Top Cheese: August 2017 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as Summer is winding down and the team and players are getting ready for training camp. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Is there anyone around Montreal more negative than The Gazette’s very own Brendan Kelly? Even when trying to get around his constant negativity towards the Canadiens, he can’t help himself but to mention either P.K. Subban or take a shot at either Marc Bergevin or Shea Weber. Kelly is hired by The Gazette to cover showbiz, to spread gossips about celebrities, and he seems to be taking the same approach with anything to do with the Habs. Worse, while most people call him out of it, some are buying his Kool-Aid. I, for one, would love to see the organization put the squeeze on The Gazette as what Kelly does is borderline or straight out slander. Boy oh boy do they ever miss Dave Stubbs… In the meantime folks, stop giving Kelly the time of day. His writing and comments are not worthy as he totally lacks professionalism. Perhaps he should read this: Habs Blogger or Journalist: Who Is Who?

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Much has been said about the Canadiens’ defense, particularly after Andrei Markov signed in the KHL. However, while it might lack big names (aside from perennial All-Star Weber), it is relatively unknown and force is to admit that fans and media alike don’t know much about Jakub Jerabek. Former Habs Jaroslav Spacek has nothing but good words for the newly signed defenseman and he thinks that he can help his new team.

“He [Jerabek] is sound with the puck and uses his abilities at all times. He is good on the power play and short handed. He is a complete player. I think that he will be able to help the Canadiens all season long and I’m hoping that he gets his chance in the NHL.” ~ Spacek

The scouting report on Jerabek is that he is a good technical defenseman who moves the puck well and makes good first passes out of his zone, and who is always well positioned to make plays at both ends of the ice. So before jumping to conclusions, let’s give the runner a chance before jumping to early conclusions. Jerabek had 34 points in 59 games in the KHL.

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With the recent signings of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl by the Edmonton Oilers, much has been said and written about their need to shed salary. But not so fast here folks. The Oilers are $8.3 million under the cap so they are in no hurry to do anything. I read some people who seem to think that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be shopped at rebate… it’s not the case folks! In fact, unless Peter Chiarelli gets a very good offer, he will keep RNH for the season in hope that he raises his game and by the same token, his trade value. Nugent-Hopkins is just now entering the prime of his career and while we explored the possibility of a trade between the Habs and the Oilers a while back, a trade involving Brendan Gallagher, nothing is imminent.

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TSN Insider Darren Dreger mentioned recently that he feels like there is a strong possibility that disgruntled centre Matt Duchene might not report to camp with the Colorado Avalanche, unhappy that the anticipated trade is entering year two. A couple of days ago at his annual golf tournament, GM Joe Sakic addressed the Duchene trade topic with Mike Chambers of the Denver Post:

“I will be listening to offers. Right now it’s quiet on all fronts,” Sakic said. “But I’ll listen to offers on how we can get better. I’ll never name names but I’ll sit there and if something makes sense for the way we want to go, with our team, we’ll really look at that.”

Unless Duchene does hold out, it seems like Sakic is in no rush to trade the 26 year-old centre and if he ever does, he can ship him to the best offering since Duchene doesn’t have a NTC.

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Will Butcher seems to be the flavour of the month around the NHL and Habs’ fans are jumping all over it. The fact is that most Habs’ fans had never even heard the name before a couple of weeks ago and now, he seems to be perceived at Shea Weber’s defense partner next season. Come on folks. True that he had a great season last year with the University of Denver with 37 points in 43 games but let’s not lose sight of the fact that he was playing his senior year, something most top-end talents don’t do prior to joining the NHL. The 5’10” and 190 lbs Butcher is 22 years old and while Montreal has been rumoured to be in the mix, it is apparently not the case.Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 7.59.32 AM

 

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The Boston Bruins are in a bind and the Oilers didn’t help them any when they signed Draisaitl to an eight year, $68 million deal. Rumour is that the Bruins have offered David Pastrnak six years at $6 million per season, but for a guy freshly out of a 34 goals, 70 points in 75 games season, that’s just not going to cut it. The two future young stars have had a very similar start to their NHL career and you can bet that Pastrnak’s agent, J.P. Barry, is now using Draisaitl new contract when talking to Bruins’ GM Don Sweeney. While former Lightning GM Brian Lawton tweeted that he wouldn’t be surprised if he is traded, both Sweeney and Barry have denied the rumour, as they are still working on a deal. The Bruins have over $10 million in cap space as it stands today.

 

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The Hockey News presented a tweet exposing those claiming that Marc Bergevin has built a weak team, when showing that in the past five years, the Habs are amongst the NHL’s top teams when it comes to wins.Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 8.14.42 AM

While there is no denying that the team hasn’t had playoffs’ success, let’s not get blinded by that by claiming that this isn’t a good team. As the Ottawa Senators and the Nashville Predators have shown last year, and many teams before them, once you make the playoffs, you never know what can happen.

I encourage you to look at recent tweets by the Hockey News as they have posted many Top-10, where you will find the Canadiens and some of their players, such as Carey Price, Max Pacioretty and Shea Weber amongst others.

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The NHL has released its schedule and the Canadiens will start their 2017-18 campaign on the road, in Buffalo on Thursday, October 5th. The team’s home opener won’t be an easy one as the Chicago Blackhawks will be in town on Tuesday, October 10th. They won’t be waiting long before their first long road trip (distance wise) as they will fly out west the following week to face the Sharks, Kings and Ducks before coming back to a 3-games home stand. You can see the entire schedule on Canadiens.com. Until then, enjoy the rest of the Summer, get some much needed fresh air and stay away from the constant negativity of some. Life is too short for that and is meant to be lived and enjoyed. Go Habs Go!!!

 

The Heat Is On The Canadiens

HabsHeat

As summer is in full strides across Canada, and as the province of British Columbia is on fire and in a state of emergency, so is Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin. And as BC is monopolizing the forces to fight their fires, let’s just say that loosing two key free agents this summer has done nothing to reassure the masses in Montreal.

The news of top-six forward Alexander Radulov and top-four defenseman Andrei Markov finding new places to play has left blatant holes in a line-up which was already trying to find ways to add offense, let alone lose some. Yes, the arrival of Jonathan Drouin will help in that department but some will say that it’s a lateral move at best with Radulov gone.

Bergevin, as he has accustomed us to, has taken a gamble on a player when he signed a low-risk, possibly high-reward player in Ales Hemsky, who played his junior hockey in Gatineau, at only $1 million for one year. Hemsky was held to 15 games last year with Dallas after having hip surgery, and managed four goals and seven points.

https://www.nhl.com/canadiens/video/embed/conference-call-hemsky/t-277437414/c-52384903?autostart=false

Desperation mode?

It’s no secret that most teams, most years, make their big moves, their big changes at the June NHL Draft and in early July during free agency. Most GMs around the league take the month of August off after a long year of wheeling and dealing, and rest until training camp to see how they have faired in the early part of summer. But Marc Bergevin is not most GMs. As a matter of fact, he has been tagged by everyone and anyone around the NHL as a work horse, someone with his fingers everywhere… and just a few days ago, Sportsnet analyst and NHL insider Elliotte Friedman had this to say, on the NHL Network:

“I think that Markov was asked to wait until September or October. I get the impression that you’ve got Marc Bergevin sitting here with a lot of cap space and I think he’s sitting on something, or some ideas. And I’m not necessarily saying that he’s going to do something big, but I think he’s dreaming big.”

Bergevin does have around $8.5 million available to him in cap space and allow me to guess that it’s not because team President and owner Geoff Molson told him not to spend to the cap. Personally, I think that he’s playing a game a chicken with a couple of GMs who, by the way, are seeing fewer teams having the cap space to complete a trade with them. While those teams had the big part of the bat (pardon the baseball expression), the roles are now reversed.

We’ve touched on it before but fans (and media) wishing for the Canadiens to make an offer-sheet to a restricted free agent are holding on to a thought that’s not even being considered by Bergevin. So this only leaves the trade option at this point.

If Joe Sakic is serious about wanting to improve his team by trading away Matt Duchene, he will have to do so before the start of the season. Now Bergevin might have the money to spend, but they might not have the young defenseman that the Avalanche are looking for in return. Further, Duchene doesn’t have a no-trade clause on his contract so Sakic could trade him anywhere he wants to, without restrictions. For those reasons, the odds of Montreal getting him are rather slim.

One guy who I’m quite high on is Edmonton Oilers’ former first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. True that he hasn’t put up the numbers of a first pick. Also true that he was often injured in the first part of his career, which should affect the asking price. But he has since put some meat on his bones, weighing in at 196 lbs. If you watched the Oilers in the playoffs last year, you will have also noticed that he was very gritty, not afraid to get his nose dirty, and that coach Todd McLellan was using him in all situations, including when trailing behind at the end of games to get the tying goal. But the Oilers have signed Connor McDavid to a lot of money and they will have to do the same with Leon Draisaitl, who is a natural centre in spite of having played the wing more often than not so far. I still feel like a deal based on RNH and Brendan Gallagher (add here or there) makes a lot of sense for both teams.

There have been other names being thrown out there, like declining Philadelphia Flyers Claude Giroux, who has a NMC and another 5 years to his contract with a cap hit of $8.25 million per season. That’s a lot of money for a guy who managed 58 points last season, his worst production since the 2009-10 season. Everything is possible, but unless the Flyers are willing to eat some of Giroux’s salary, it’s likely not an option that Bergevin would seriously entertain.

The Dallas Stars are tight against the cap and they do have Jason Spezza tied up for another two years at a cap hit of $7.5 million, and so are the St. Louis Blues who have Paul Stastny ($7 million for one year) as a pending UFA next year. Like Philly though, both those teams would have to eat some cap.

Here’s what Brian Wilde had to say on the Bergevin topic:

Like Wilde, I also believe that the Islanders will throw everything, including the kitchen sink, to John Tavares to keep him there. But ultimately, Tavares will want to win and I’m not convinced that Garth Snow did anything to help them do that this summer or that he is capable of building a contender. Also weighing in the balance is the team’s uncertainty, not having an arena to call their own, and star players often look for stability.

And that could very well be the reason why Bergevin categorically refused to give in to Markov’s two-year contract demands. Knowing that he will have to pay Carey Price in two years, he didn’t want to tie his own hands with a 38 year-old for that extra season when a player like Tavares could come into play. Will he be able to manage to lure him to Montreal? Who knows? There will be a herd of teams, the Maple Leafs included, who will do everything in their power to get him but by deliberately choosing not to give Markov the extra year at $5-6 million, and with Tomas Plekanec‘s contract coming to an end, Bergevin is leaving himself room in the event that Tavares considers joining Team Canada teammates Price and Shea Weber as an option.

One thing is for sure though: if Bergevin start the season with the current roster, he will have failed, in my opinion, on what I was expecting from him during this off-season. Yes, this team is good enough to make the playoffs, but they will have to win games 2-1 and 3-2 and will rely heavily on Price and a pretty strong core of defensively responsible defensemen. Bergevin told us to expect the unexpected. I was expecting him to improve the offense. He hasn’t done that so I guess I didn’t expect the unexpected… but there is still time. Either way though, you won’t see me give up my allegiance to the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge like some have done in the past year or so, and I know that most of you are with me on that one. Go Habs Go!