Mike Reilly And the Habs’ Misfit Toys

MisfitToys

Bargain Bin… that’s what some of Canadiens’ GM detractors were calling him. Yet, he has been one of the NHL’s most aggressive General Managers since taking over the reigns in Montreal. He has proven that trading a big name player is not only possible, it must be done when needed. P.K. Subban, Mikhail Sergachev, Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk are all playing elsewhere while Shea Weber, recently appointed team captain, Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar, Max Domi and Mike Reilly are proudly wearing the CH. Wait… Mike Reilly?

You see, while everyone in Montreal and others around the NHL are starting to notice the Canadiens’ flavour of the month, yours truly has been warning you, faithful readers of this blog, about the possibility of that happening. I’m no prophet but you see, I was given the opportunity to watch this guy skate for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL and I was extremely impressed by this young man’s aptitudes. He wasn’t just good, he was a dominant force in what is known as the best Junior A development league in the country and that, on a team – the Vees – that would have beaten most Major Junior team that year.

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Mike Reilly – Penticton Vees

I was shocked that Marc Bergevin only gave up a fifth round pick for the guy and I certainly was thrilled to see him coming to my favourite team. Way back in March, I was telling you that Reilly was a serious candidate to become Weber’s best option as a defensive pairing partner. More recently, in August to be precise, Reilly made my list of the Canadiens’ top candidates for a breakthrough season. He is the real deal and it seems that like several players we discovered on the Las Vegas Golden Knights last year, all he needed was a true opportunity to showcase what he could do, a chance to gain the necessary confidence to do what he knows he can do… what I and many Pentictonites knew he could do.

 

The Misfit Toys

Come to think of it, Bergevin and his team sure have a knack at finding players that nobody wants and getting the most out of them, doesn’t he? Think of Dale Weise who, prior to being acquired by that Habs, had 10 goals in 162 games for the Rangers and the Canucks. He scored 27 in 152 games in a Canadiens’ uniform and was a key penalty killer for them. Weise has since scored 12 in total for the Flyers.

Perhaps the biggest steal by Bergevin was when he claimed newly appointed alternate-captain Paul Byron off waivers from the Calgary Flames. Ti-Paul had 17 goals in 138 career games for the Sabres and the Flames. In a Habs’ uniform, he has contributed 56 goals in 231 games so far, including two consecutive 20+ goals seasons while being one of the NHL’s best penalty killers.

In a smaller sample size, Canadiens’ gritty winger Nicolas Deslauriers had a grand total of 12 goals in 211 career games with the Sabres before finding his niche with the Habs. Last season alone, the LaSalle native tallied 10 goals in only… 58 games!

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Tomas Tatar leads the Habs in scoring

In the trade sending disgruntled Max Pacioretty to the Golden Knights, young centre Nick Suzuki was the key piece of the trade. The second round pick was a bonus and George McPhee is the one who insisted on including Tomas Tatar if, for nothing else, cap reasons. As a matter of fact, the Knights picked up some of Tatar’s salary in the trade. A healthy scratch in Vegas, Tatar leads the Canadiens in the first two weeks of the season with eight points in six games.

 

Who wanted Antti Niemi last year? Nobody. Nobody except Bergevin and the Canadiens. Stephane Waite knew him well from their days together in Chicago, where Niemi helped the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup. But after a few good seasons in San Jose, the veteran goaltender’s career went on a downward spiral, particularly the past couple of years. A 3.30 GAA and .892 Sv% in his last year in Dallas, followed by a season where he was claimed off waivers… twice in 2017-18! A 5.08 GAA and .872 Sv% with the Panthers, followed by a 7.50 GAA and .797 Sv% with the Penguins made people question Bergevin’s sanity and outrage his belittlers when he claimed him off waivers. Yet, he followed that up with an astounding 2.46 GAA and .929 Sv% on a team where everything went wrong for last season.

Last, need I remind you that the Canadiens acquired Joel Armia as an incentive to take Steve Mason’s contract from the Winnipeg Jets? While Armia has yet to fully show what he can do, the 6-foot 4-inches former first round pick winger is showing flashes of the skills the Canadiens need on right wing. Time will tell if he makes the list of Bergevin’s steals but by giving up Simon Bourque for him is robbery in itself.

Let’s not forget that Xavier Ouellet‘s contract was bought out by the Detroit Red Wings before the Canadiens jumped to the occasion to offer him a chance. So far this season, he has earned every minute that he’s played and he has proven to be a valuable asset. After seeing what we’ve seen of the Red Wings in the 7-3 routing at the hands of the Habs, I can’t imagine that Detroit couldn’t use him right now.

Honorable mentions must be given for the acquisitions of Jeff Petry (2nd round pick in 2015, which the Oilers ended up trading away), and Phillip Danault and a 2nd round pick (Alexander Romanov) for two pending UFA’s in Weise and Tomas Fleischmann.

Early on this season, fans love the new attitude around their favourite team. The speed and work ethics displayed are a huge contrast with what they got to see last season and yes, two of the biggest culprits of taking nights off have been traded. The scoring lost in those trades has been replaced with an exemplary effort and scoring by committee, and fans appreciate that. It’s way too early to get carried away but don’t the Canadiens remind you of last year’s Vegas Golden Knights? Go Habs Go!

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To Grit or Not To Grit

ToGrit

The meaning of the “to be or not to be” speech in Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been given numerous interpretations, each of which are based. The purpose of it does, in general, question the righteousness of life over death in moral terms, a non-quantifying element of life itself.

Much (even too much) has been said about NHL analytics, and extremists have taken stats to a whole new level in trying to make people believe that if it cannot be measured, then it must be a non-factor of at least, not one worthy of taking into consideration. Yet, those involved in the game will tell you that this self-preserving excuse is as far away from the truth as it gets. Intimidation, a hit, a blocked shot, a fight… all have the potential of changing the momentum of a game and either lift, or deflate a team during a hockey game, even tipping the balance in a playoffs’ series.

Had Shakespeare been a hockey fan, or a Habs’ fan, he might chose “to grit or not to grit”, that it the question. Grit has been given multitude of meanings and definitions and the purpose is geared towards toughness or fortitude also in moral terms and also a non-quantifying element of the game itself.

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Chris Nilan is the definition of “Grit”

For years, the Canadiens shied away from the rough stuff. I remember listening to Guy Carbonneau when he was coaching the Canadiens – who, ironically, spent most of his career in Montreal with none other than Chris Nilan on his wing – tell reporters that they didn’t need toughness. He stated that all they had to do was to capitalise on their power-play opportunities. While it may sound great in theory, it’s far from being a practical and realistic approach to the problem. After all, is there one NHL team not trying to have a better power-play? I’m guessing that recognizing and saying that it needs to improve or simply trying harder doesn’t mean better results?

Since Marc Bergevin took over as the Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager, he understood the need to protect his best players, allowing them to do their thing without the fear of being abused by opponents. His first move was to sign then UFA Brandon Prust to a four-year contract. Later, he went out and added the likes of Parros, Weise, Allen, Kassian, Shaw, Weber, Martinsen, King, Ott, Farnham, Deslauriers. Not all were success stories in Montreal, but the fact remains that Bergevin’s goal was none the less clear, by providing some sandpaper to a line-up in dire need of it.

I can already hear some who are chumping at the bit to tell me that skills wins game, that you can’t replace talent by grit. This is the extremists’ way of thinking. No, you don’t need to “replace” talent by grit. You need to “surround” your talent with grit. And in today’s NHL, which is now stuck with the worst rule in hockey, the instigator rule, grit doesn’t stop at fighting. You see, Bergevin is too often being ridiculed with his choice of words when putting the emphasis on “character” and “attitude” but guess what? He’s referring to grit!

Grit is blocking a shot, taking a hit to make a play, arriving first to the corner to get the puck, planting yourself in front of the net knowing that Shea Weber is shooting. Grit is defending your teammate, regardless of the size of the opponent. Grit is also doing everything to win games. No, grit is NOT penalties. Grit is being the instigator and not the retaliator.

Grittiest Canadiens

But just who does Claude Julien have available, which players will go to war for him, for his team? Here are just a few, just to highlight the work, sometimes the beating, some of those players are taking. Oh there are more, particularly amongst the younger prospects.

Who is the first one to come to mind? You guess it: Brendan Gallagher. Smallish, but one of the toughest – pound for pound – in the business. When asked who was the most difficult player was to play against, former Senators Marc Methot picked Gallagher “because he’s relentless”.

Bergevin acquired a guy who will soon become a fan favourite in Max Domi, another guy who wears the heart on his sleeve, a relentless worker. The guy doesn’t take a shift off, he can pass, he can score, he goes to the net, he will defend teammates and will drop the mitts if or when needed. Montreal fans – and most hockey fans – love that type of players.

Andrew Shaw is getting a bad rep by a group of “fans” unfortunately, but his usefulness has been severely affected by his style of play. A bit like Prust, Shaw is going up against the bigger guys. The guy has no fear and will also do whatever it takes to win, and as proven with the Blackhawks, he is a big game player. They don’t come much grittier than this guy. Here’s hoping that he’s back healthy. The Habs will greatly benefit.

Bergevin acquired Nicolas Deslauriers in hope that he could bring exactly what he has provided and the Lasalle native seems to be giving a little extra playing for his home team. In addition to the grit he brings, he has been a surprise offensively as he has shown that he can contribute in that aspect of the game as well.

It really is too bad that the fans didn’t get to see the real Shea Weber quite yet, as it seems like when he’s been in the line-up, he’s been battling injuries which, ultimately, ended up sidelining him. Yet even hurt, he’s producing like the top defensemen in this league still. Voted by his peers as the most difficult defenseman to play against, he can hurt you in many ways and you’ll find more grit in his fingernail than most have in their entire body.

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Jeremiah Addison could be a surprise at camp

Here’s an oddball for you folks as I picked Jeremiah Addison. Unfortunately, he also got hurt last season and Laval missed him greatly. This guy is a warrior and he will do whatever it takes to help his team win games. I pick him as a surprise player to steal a spot in Montreal this season. Call it a gut feeling.

Habs fans will remember Steve Begin but in Michael Chaput, they have a similar player. He will give and take hits, he will grind it out and he has surprisingly good hand. Eating home cooking and playing under Rockets’ coach Joël Bouchard could see Chaput earn a call-up if he doesn’t make the team at camp.

Okay, I admit, I like Brett Lernout. Physically dominant, he is most effective when he keeps his game simple. Many don’t see him making the big club but I feel like it will be between him and Juulsen. All will depend on which one has a better training camp. Either way, Lernout will bring tons of grit.

Now a second year pro, Noah Juulsen was giving a shot at the end of last year and he didn’t disappoint. His favourite player is Kevin Bieksa and he plays just like him. He will get the puck and if his opponent has it, they better keep their head up as Juulsen will hurt you.

We know that Mike McCarron is a tough cookie. He would be more physical if he was a better skater but he is quite gritty, as he’s shown it already at the NHL level. Both he and the Canadiens are hoping that he’s done enough this summer to improve to the point of earning a spot with the big club.

An honorable mention goes to Ti-Paul Byron, who will also do everything in his limited power to help his team win. See, grit isn’t just about fighting. Grit, character, attitude (hating to lose), all play into making a team hard to play against. If you combine and mix that with some skills like Jonathan Drouin‘s, it’s a recipe for success. Remains to see if the youngsters are ready to help the veterans in that aspect. Go Habs Go!