzuki was the key piece of the trade. The second round pick was a bonus and George McPhee is the one who insisted on including Tomas Tatar if, for nothing else, cap reasons. As a matter of fact, the Knights picked up some of Tatar’s salary in the trade. A healthy scratch in Vegas, Tatar leads the Canadiens in the first two weeks of the season with eight points in six games.

 

Who wanted Antti Niemi last year? Nobody. Nobody except Bergevin and the Canadiens. Stephane Waite knew him well from their days together in Chicago, where Niemi helped the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup. But after a few good seasons in San Jose, the veteran goaltender’s career went on a downward spiral, particularly the past couple of years. A 3.30 GAA and .892 Sv% in his last year in Dallas, followed by a season where he was claimed off waivers… twice in 2017-18! A 5.08 GAA and .872 Sv% with the Panthers, followed by a 7.50 GAA and .797 Sv% with the Penguins made people question Bergevin’s sanity and outrage his belittlers when he claimed him off waivers. Yet, he followed that up with an astounding 2.46 GAA and .929 Sv% on a team where everything went wrong for last season.

Last, need I remind you that the Canadiens acquired Joel Armia as an incentive to take Steve Mason’s contract from the Winnipeg Jets? While Armia has yet to fully show what he can do, the 6-foot 4-inches former first round pick winger is showing flashes of the skills the Canadiens need on right wing. Time will tell if he makes the list of Bergevin’s steals but by giving up Simon Bourque for him is robbery in itself.

Let’s not forget that Xavier Ouellet‘s contract was bought out by the Detroit Red Wings before the Canadiens jumped to the occasion to offer him a chance. So far this season, he has earned every minute that he’s played and he has proven to be a valuable asset. After seeing what we’ve seen of the Red Wings in the 7-3 routing at the hands of the Habs, I can’t imagine that Detroit couldn’t use him right now.

Honorable mentions must be given for the acquisitions of Jeff Petry (2nd round pick in 2015, which the Oilers ended up trading away), and Phillip Danault and a 2nd round pick (Alexander Romanov) for two pending UFA’s in Weise and Tomas Fleischmann.

Early on this season, fans love the new attitude around their favourite team. The speed and work ethics displayed are a huge contrast with what they got to see last season and yes, two of the biggest culprits of taking nights off have been traded. The scoring lost in those trades has been replaced with an exemplary effort and scoring by committee, and fans appreciate that. It’s way too early to get carried away but don’t the Canadiens remind you of last year’s Vegas Golden Knights? Go Habs Go!

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The Habs Will Score More Goals Than Last Year?

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Nah. Can’t be. Right? I mean… they traded away their best goals’ scorer over the past decade in Max Pacioretty. Oh and they also traded away a former 30 goals’ scorer, their second best goals’ scorer last year in Alex Galchenyuk. I mean come on! They replaced them with Tomas Tatar, a healthy scratch in the playoffs for Vegas, and Max Domi, who scored nine goals per season in the past two seasons! Perhaps Carey Price could start scoring too?

I know, I know, I’m being sarcastic (again) and making fun of a group of fans (again) who blame everything, including the weather, on Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin. I should stop but… it’s too much fun, really. Straying away from this nonsense however, let’s look deeper into the topic of goals’ scoring on a team that was already in life support in that department. Yeah, the Habs only scored 209 goals all season last year, good for… 29th out of 31 teams, with only Arizona and Buffalo putting fewer pucks behind their opponents’ goaltenders.

 Better than last season?

Yes, yes, it’s possible. No, I’m not kidding. Why you may ask? Perhaps answering a single question would help: How many Habs’ players had a subpar season last year? Fair to say that several of them, maybe even most of them not named Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron fall into that category?

Allow me. Let’s play ‘what if’… I know, as Hergé, the great author of Tintin once said: “If! If! You can get ’round anything with ‘if’.” But humour me for a bit. Yes, you faithful reader, hardcore Habs’ fan, stick around and look at this.

What if…

  • Jonathan Drouin has 20 goals instead of 13?
  • Charles Hudon has 15 goals instead of 10?
  • Phillip Danault plays more than 52 games (8 goals), so around 15 goals (his average per game)?
  • Artturi Lehkonen has 20 goals (had 18 in season 1, 12 last year)?
  •  Andrew Shaw plays more than 51 games (10 goals), so around 15 goals?
  •  Shea Weber plays more than 26 games (6 goals), so 13 based on his average, assuming that he’ll be missing October and November completely?
  •  Tomas Tatar scores 23 goals, his average the last 5 years?
  •  Joel Armia scores 15 goals (had 12 last year in a limited role)?
  • Max Domi scores 15 goals (had 9 last year, which is his average per 82 GP the last two years)?
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Jonathan Drouin is set for a better season than last year.

Those number folks, are quite realistic as I tried not to inflate anyone’s numbers. That said, it would represent around 90 more goals than last year. Okay, let’s take away the 36 goals scored by the duo Pacioretty/Galchenyuk, it’s still an improvement of about 54 goals folks. Even if the support cast scores about the same (which isn’t much to be honest), it’s a substantial increase in offense and truthfully, if Carey Price returns to form, it should results in a few more wins. Of course, I’m counting on the duo of Gallagher and Byron to put in 50 between the two of them, the same total as last year.

My prediction is that this team will score more goals than last season. Although not top-heavy with star-power in the “natural goals’ scoring” department, it should be a more balanced offense. All four lines can contribute offensively and that folks, is hard to defend against. But let’s be careful here. It will be a young team. A very young team and with that, will come the necessary growing pains, the learning on the fly, the inconsistency. Wait, weren’t they pretty inconsistent last season? Nah, they were just bad. I, for one, expect this team to be an improved group over last year… and that includes their overall offensive numbers. Go Habs Go!