Rumour: Habs in Late Stage Discussions For Gostisbehere?

An eight game losing streak has everyone on edge in Montreal and even after snapping out of it last night against the New York Islanders, the tension is still omnipresent around the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge. After taking a 3-0 lead and dominating the game, Claude Julien‘s troop almost folded once again, surrendering two late goals to the Isles, who were playing their second game in as many nights. The team is fragile and with the Canadiens already thin on quality left-handed defensemen, the loss of Victor Mete is being felt and that, even with the outstanding play of Ben Chiarot, who played over 29 minutes against the Bruins in Boston and over 30 minutes last night against the Islanders.

Since then, beat writer Martin McGuire of 98.5 FM radio seemingly was on the air dropping a bomb, drawing a lot of attention in a fanbase desperate for action, any action that would bring in help for their favourite team. According to McGuire, who claims getting this information from a solid informant, the discussions between the Habs and the Philadelphia Flyers in regards to Shayne Gostisbehere have intensified. McGuire claims that the negotiations are at an advanced stage.

Gostisbehere, who was a healthy scratch for a few games last week, seems to have fallen out of coach Alain Vigneault‘s good books and with a cap hit of $4.5 million until the 2022-23 season, it’s an expansive scratch for a team only a million dollars below the salary cap ceiling. “The Ghost”, as they call him, played in the Flyers’ last three games, gathering three points (2G-1A) with a plus -3 differential in that span.

Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin, who is in Russia trying to convince prospect Alexander Romanov to make the jump to the NHL next season, has failed to find a suitable defense partner for Shea Weber since making his acquisition three years ago. The fact is that top-4 defensemen don’t often become available and the asking price is usually quite high for them.

Take those rumours for what they are folks: rumours. We know that Bergevin doesn’t leak rumours and in this case, it doesn’t appear to come from Philadelphia. Further, the Flyers didn’t have a single scout at the Canadiens’ game last night. Yes, it is possible that they’re not looking at getting roster players in return though.

While not known for his defensive prowlesses, Gostisbehere is a good puck-moving defenseman with good speed, who can provide offense from the backend and quarterback the point on the powerplay. The 26 year-old rearguard had a 65 points season two years ago, before taking a step back with 37 points last season. In 25 games this season, he has nine points (3G-6A).

EDIT – From Elliotte Friedman’s 31 thoughts after I wrote this article:

Captains’ ceremony

Prior to the game against the Islanders, the Canadiens, celebrating the team’s 11oth anniversary, invited several former team captains to join in the celebration. As the Habs know best how to do, the ceremony was tasteful and filled with emotional historical moments. From the on-ice video on Robert Charlebois‘ “Je reviendrai à Montréal” to the presentation of the captains coming out of the tunnel, and the family picture with the current Habs on the ice, fans were treated, once again, with a beautiful tribute to the men who wore the “C”.

If you think for a second that players, current and past, don’t care about the history of this team, think again. When they see how idolized those guys are, even the ones who never got the opportunity to raise the Stanley Cup over their head in Montreal, they realize how deep the roots of this team are in the City, in the Country.

I feel so fortunate to claim that I’m old enough to say that I have was given the privilege to watch each and every one of the captains introduced last night and it revived so many great memories, reminding me why I’ve been a Montreal Canadiens’ fan for five decades and why I will be until the day I die. Players change. Ownership, management and coaches change. But the CH, the logo, the history, the passion and the entertainment don’t. The love for this team remains and that, whether the team has success on the ice or not. No, it’s not settling for mediocrity. It’s years of pride and passion that simply don’t vanish. It is my hope that you, readers, feel that pride and that one day, you will be the ones writing and talking about it… as I do now. Go Habs Go!

Breakdown of The Habs… Breakdowns

Every team goes through a slump or two during the long, gruelling NHL season. The Montreal Canadiens are going through theirs at the exact same time as they did last year, in mid to late November. Last year, they turned it around when ace defenseman Shea Weber returned to the lineup after a year-long absence due to injuries. This year, they don’t have such good news coming their way so unless Marc Bergevin pulls the trigger on something, it’s likely that we will hear the old “the solution is in the room” speech again very soon.

There has been a lot of criticism amongst the fan base. Some directed at Bergevin, most pointing the coaching staff, Claude Julien in particular, to explain the Canadiens’ slide. Both are right, to a point. Of course, you cannot win games when your goaltenders have a combined saves percentage below .890 over a long stretch. Of course, the defensive core is taking its fair share of abuse, but it’s also on the forwards. Basically, it truly is a team slump that the Canadiens are going through. In my opinion, there are a few key points that the coaching staff must focus on, something they can actually control and change.

Allow me to put on my coach’s hat and look at the issues the Habs are having in the current streak:

1- There are too many slower moving defensemen to play a man-to-man system in your zone. Guys like Weber and Ben Chiarot, while excellent shutdown defensemen, are getting beat regularly against faster and shiftier forwards. And so are lower end defensemen like Mike Reilly and Brett Kulak. Only Jeff Petry and Victor Mete have the wheels to play man to man. Zone defense would be a lot more efficient for the staff on hand. Even Karl Alzner would be more efficient in a zone defense setting.

2- It is clear that the system is asking defensemen to pinch in along the boards in the offensive zone. That is great to generate offense and keeping pucks into the offensive zone. It is also clear that the defensemen have the green light to support the attack when they see fit and the Habs’ defense is contributing offensively. But such a system will only work if forwards buy into it as one of them MUST take the pinching defenseman’s place when they do so. It’s very basic and every NHL player knows that. The problem lately is that forwards are lazy and don’t fill-in for those defensemen.

Claude Julien

3- The Habs have a fast team and they play their best team defense when the forwards back check and apply what we call in terms of hockey “back pressure“. For those unfamiliar with the term, back pressure is when Habs’ defending forwards skate hard to the puck carrier on the back check while they are moving up with the puck towards the defensemen. If there isn’t a strong back check, the opposition’s forwards will have all the time in the world to enter the Canadiens’ zone, stop at the blue line and/or cut up the middle. But if you have a couple forwards back checking hard on them, it applies pressure from the back (behind the opponents’ forwards), forcing them to make quicker decisions and playing more of a north-south game, which is easier to defend against. The back pressure has often been way too loosy-goosy and inconsistent, particularly during that slump.

4- For some odd reasons, it seems like the Habs’ defensemen forgot some very basic skills, such as “closing the gap” or playing the body instead of the puck. Closing the gap means not backing up too fast into their zone, keeping the gap closer between defensemen and forwards, which helps the Canadiens’ forwards in their back checks. When a defenseman closes the gap, opposition’s forwards tend to slow down their zone entry, giving your own forwards more time to catch up with their backcheck, therefore creating back pressure. Also, they seem to go fishing for the puck with their sticks instead of taking the body. Doing so makes them more vulnerable to speedy and shifty forwards.

5- We were chatting on Twitter during the games and we were wondering how does a NHL defenseman not know how to defend against odd-man rushes, like how to play a simple two on one? At a very young age, we coach our kids to stay in the middle, in the passing lane, then shade towards the player without the puck while leaving the shooter to the goaltender. Any goaltender will tell you that it makes their job a lot easier. But lately, it seems like defensemen are either over-committing to the puck carrier or they don’t ensure that the pass doesn’t come across. Goaltenders can only do so much on a good pass across.

There you have it folks. There are more smaller technical issues with this team as well, but the ones mentioned above are the main five, in my humble coaching opinion. And I’m not getting into player utilisation, ice time for lower tier players at the expenses of skilled players, player-personnel decisions on special teams, etc. That’s entirely on the coaching staff too. But if they want to get out of that slump, they’ll have to return to basics and the coach has a lot to do with that. Ideally, the GM also needs to get out of his comfort zone and address his team’s needs before yet another season is wasted. Go Habs Go!