Intimidated No More

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For too many years, the Montreal Canadiens were the laughing stocks of the NHL as one of the teams icing the smallest players in the entire league, a phenomenon that earned them the nickname of Smurfs. They were fast though, but when the going got tough against bigger and tougher teams, or down the stretch and in the playoffs, they were more often than not out muscled and spent most of their time on their back or on their knees.

While team GM Marc Bergevin was trying to find a defense partner for Shea Weber and some scoring help for his top-6 offensively at this year’s trade deadline, he was also looking at getting his team bigger and meaner, to better support his skilled and sometimes smaller players. And while the prices were too high for a defenseman or a scoring forward, Bergevin did not miss the boat when it came to adding some much needed grit and muscles to a team that desperately needed it. And as he mentioned in his March 1st press conference, he didn’t sacrifice speed in doing so.

Have a look at Chris Neil trying to intimidate veteran Andrei Markov, and notice who shows up to stop him on his tracks. This happened in between whistles.

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Those same Senators took out the Canadiens in the playoffs a few years ago by playing the card of intimidation and with physical play, and the Habs and Sens will be facing each other three times between March 18-25. With Bergevin’s deadline acquisitions, Ottawa’s game plan has just changed, you can rest assured.

At the deadline, Bergevin traded for 6-foot 4-inches, 229 pounds Dwight King, 6-foot 3-inches, 220 pounds Andreas Martinsen and rugged centreman Steve Ott. All three had an impact since then and while Advanced stats gurus will deny that as hard as they can, only because it cannot be measured statistically, don’t be fooled by them thinking intimidation is not a factor in the NHL. It’s a huge factor. Just look at the end of the game against the Rangers, in New York.

J.T. Miller put his gloves up on Jeff Petry not once, but twice, before the defenseman knocked the stick out of Miller’s hands. Miller then skated in front of Carey Price who proceeded to give him a shot. And that’s when you see Steve Ott show up in the picture and he didn’t leave his side for the last 15-20 seconds of the game. What did Miller do? Absolutely nothing. What would he have done had Ott not been there? Who knows, but this move by Ott ensured that nothing would happen to anyone on the ice.

Will there be some physical stuff happening against the Canadiens? Absolutely. It’s part of hockey. But what the presence of those three, with the support of Andrew Shaw and, to a lesser point, Jordie Benn does, it’s the knowledge that if something goes wrong, if something happens, someone will be able to respond in an intimidating way. Let’s face it: you have Shaw showing up at 5-foot 11-inches and 185 pounds, or you have King, Martinsen, Weber or Ott coming, it doesn’t have the same effect, particularly to guys like Neil. This team will not be intimidated anymore. Go Habs Go!

Habs Deadline Early Moves

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At the time of writing these lines, there are still three hours left to the NHL’s 2017 Trade Deadline and one trade has been announced (Vanek to Florida). Unless you were born yesterday, you are not surprised by the lack of action. Actually, there is a lot of action… behind the scene. General Managers are jousting, negotiating, trying to get the best deal possible on this crucial day. 

Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin is said to be one of the busiest ones out there. He has addressed some depth already but what he is looking for is a bit more difficult to get on a day when the prices are often at their highest. The Canadiens would ideally like to get a Top-4 left-handed puck moving defenseman to play alongside Shea Weber. They would also like to add size up front, preferably with skills and goals’ scoring abilities. Easier said than done, isn’t it?

Many seem to dream of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog or Claude Giroux, but big deals like that are usually not trade deadline deals. Why? For two main reasons: 1- Teams trading those assets would get much more in the summer months, when every team has the cap space to do something big and are working on addressing their needs. 2- Contending teams would have to give too much in return, which would ultimately affect the result, the core and would be too big of a gamble.

But let’s look at what we know happened, the recent players that Marc Bergevin has completed.

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The Canadiens gave up a guy who is a long shot to make the NHL and a late pick for an inconsistent, but young, fast and with good offensive upside and he’s known to be aggressive. Habs have the better player in that trade.

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Pateryn, unfortunately, was on his way out after his wife lost her cool against a few fans on Twitter, not a smart move in a place like Montreal. The Canadiens added a mid-round pick and landed a veteran, stay at home defenseman. He has good size and brings stability, particularly to the penalty kill, an area of trouble for the Habs this season. He is only 29 years old, so has some good hockey left in him, and does not shy away from physical contact.

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Desharnais, in the final year of his contract, had a cap hit of $3.5 million and was a healthy scratch more often than not lately. In 2012, Davidson was diagnosed with testicular cancer and after a first good season in the NHL last year, he struggled a bit this season. Good size, good mobility, good shot, little sample at the NHL level. Habs keep $700,000 of Desharnais’ salary, Davidson’s cap hit is $1.425 million which means that the Canadiens are saving $2.1 million of cap space in the deal.

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Ott gets by on hard work and determination. He excels at throwing opponents off their game, kills penalties, takes face-offs (58% this season) and lines up at all three forward positions. He averages 2.4 hits per game, which will make him one of the Canadiens’ most physical forwards. Not a key pick, but a low cost, and will add much needed sand paper to a team that needs it.

According to Pierre LeBrun, Bergevin wants to add size to his line-up. If you look at those trades, few were in the rumours as the Canadiens’ GM keeps his cards close to his chest. We can expect much of the same. I would keep an eye on guys like B. Schenn (PHI), R. O’Reilly (BUF), A. Barkov (FLO), P. Statsny (STL), J. Spezza (DAL), J. Staal (CAR), B. Little (WIN)… Fun times ahead Habs’ fans!