Top Cheese: September 2017 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as training camp is in full force and the team and players are battling for a position on the opening day roster. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Charles Hudon is having a great start to this year’s training camp. He is no longer intimidated and at awe for simply practicing with the big boys. He now wants to be one of them more than ever. After a good season last year in the AHL, where he collected an impressive 27 goals and 49 points in 56 games for the St. John’s IceCaps, the 23 year-old winger feels like he’s ready to take the next step in his career and his three assists night in the White vs Red scrimmage was a step in that direction.

I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here, but just like we as fans and/or media following the Canadiens, shouldn’t read too much in early poor performances, we should remain level-headed with a young player’s early success. Training camp is just starting and will only get tougher and tougher as we get closer to opening night on October fifth. It is, admittedly, better to have a good start than the other way around, no doubt.

bannièrehabs2

Jonathan Drouin has been omni-present on the Montreal scene, representing the Canadiens, ever since he was acquired. He signed his contract soon after, then attended a press conference with GM Marc Bergevin. He made headlines for training with captain Max Pacioretty, with whom he seems to have developed a good friendship. He made a couple of videos for Canadiens.com already. He attended the Just for Laughs Festival.

Now, Drouin announced that he will be making a $500,000 donation over 10 a ten-year period and also pledges to raise $5M through a variety of initiatives for the CHUM. But can we stop with the verbal diarrhea already? Stuff like this:

The fact is that Drouin did something good for the city. Just like Subban didn’t follow anyone’s lead, or other former Canadiens’ did as well, the young Canadiens’ forward committed a great gesture by helping an organization in need of funding. That alone should be the news, not the mention of other players before him.

bannièrehabs2

In fact, what is the infatuation of some with former Habs? Whether it be Subban, Radulov, Markov… heck, even Darren Dietz made headlines in the Canadiens’ fan base recently for their activities, quotes or actions elsewhere. Unless there is some kind of sick agenda behind such behaviour, I cannot think of any good reason to put any importance on what former players who are with other teams do.

Subban has been gone for over a year. Get over it. Radulov decided to take the same contract the Habs had offered and to continue his career in Texas. His choice, let it go. Markov waited too late to accept a one-year deal and declined the Canadiens’ offer, preferring continuing his career in his homeland. Done.

You know what? Shea Weber is doing a fantastic job for the Canadiens. Jonathan Drouin is an exciting news both on and off the ice. You have Brendan Gallagher trying to bounce back from a rough season. You have Tomas Plekanec playing for a new contract. You have one of the NHL’s best goals’ scorer in the past 5 years on your team, and the best goaltender in the world. You have young guys like Artturi Lehkonen to focus on. You have young prospects knocking at the door at all positions. You have a pool of junior and College players to get excited about. Tons to focus on without digging dirt on other teams.

bannièrehabs2

McCarronOne of those young guys is Michael McCarron, who has apparently focused his summer training towards gaining some much needed foot speed. Just like it’s too early to get overboard about Hudon’s strong start, it is also too early to panic about the big centre after one exhibition game where he didn’t look his best. Traditionally, big bodies like him take a while to get going. Management knows that, fans and media should keep that in mind. If he can raise his level of play, McCarron is a type of players that the team lacks of, a big physical body with some sand paper. We can start worrying a bit more if he is cut comes October.

bannièrehabs2

Another guy who had (or still has) high expectation placed on him is young Nikita Scherbak. Like many young forwards his age, he has struggled a bit with his adaptation to the professional game but that is nothing to be alarming, at least for now. Few seem to remember that guys like Plekanec spent three full seasons in the minors prior to cracking the NHL level and Scherbak is still young at 21 years old. He has a good attitude and wants to improve. I think that he’s one who can greatly benefit from the farm team being relocated in the Canadiens’ backyard in Laval, and that he still managed 41 points last year in St. John’s. Patience is key here.

bannièrehabs2

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 4.29.31 AM
Karl Alzner

Twitter can be very depressing at times, particularly if you follow the Habs’ hashtag. The puck hasn’t even dropped and Karl Alzner is taking more than his fair share of shots by some fans, often the same ones mentioned above, the ones focussing on former players instead of the Canadiens. At 6-foot 3-inches and 217 lbs, Alzner is the team’s second biggest defenseman behind Weber. If you’re expecting a gazelle here, you will be disappointed. But he does bring some grit, some shot blocking abilities and sound positioning to the team. He is a better hockey player than Alexei Emelin was, and he is his replacement… not Markov’s. Also, the new number 22 will turn 29 on September 24th, not 39 years old, as some make it sound like! Like Benn, I think that he will be a very pleasant surprise and will be a strong contributor to this team. Give it time folks.

bannièrehabs2

Well, well… Matt Duchene‘s name is resurfacing in the news, or rather in the rumour mill. While everyone is saying that Bergevin doesn’t have the needed pieces to make it happen, the Canadiens are mentioned as one of the potential teams by every reputable insider out there. Why? Maybe it’s because Joe Sakic will have to lower his expectations for a return for Duchene. Maybe there is no one ready to sacrifice a top bluechip young defenseman for a guy now a year from free agency.

I’m not saying this to raise anyone’s hopes up, as I too believe that the Habs are a long shot to land the coveted centre, but where there is life, there is hope. While the team will be experimenting with Drouin at centre, Duchene would fit in nicely on one of the top two lines by providing depth at a position where the team has very little in the short term.

bannièrehabs2

With the regular season about two weeks away, the Canadiens will tune their line-up with exhibition games against Washington tonight, and will be facing Ottawa twice, Toronto twice, and one game against New Jersey and Florida. The team will then start the season with a three-game road swing starting in Buffalo on Thursday, October 5th, and will have their home opener the following Tuesday, October 10th, as they will receive the Chicago Blackhawks at the Bell Centre. Real hockey is just around the corner folks! Go Habs Go!!!

Advertisements

Radulov Heading Home… Trade Brewing?

Radu50

July first is a marked date in the NHL, where the frenzy is at its peak for the first time since the spring trade deadline. Sports radio and television stations have hours long specials, battling for scoops in hope to be the first one to break a signing or a trade. And since the arrival of the salary cap, combined with the loser point keeping the standings tight, trades are few and far between in the league and teams have very little chance to improve their situation so days like today are great for fans and media to see teams address the needs for the upcoming season.

This year was no different and two of the tops available free agents were Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov, both of whom played a key role in the Habs’ success this past season. It’s been a long saga for both pending UFA’s marked by the fact that there was an expansion draft and the Canadiens could only protect so many players, and they couldn’t agree to a contract prior to the deadline arriving. In both cases, the sticking issue doesn’t appear to be the dollar figure as much as the length of the contract. Markov wants two years, the Habs want one year. Radulov is rumoured to want 6-7 years, the Habs want a much shorter term.

Radulov going home

Some very interesting information came out all day long about the negotiation between the Canadiens and the 30 year-old right winger and fans were taken though a roller coaster of emotions following insiders (real and fake), waiting desperately for the news they’ve all been waiting for. So allow me to give you a recap of the day’s events, and some things that fans might have missed in one language or another.

  • Radio commentator Martin McGuire is not one to invent things like others in the business. He said in the afternoon that Radulov and the Canadiens had reached a deal on a four year contract.
  • A few reporters in Quebec, including François Gagnon, said earlier that the Habs had made a final offer to Radulov, a take it or leave it type of offer. They also mentioned four years.
  • Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud), a russian journalist covering the KHL, tweeted that the contract signed by Radulov was a deal for the Habs as he was offered much more money and term in the KHL. He erases his tweet soon after but one of my followers, @AlexNyko, will be able to attest as he re-tweeted the post.
  • Then Radulov posted a video on his Instagram account, where he is sitting on a plane, telling people that he is going home. Did he mean Russia? Montreal?
  • We know that Radulov was vacationing in Italy and I don’t know if players still need to physically sign their contracts or if they can do it electronically like you do in the real estate business.Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 5.31.48 AM

Like when trying to solve a crime, this is all circumstantial evidence until the team or one of the reputable insiders comes out with the DNA. Until then, it’s all speculation.

Markov in limbo

Insisting on a two year deal could spell the end of the longest serving Canadiens on the team. I don’t know why the 39 year-old Markov can’t do what Nicklas Lidstrom, Rob Blake, Joe Sakic and many other star players have done before him and go year to year. Is he really better than those Hall of Famers? But the Habs have loaded on defensemen today when acquiring Karl Alzner and Joe Morrow, and they had already acquired David Schlemko not long ago.

Trade brewing?

duchenelandeskog
Could Duchene finally be traded?

No matter what happens with Radulov and Markov, Marc Bergevin has yet to get his hands on a top-six centre, a big need on his team. While UFAs like Joe Thornton (SJS), Nick Bonino (NAS) and Martin Hanzal (DAL) have all signed new deals, Joe Sakic has yet to find a taker for Matt Duchene and if he wants him traded, time is the essence. Sakic has not done anything substantial to improve his team today, a team that finished in the basement of the NHL, and that can’t sit well in Colorado.

I have a theory (not a scoop), which I shared on Twitter: if Radulov signs an extension, Alex Galchenyuk very well could be sacrificed in a trade for a top-six centre. Will it be Duchene from Colorado? Maybe but the Avs are wanting a top end defenseman in return, something the Canadiens don’t really have. But Galchenyuk is a nice piece for them, one that the Habs might be dangling in front of them.

Then there’s the Edmonton Oilers who are trying to sign both Connor McDavid ($13 million?) and Leon Draisaitl ($9 million?) and this could force Peter Chiarelli to find a taker for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Could a trade involving Brendan Gallagher and some added incentive be enough to get the young centre? “The Nuge” is making $6 million per season while Gallagher’s cap hit is $3.75 million. Both contracts go until the end of the 2020-21 season. This would save the Oilers some cap space.

Expect the unexpected“, said Marc Bergevin in a couple of occasions in the last week or so. But what are we expecting exactly?