Top Cheese: June 2018 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as the NHL Draft is fast approaching and the Canadiens are set to make a splash, whether it be by trade or by drafting up to 5 times in the first two rounds. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Rumours, rumours and more rumours and that, both from our traditional nameless rumouroids and by more reputable hockey insiders. What will John Tavares do? If not Tavares, who will play at the centre position next season? Will Shea Weber finally have a defense partner worthy of logging quality minutes on his side? Will the Habs start the season with the same captain? So many questions, all of which should be answered within the next few weeks. Exciting times to say the least.

But before we get too deep into the Canadiens’ situation, the shameful presence of an expansion team reaching the Stanley Cup finals is now over and Alexander Ovechkin‘s liver is taking a major league beating as he and his Washington Capitals have ended the 2017-2018 season on a high, taking away the Cup from Gary Bettman. Whoo-hoo! Who cares?… aside from a few who still hold a grudge against Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin that is.

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Yes, some attention-seeking media personalities and constantly disgruntled ‘fans’ have ensured to point out to whoever would listen to their cries, that former Habs Lars Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly have raised the Cup and were key contributors in the finals. One can see the point in regretting losing Eller, due to the fact that the Canadiens are looking for centres but Smith-Pelly? Really folks? The guy who was released by the New Jersey Devils not all that long ago? The guy who, while in Montreal, enjoyed the nightlife a little too much, along with a few young quality players? The guy who managed eight points in 24 games in the playoffs and 16 points all year in the regular season? If you genuinely think that this guy is missed in Montreal, give your head a shake.

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And onto the beloved Canadiens… Unless you live under a rock, you have certainly heard or read Montreal reporter Mathias Brunet speculate on his beliefs that perhaps the Habs should go after Milan Lucic. For the record, Lucic managed 10 goals with the offensively gifted Edmonton Oilers last year. Further, he carries a contract on which he is still owed five more years with a cap hit of $6 million… and some people in Montreal complain about Andrew Shaw?

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Milan Lucic

Even if the Oilers sweetened the pot by adding value to the trade and/or taking back a ‘bad contract’, what good would Lucic, who can’t keep up with today’s fast paced NHL, bring to the team? The Habs need centres, not left wingers. I don’t have a problem with overpaying for a player but if you overpay, at least do it to fill a team’s need! In other words, I can see overpaying for a Ryan O’Reilly or a Oscar Klefbom, but not for Lucic. It makes absolutely zero sens.

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But wait… what if Bergevin managed to talk Peter Chiarelli to, in addition to Lucic, include the 10th overall pick at this year’s Draft? If you keep Lucic, it doesn’t change that his contract is an albatros and should not be touched. The only way it might make sense is if the Canadiens managed to use that 10th overall or their own 3rd overall to get a quality centre. For example, if the Oilers’ 10th overall pick was included in a package to land O’Reilly? After that, be creative and find a way to trade Lucic for a bag of puck. See NOW you’re addressing a need and now it’s starting to make some sense. But folks, don’t read it as a rumour because as of now, it’s only an idea thrown out there by Mr. Brunet.

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There are a few NHL insiders worth listening to and Bob McKenzie comes at the top of the crop. So when he came out to say that the Canadiens had some sort of interest in pending UFA Jack Johnson, one should listen… although how often does information leaks from Bergevin and his crew? It makes me wonder where that came from. But seriously, is Johnson really the solution for the Habs?  Wouldn’t it be preferable to find a mobile defenseman instead? I’m hoping that Johnson is not Bergevin’s target. As mentioned in a couple of previous articles, there are plenty of choices out there either via free agency or even by trade. But for for me, Johnson is not one of them.

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For some odd reason, it’s all over Twitter: Habs’ fans wishing for the team to draft left-winger Brady Tkachuk, in hope to turn him into a centre. Yes, you’ve heard it right folks. In all due respect, Those people must have a very short memory. The team still has a player that they drafted in hope that he would become a top-notch centre and they had to scrap the experiment. Yes, we’re talking about Alex Galchenyuk. But then again, there is another one, Mike McCarron, who is trying to turn into an NHL player, let alone a top-end centerman. Last but not least, people were all over Bergevin for trading Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin, only to ask him to learn to play centre. When do we stop with the experiments and pick players who are used to their position? Lets hope that the organization has learned.

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Tomas Plekanec

There is no denying that Tomas Plekanec would like to return to the Canadiens. He loved his time in Montreal and would like to finish his career in his notorious number 14. Plekanec is 35 and will be turning 36 by October so his next contract will count against the cap no matter what happens. The Czech only managed six goals and 24 points in 60 games with the Habs and the Leafs last season, but he was one of the few players on his team to have some pretty good playoffs.

Beyond the points, Plekanec is only two games away from reaching the prestigious plateau of 1,000 NHL games and what better story than to see him do it with the Canadiens? While he has lost his offense, he knows Claude Julien‘s system to a tee and he is still very reliable defensively and on the penalty kill. Many fans would like to see him back for one last season if he is willing to take a substantial pay cut from the $6 million he was making.

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Something else made the news recently: the infamous ‘concussion protocol’ and the Canadiens were named as one of the teams fined for not respecting the NHL’s protocol in that regard. Of course, those who have an agenda against the current organisation took full advantage of the situation to run with it, conveniently forgetting that George Gillett was the owner and Bob Gainey the GM back then.

That aside, anyone who has had concussions and/or have coached or played a competitive sports will tell you that it’s very easy for players to fool the coaches, even the medical staff. More often than not, a concussion is not easy to diagnose, particularly in pro sports when players are so competitive that they will go to great extends to get back on the ice, on the field, on the track, on the bull… and that, even with the baseline tests. You need an MRI to determine the gravity of the brain injury and teams don’t have one readily available. So let’s take a deep breath before accusing anyone. More often than not, players are driving the bus here.

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Last week, I created a poll on both this website and on a pin on my Twitter account. The question was simple: I was asking the fans what they thought the future of Habs’ captain Max Pacioretty was, in their opinion. Here’s what you guys think:

I guess we will see…

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Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman

We like to complain about the Habs but come to think of it, this organisation is in great shape… particularly if you compare it with what’s going on down the road in Ottawa! The team’s downward spiral after a great playoffs run is worse than what the Canadiens have done… There have been rumours up to the trade deadline surrounding team captain Erik Karlsson‘s future with the team. Then former captain Daniel Alfredsson comes out and publicly states that the Sens need a new owner, a direct shot at Eugene Melnyk. Not judging if he’s right or wrong, but coming from Alfredsson, that’s a statement that stirred the pot for sure. As if it wasn’t enough, assistant-GM Randy Lee was arrested in Buffalo and charged with second-degree harassment after allegedly inappropriately touching and making lewd comments toward a hotel employee. To top it all up, there’s the story of Karlsson’s wife, who filed a protection order against her husband’s teammate Mike Hoffman‘s girlfriend. I will spare you the details but that one is very nasty. So before you complain about your favourite team, Habs’ fans, look around you a little bit.

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The Canadiens and their fans are all-in, perhaps more than they were over the Stanley Cup finals, as the future of the team – and perhaps GM Bergevin – will be played in the next few days, or weeks. Here are some of the key dates coming up:

  • June 15-30 – Last chance for NHL teams to buyout their bad contracts
  • June 22 – The NHL Draft. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy the excitement!
  • June 24 – NHL players scheduled to become UFA’s can talk to other teams
  • July 1st – The UFA market officially opens, and players with one year remaining to their existing contracts can sign an extension (Pacioretty, OEL, Karlsson…)

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Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, take your seat, buckle your seatbelt and hang on to your hat and your popcorn as the next few weeks promise to be filled with excitement… something that has been lacking all season long with the Canadiens, let’s admit it. Enjoy the ride! Go Habs Go!!!

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Cloud 9: Trade Partners for a Centre

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To say that this is a big summer for Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin is a bit of an understatement, mostly due to last season’s debacle. There are two glaring needs for the Canadiens coming into the off-season and one of them definitely is finding one, or possible even two centres to play on the top-2 lines.

In a recent article, we explored a few options covering mostly the free agents’ market which opens on July 1st, but let’s direct our focus on teams Bergevin is possibly talking to, or perhaps should be looking towards for help at that position. Here’s how to get on cloud nine, with nine examples, in no particular order:

BUFFALO SABRES

Ryan O’Reilly

JUSTIFICATION: They have Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart is ready to take the next step. However, GM Jason Botterill denied that O’Reilly is on the market. But again, GM’s rarely say when a player is being shopped or like we’ve learned in Montreal, there’s a difference between shopping someone or listening to offers. That’s actually a GM’s job.

COST: According to TSN Insider Darren Dregger, the price would be very, very steep, which could take most teams, even a desperate Habs’ team, from getting ROR. What’s the maximum for a guy with a long term $7.5 million cap hit and who has never cracked the 65 points mark? For the Habs, I would venture to say Galchenyuk and a good prospect/pick. More than that, Bergevin will move on to something else.

CALGARY FLAMES

Mark Jankowski or Sam Bennett

JUSTIFICATION: Could the Flames be interested in acquiring the 3rd overall pick from the Canadiens, in order to select Brady Tkachuk, whose brother Matthew is a contributing member of their team? That would be the trigger for trade talks.

COST: Of course, one of the two young centres wouldn’t be enough to get the 3rd overall but could the teams make it a bigger deal by seeing T.J. Brodie heading to Montreal? The 3rd overall and perhaps Galchenyuk, something around that? It depends how badly the Flames want Tkachuk I guess.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

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John Tavares

John Tavares

JUSTIFICATION: If the Islanders see that Tavares will explore the market of free agency, they might decide to get something in return and give someone the sole opportunity to negotiate on a new contract before other teams. I could see a conditional deal, if the Habs agree to terms with the star centre, sending a package to New York. But why not wait to sign him without giving assets I’m being asked? Because they’re no guarantee that he will pick the Habs. If he agrees to a deal PRIOR to free agency, the risk of other teams is gone and there’s a premium to pay for that.

COST: If they can agree to an extension, it would take quite a bit. It would be great to keep Pacioretty and see him play with a true number one centre but it may not be feasible. Galchenyuk? Mete? Petry? The 3rd pick overall? The Islanders first round pick(s) – they have two? It could be a huge trade…

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trochek or Nick Bjugstad

JUSTIFICATION: Number one, reputable NHL insiders like Elliott Friedman (not the anonymous ones) have indicated that there was a deal being discussed between the Canadiens and the Panthers for Max Pacioretty, Trochek being the player coming to Montreal. They do have depth at centre, but not so much on the wings and that would make sense for both teams. The Habs wouldn’t target Jonathan Huberdeau, would they?

COST: The start of any talks would be surrounding Pacioretty, and go from there. Can they agree which of the two players holds more value? How I would like to be a fly on the wall listening in to those conversation.

EDMONTON OILERS

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

JUSTIFICATION: Okay here we go again. The Oilers had a terrible season. They have depth at centre and need speedy wingers. As mentioned before though, I would have believed in it before they experimented successfully with RNH on McDavid’s wing but with the chemistry found, we can pretty much scratch that one off.

COST: Had it had to occur, Pacioretty was the focus of discussions. It would take more today, in my humble opinion.

MINNESOTA WILD

Charlie Coyle

JUSTIFICATION: The Wild’s constant deception to make it further in the playoffs has triggered trade rumours and Coyle is right in the middle of them. Big, strong centre who can move, extremely versatile, he falls behind Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal in the depth chart, particularly if the Wild wants to re-sign Staal when his contract expires at the end of next year.

COST: It’s very had to gage Coyle’s value, really. Hampered with a wrist injury, I would think that the Wild would want Galchenyuk in return, with spare parts going here or there.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

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Derick Brassard

Derick Brassard

JUSTIFICATION: With the lack of pending UFA’s at the trade deadline, the Penguins went out and got Brassard to add depth at centre for a playoffs’ run. The question insiders are wondering is if the Pens have any intention of retaining him for next season or do they trade him and replace him with someone cheaper and younger. They do have some depth at centre, and rumours are swirling about Brassard’s availability.

COST: On the Pens, Brassard is a third line centre but in Montreal, he would be a 2nd, perhaps even a 1B centre. One would think that a prospect, a pick and/or perhaps an experienced defenseman? The Habs do have several of those…

SAN JOSE SHARKS

Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney

JUSTIFICATION: Look at that depth at centre, and that’s not counting if they decide to bring back Joe Thornton for another season! Another disappointing exit in the playoffs might tip GM Doug Wilson to shake things up in San Jose.

COST: The price would vary depending on the player traded for sure, but a first rounder other than 2018 and a young established player might just entice the Sharks enough.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Tyler Johnson

JUSTIFICATION: The Lightning are very deep at centre. As a matter of fact, they’re deep on defense too. Johnson seems to be the odd man out if we believe the rumours around Tampa Bay and he might just need a change, a new start.

COST: He’s young, rather cheap, and plays a key position at centre. One has to wonder if Steve Yzerman has any incline towards Galchenyuk?

There are likely others, coming out of left field as they say, but the ones mentioned above are linked, in most part, to what we’re hearing around the NHL. Either way, we know that Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens are looking at making some changes… and those might be options. Go Habs Go!