Top Cheese: December 2017 Edition

TopCheese

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!!!

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Who Is Jonathan Drouin?

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Contrarily to what some want you to believe, trading in today’s National Hockey League is far from easy. As a matter of fact, since the implementation of the hard salary cap back in 2005, the number of trades completed have dropped more than half of what they were prior to it. It’s easy to understand why. Teams obviously have to look at the fiscal impact on their team, and they also have to plan ahead, looking at whose contracts will need to be renewed in the foreseeable future. Hockey is a business more than ever and Habs’ fans had a hard reality of it when team General Manager Marc Bergevin had to let lifetime defenseman Andrei Markov walk away to the KHL late this summer.

Getting some young and productive talent at a reasonable cap hit is what will often make the difference in the mid to long term and Bergevin understands that. When he completed yet again one of the biggest trades of the summer in acquiring 22 year-old Jonathan Drouin, in exchange for blue-chip prospect Mikhail Sergachev, the Canadiens’ GM landed a top-end offensive juggernaut for a player who might (or not) become a stud on defense… but there is no denying that he is the one who received the proven asset versus potential.

Immediately after the trade was announced, Bergevin was on the phone negotiating a shiny new contract with Drouin’s agent, Allan Walsh (yes, him), agreeing to a six year, $33 million contract, ensuring that there was no doubt about the commitment between the team and the newly acquired fan favourite.

Who exactly is Drouin?

Jonathan Drouin was born on March 28, 1995 in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. Few people remember that as a 17 year-old, he failed to make the roster to start the season with Halifax in the QMJHL despite being the second pick in the entry draft, so he had to return to play AAA midget hockey, until he was called up by Halifax December 9, 2011. Drouin made an immediate impact, getting two assists in his first game, including the primary assist on the winning goal. From that point, Drouin proved to be one of the top players in all of junior hockey. As a matter of fact, Drouin was named player of the year in the CHL. He was then chosen with the third pick overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2013 NHL Draft, two spots behind his Halifax linemate Nathan MacKinnon.

Drouin was among the final cuts in his first training camp with the Lightning and was returned to Halifax for another season, where he finished with 108 points in 46 games in 2013-14 and had 41 points in 16 playoff games. He joined the Lightning in the 2014-15 season, playing in 70 games, and enjoyed a breakthrough in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he had 14 points in 17 games, including four goals in the Eastern Conference Final.

Dispute with Tampa Bay

In a much publicized even, Drouin’s dispute with the Lightning drew a lot of negative attention on himself starting in January 2016. It was no secret that there was a relationship issue between Drouin and Lightning coach Jon Cooper, and one day after being reassigned to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, Walsh issued a statement on behalf of his client. The agent revealed that Drouin had made a trade request back in November, but had kept the matter private. Walsh referred to it as an untenable situation and that it was in everyone’s best interest that Drouin be allowed to move on and play hockey.

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While some people claimed that he was a head-case, others said that he was given bad advice from the people around him. Either way, this wasn’t good news for either the Lightning or the player. But Lighting GM Steve Yzerman stuck to his guns and on January 20, 2016, he suspended him indefinitely without pay for a failure to report to the Crunch’s game against the Toronto Marlies. It’s not until March 8, 2016 that Drouin finally reported to Syracuse for the first time since being suspended. On April 4th, the Lightning called up Drouin from the AHL after a nine-game stint, a stretch in which he recorded nine goals and an assist. The young forward wasted no time making his presence felt as he scored the game-winning goal in his first game back with Tampa Bay.

Impact of the trade for the Habs

No one understands better the need for local talent with the Canadiens than Bergevin and team President Geoff Molson, and getting arguably the best young Quebecois in the entire NHL was a very impactful feat in itself. As we have touched on this very blog back in May, there was no doubt that if Drouin was made available, the Habs would be all in… and they were!

As much as people loved P.K. Subban, Jonathan Drouin will have an even bigger impact. He’s a mature young man, well beyond his age, and he speaks the language of his fans in his home province. Before even putting foot on the ice, he has already been utilized by the organization for many public appearances and marketing events, and fans have responded to him in a very positive manner, making him feel welcome. Of course, what he does on the ice is what will matter most, but judging from what he has already shown in the NHL, at such a young age, the future certainly appear to be bright for both the player and the Canadiens’ organization. Training with team captain Max Pacioretty, Drouin seems to have already found a home in Montreal. Until we get to see him work his magic in a Habs’ uniform, let’s enjoy together a few highlights of what he has done and what’s to come for the fans. After watching this, you will join me in wishing that the season started now! Go Habs Go!