The Habs’ Centre of Attention: John Tavares?

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It’s been said over and over again by both Canadiens’ naysayers and fans alike, if there is one consensus amongst everyone, it’s the fact that General Manager Marc Bergevin has failed miserably in addressing his team’s biggest need: some offensive help down the middle, at the centre position. While team President and owner Geoff Molson publicly gave his full support to this lead hockey man, there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that this need cannot be left unresolved comes October, at the start of the 2018-2019 season.

How Bergevin will address this need remains to be seen though. As it stands today, the Canadiens’ depth chart is nothing to write about. As the Alex Galchenyuk experiment has proven futile due to his lack of defensive responsibility, he remains a better option on the wing. The team tried newly acquired winger Jonathan Drouin and it has not proven to be much better, although he did have a strong finish to the season, collecting 12 points in his last 13 games. But his mediocre minus – 27 has him second worst on the team behind Galchenyuk and Jeff Petry, both at minus – 30.

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What position will Jonathan Drouin be playing next season?

As natural centres, Phillip Danault is the team’s best option but he’s at best a decent second line centre and cannot be counted on as the team’s number one for a long period of time. Andrew Shaw has played at that position out of necessity but he’s no offensive dynamo either. Claude Julien has experimented with the likes of Jacob De la Rose with mixed results, but can they really rely on a guy whose best NHL production is four goals and 12 points?

In the minors, Daniel Audette has seen time at centre and could be, down the line, an interesting option as he has collected a respectable 13 goals and 29 points in 56 games for the Laval Rockets this season. At 21, I’m not so sure that Bergevin wants to gamble on him carrying the load if the team wishes to get back into contention, and Michael McCarron is, in my humble opinion, better suited on the wing than at centre.

Further in the system, the Habs have decent prospects up the middle but how quickly can the team realistically expect the likes of Ryan Poehling, Joni Ikonen, Will Bitten and Jake Evans to have an impact at the NHL level? The reality is that the team cannot count on anyone from within to provide them with the consistent and necessary help up the middle as a top gun first line centre. So in order to address their need, they will have to look on the outside.

2018 Pending UFA’s

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How good would John Tavares look in a Habs’ jersey?

It’s been the subject of many discussions and there are a couple of names coming back on a fairly regular basis. If he makes it to free agency, John Tavares will be the most sought after free agent on the market comes July first this summer. There will be a line-up of teams pitching their best stuff to try to lure him to sign with them. Can Carey Price and Shea Weber talk their Team Canada teammate into coming to the fishbowl that is Montreal, particularly after Price’s own wife had to come out on Instagram just a few months ago, to deny some absurd rumours thrown around by the blood thirsty media? Or after team captain Max Pacioretty admitted publicly that the talks in the media has affected not only him, but his family and his son at school? Can that and the money offered by the team be enough to overcome the high taxes, the language barrier for Tavares’ wife and children, and compensate for the fact that the Canadiens are nowhere close to being contenders? Allow me to doubt it, although there is no doubt that Bergevin, Molson and company will do everything in their power to try to sell him on wearing number 91 in bleu, blanc et rouge.

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Source: CapFriendly.com

Another interesting name perhaps on that list would be Quebec born Paul Stastny, son of former Quebec Nordiques Peter. Tyler Bozak is another interesting name but we’re now talking about the equivalent to Danault as a second line centre… beyond that, it’s pretty dim.

By Trade?

Bergevin might have to explore the market via trades in order to address his team’s needs. But what exactly is out there for the taking?

Anze Kopitar (LAK)

Nah, I’m pulling your leg. Why would the Kings trade their best centre, particularly after making the playoffs? There isn’t much the Canadiens could throw at them to convince the Kings to pull the trigger, let’s face it.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM)

For the longest time, I thought that a Nugent-Hopkins and Max Pacioretty trade as the key pieces would be beneficial to both teams… until Oilers’ head coach Todd McLellan experimented with putting RNH on the wing with league MVP Connor McDavid that is. Since then, both players have caught fire and let’s face it, having RNH as a security blanket for centre depth in the event of one of McDavid or Leon Draisaitl getting injured is not a luxury the team can afford to mess with. They will need to unload salary but I would be shocked if Nugent-Hopkins is the one being sacrificed by GM Peter Chiarelli now.

Mason Appleton (WIN)

Who? Appleton is a 22 year-old American centre who is finishing his first pro season in the AHL, having collected 21 goals and 51 points in 61 games. Like Mike Reilly was in Minnesota, the youngster is stuck behind Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault and possibly Statsny if the Jets decide to re-sign him? Could something be worked out around Pacioretty? I think so.

Jack Roslovic (WIN)

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Marc Bergevin and Kevin Cheveldayoff

If not Appleton, perhaps the Jets would consider Roslovic, a 21 year-old centre? 14 points in 31 games in Winnipeg, 35 points in 32 games in the AHL this season. The Jets are extremely deep at that position… including the next one!

Nic Petan (WIN)

Petan is another youngster who is ready to make the step into the NHL and would go a long ways into improving the position of centre for the Canadiens. With 52 points in 51 games in the AHL… Seriously, do the Jets need all three of these guys with what they already have on their NHL roster? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, I know so.

Dylan Strome (ARI)

Strome is not going to dislodge Clayton Keller and Derek Stepan for the top-2 centres spot on the Coyotes, and Christian Dvorak is a young centre doing a fantastic job in Arizona as well. Nine points in 20 games in Arizona, and 50 points in 47 games in the AHL for Strome, and they do need help on the wing. This team is in such a mess, who knows what they would be willing to pull in order to get a marquee name to market their product?

Doesn’t it look like the Winnipeg Jets are the perfect fit for Bergevin to be looking at for a young centre? And it seems like it will be the case no matter how far they go in the playoffs as they truly are set up down the middle. If I were a betting man, which I’m not, that’s where I’d be focussing and Kevin Cheveldayoff would be getting daily calls. But time will tell. Either way, Marc Bergevin cannot go another off-season without addressing his team’s biggest need. Go Habs Go!

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Top Cheese: December 2017 Edition

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Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as the Christmas break is approaching and the team finds itself in a bind for a playoffs’ position. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

We can all admit, things aren’t looking good for the Canadiens in their pursue of a playoffs’ spot. They find themselves three points back of the Boston Bruins, who still have three games in hand on the Habs, for the third and final spot in the division. They are five points back of the New York Rangers for the last Wild Card spot, and they have to leap-frog Carolina, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to get there.

While the odds are against them, there is still hope but the team will have to string a few winning streaks soon, very soon, if they hope to participate in the Spring tournament. The fanbase seems divided with some wishing them to sell immediately in hope for a better chance at getting the first overall pick while others, like yours truly, will never give up hope until it’s practically over. With a world-class goaltender like Price, making the playoffs should, in my opinion, be the number one priority as once you’re in, you never know. Just ask last year’s Nashville Predators…

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Speaking of goaltenders, as Carey Price goes, so do the Habs. This season, Price has played 19 games and he has a record of 8-9-2, with a 3.16 goals against average and a .899 saves percentage. Those numbers are well below what people should expect from him, and no one knows it better than Price himself. Here’s a breakdown of the goaltender’s performances in his wins, in comparison to his losses:

WINS

DETROIT 1 G 23 SA .957 Sv%
DETROIT 3 G 31 SA .903 Sv%
OTTAWA 1 G 28 SA .964 Sv%
COLUMBUS 1 G 38 SA .974 Sv%
BUFFALO 0 G 36 SA 1.000 Sv%
NY RANGERS 4 G 26 SA .846 Sv%
FLORIDA 1 G 27 SA .963 Sv%
BUFFALO 2 G 45 SA .956 Sv%
TOTAL: 13 G 254 SA .949 Sv%

LOSSES

EDMONTON 4 G 14 SA .714 Sv%
CALGARY 3 G 37 SA .919 Sv%
ST. LOUIS 4 G 30 SA .867 Sv%
MINNESOTA 5 G 26 SA .808 Sv%
LOS ANGELES 4 G 28 SA .857 Sv%
ANAHEIM 6 G 45 SA .867 Sv%
SAN JOSE 4 G 34 SA .882 Sv%
TORONTO 4 G 22 SA .818 Sv%
CHICAGO 3 G 25 SA .880 Sv%
NY RANGERS 2 G 25 SA .920 Sv%
WASHINGTON 4 G 14 SA .714 Sv%
TOTAL: 43 GA 300 SA .857 Sv%

Pundits like to pounce on Bergevin and the Habs at any chance they get but if we’re being honest with ourselves, we will recognize and admit that not many teams in today’s NHL will win games when their goaltender has a saves percentage below .900… particularly not when he’s your franchise player.

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As Kari Lehtonen reached the 300 wins plateau, The Hockey News released a list of the Top-10 active goaltenders with the most wins.

 

But I would like to add a twist to it, by including the age of each goaltender. Have a look:

  1. Luongo (38) FLA 459
  2. Lundqvist (35) NYR 419
  3. Fleury (33) VEG 378
  4. Miller (37) ANA 361
  5. Ward (33) CAR 300
  6. Lehtonen (34) DAL 299
  7. Rinne (35) NSH 285
  8. Price (30) MTL 278
  9. Quick (31) LA 275
  10. Anderson (36) OTT 245
 Also, if or when you chose to compare the number of wins by goaltenders with the all-time greats, don’t forget that the players mentioned above all benefited greatly from the overtime and shootout wins, something their predecessors didn’t, for the most part.

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In case you’ve been living under a rock and had yet to notice, the witch hunt is full on by some fans and members of the media to get Canadiens’ General Manager’s Marc Bergevin‘s head cut off. But someone dared posting Bergevin’s win/losses record, and found an interesting way to look at the trades that he’s pulled since he was made in charge of the team.

Oh he’s not perfect, don’t get me wrong, but if you show me a perfect GM or coach, I will show you a liar.

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In response to the people who have been calling for the firing of the Habs’ GM, Canadiens’ owner Geoff Molson said that Marc Bergevin has his full support.

“We’ve got some room on the cap, and you never know what he might do or might not do,” said Molson. “He certainly does have the license to improve the team, and that’s his job. I support him fully.”

This might have to do with the fact that he, like other reasonable hockey men around the NHL, understands what @HankBart91 pointed out and that he is still very much respected around the league. Fans can kick, scream and have a temper tantrum all they want, Bergevin’s job is safe until at least the end of the season.

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There are plenty of rumours going around and as we’ve explored in a recent article, the Habs Are Not Alone Looking For A Forward. That being said, Bergevin is still looking at filling the hole on the team’s top defensive pairing, a suitable partner to Shea Weber.

One interesting rumour going around is the supposedly interest from Bergevin towards another former Chicago Blackhawks, puck moving defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Oh he won’t be putting up points on the board, but he is a very good skater with good size and an excellent defender. He can also easily log-in 20-25 minutes of ice time. One has to wonder if Bergevin is talking to the Coyotes about Hjalmarsson, if the name of local product, 22 year-old Anthony Duclair, is part of it… To be followed.

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The Canadiens have announced that they were loaning defenseman Victor Mete to Team Canada for the World Junior Championships over the Christmas break. Most fans and media members are in agreement that the decision is a good one for the development of the 19 year-old.

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Victor Mete

While he played over 20 minutes per game in four consecutive games back in mid-October, Mete’s ice time has diminished since then and he’s been a healthy scratch a few times as well. He has even played forward one game in mid-November. This tournament should do wonders for him, playing quality minutes at a very high and intense level of hockey.

Where fans and media are not necessarily in agreement, is if he should return to Montreal or be sent back to junior after the tournament. The Canadiens have made no announcements about it yet, as it is doubtful that they know at this point. A lot of it might have to do with where the team will be in the standings, injuries and player movement (trades, waivers…).

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It will be interesting to see what the Canadiens do with puzzling forward Alex Galchenyuk in the near future. The enigmatic and talented forward has not been a shadow of his old self since his injury early last season and while many were blaming former coach Michel Therrien for his utilization of Galchenyuk, it seems like he’s finding himself in a second coach’s dog house with Claude Julien. At some point, people will have to stop blaming the coaches and see the whole picture about the young forward. His lack of effort is, in my opinion, the biggest reason why he’s not getting more suitable ice time in the NHL and that’s solely in his own hands.

Will he understand that one day soon, or will the Canadiens lose patience with him first? Time will tell. He still has some value on the trade market because he’s under contract for a couple more seasons and he’s not that far removed from a 30 goals’ season. Let’s hope for the Canadiens that he finds his game as they need offense and Galchenyuk would go a long way in providing just that.

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While Mikhail Sergachev is making a name for himself in Tampa Bay, Jonathan Drouin is battling through injuries and trying to learn a new position as a NHL centre. Bergevin’s failure, this past summer, was to be unable to address the team’s biggest need: a true top-end centre.

Drouin has been good under the circumstance but as it stands today, it looks like the Lightning has the upper hand on this deal. But be careful folks, don’t jump to conclusions too soon. At 14:55 minutes per game, Sergachev is sixth amongst Tampa’s defensemen in ice time, with 1:50 of which coming on the powerplay. Ten (10) of his 21 points also came on the powerplay so that doesn’t (yet) speak of a top-pairing defenseman, folks.

The support cast for both players is also quite different. Put Drouin with the Lightning and Sergachev with the Canadiens and it’s pretty safe to say that the numbers wouldn’t be anywhere close to what they are right now and that, for both players. Let’s give it a couple of years before jumping to that conclusion, shall we? In the meantime… Go Habs Go!!!