The Habs and The Buffalo Theory

Have you ever heard of the Buffalo Theory? It goes like this: “A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And, when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members.”

While Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin has yet to make the anticipated big splash fans were hoping for, he did strengthen the bottom part of his team’s line-up and created a very healthy competition for jobs which should, in turn, make for a better and even more competitive team.

We already know that rugged winger Nicolas Deslauriers won’t be back, and the addition of three ferociously competitive players in Riley Barber, Nick Cousins and Phil Varone will give guys like Matthew Peca, Dale Weise, and even Nate Thompson and Jordan Weal a run for their money. Finnish countrymen Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen should still be safe but they, along with Paul Byron, will have to battle for a spot on a better scoring line. Then on defense, the Habs replaced Jordie Benn with Ben Chiarot, a substantial improvement.

If you then consider the return of Noah Juulsen on defense, a tough competitor, with fact that rookies Ryan Poehling, Nick Suzuki and Josh Brook are turning pro and vowing for a spot on the roster, we are forced to admit that the weakest buffalo are definitely getting much, much stronger than they were, say a couple of years ago!

Bergevin always said wanting to put together a team that’s “hard to play against” night in, night out. A team that never takes a night off. Last season’s team has proven to be just that and on any other given season, their 96 points would have been enough to make the playoffs… or even do some damage had they been able to sneak in. Former NHL GM now turned TV analyst Brian Burke had this to say, late last season:

“I watch Montreal play and I think they could be a very big problem for someone in the playoffs. […] Montreal would make me nervous.”

If you’re old enough to remember the 80’s TV series Cheers, Cliff Clavin, a regular at the bar, pushed the theory even further when talking to his good buddy Norm, by adding:

In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we all know, kills brain cells, but naturally it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine! And that’s why you always feel smarter after a few beers!

Bergevin might not be done but even if the Canadiens don’t do anything else until the start of the season, the Buffalo Theory certainly should apply to them as well. While still lacking top-end talent, they have greatly reinforced the bottom part of the line-up, and they should also see an improvement with their backup goaltending as well. This should, hopefully, result in a playoffs’ appearance comes April. Go Habs Go!

Advertisements

Habs Patiently Waiting to Pounce

We’re closing in on the end of the month of July and many Montreal Canadiens’ fans are getting fidgety about what they consider the lack of action surrounding their team. After all, not every hole in the line-up has been filled and some will make a strong argument that the team hasn’t improved from last year, or not enough to push them over the hump to make the playoffs… let alone become Stanley Cup contenders.

Heading into the off-season, the Canadiens had three big needs:

  • A top-4 left handed defenseman to play big minutes against the opposition’s top lines.
  • A scoring winger, preferably right handed, or a quality offensive centre.
  • A backup goalie worthy of being in the NHL.
Ben Chiarot

Team General Manager Marc Bergevin, so far, has signed two unrestricted free agents: Ben Chiarot and Keith Kinkaid. The jury is out if Chiarot is the solution as a top-4 defenseman but he is, without a doubt, an improvement over departing Jordie Benn. Kinkaid had a horrible season last year, with numbers comparable to what Antti Niemi put up with the Habs… although on a weaker team. If he can return to form, he should be good for 20-25 games this season if Carey Price stays healthy.

Salary Cap Crunch

With the news that the salary cap is not going up as high as teams expected, there are a few teams finding themselves in a tight spot, too tight for comfort. According to CapFriendly.com, there are currently three teams “in the red”, with no cap space at all:

  • Vegas Golden Knights
  • New York Rangers
  • Pittsburgh Penguins

Three other teams are within a million dollar to the salary cap ceiling:

  • Arizona Coyotes ($178,099)
  • Washington Capitals ($935,706)
  • Dallas Stars ($970,001)

Then you have the Florida Panthers, the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes, all within $2.5 million of the cap, followed by the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs – who have yet to sign RFA Mitch Marner – with less than $4 million available.

Where does Montreal sit? They are listed with just over $4 million of cap space but Cap Friendly has them with a 25 men roster. Most teams carry 22 or 23 players at any given time. Assuming that they can’t find takers for Karl Alzner ($4.625M) and Dale Weise ($2.35M) and they send them down to the AHL, the maximum they can save by doing so is $1.075 million each. So this would add $2.15 million to the existing $4 million cap space, meaning that Bergevin would have about $6 million to play with, and that’s not counting any salary going the other way if he completes a trade.

Waiting to pounce

Whether you want to admit it or not, Bergevin is a wise man and he knows what he’s doing. When he takes a risk, it is usually a low risk, as attested by the signings of Alexander Semin (who the Hurricanes are still paying by the way), Mark Streit and Ales Hemsky. Alexander Radulov was a bit more of a risk but very much a calculated one. He only signed him for one year so had he not panned out, he wasn’t tied long term with a troubled son.

There is no doubt that Bergevin isn’t done his shopping and that he’s waiting in the weeds for the right time to pounce. Like a feline, he is in hiding, patiently outwaiting his prey to come out and when it does, he will pounce into action. Like a predator, it is possible that he misses but as time goes on, teams will get more desperate to make their move. The waiting game is in Montreal’s favour, believe it or not.

Who, on the Golden Knights, Rangers and Penguins will be made available and at what price? What are the Coyotes (who aren’t usually near the top), Capitals and Stars willing to part with? With only 37 players under contract, how will the Hurricanes and Tom Dundon be willing to spend on their cap after the matched offer sheet to Sebastian Aho? How are the Maple Leafs going to squeeze Marner under their cap? Some will come knocking and that’s when Bergevin will try to make the most of it. As a hunter, the first two things you learn is patience and putting the odds on your side. The Canadiens have done that and they’re on the prowl. Be patient, Habs’ fans, and stay tuned. Go Habs Go!