Unsung Hero – Phillip Danault

The date is February 26, 2016. The Chicago Blackhawks, who had just beaten on the Toronto Maple Leafs by a decisive score of 7-2 the night before, were gearing up to take another run at the Stanley Cup. The Montreal Canadiens, on the other hand, were trying to survive having lost Carey Price after only 12 games in the season to what could be a season-ending injury. They were flirting with the .500 mark and were likely going to miss the playoffs. For a few days, Blackhawks’ General Manager Stan Bowman was on the phone negotiating with his counterpart and former employee Marc Bergevin, now at the helm of the Montreal franchise.

The centre of their discussion? Two pending unrestricted free agents: Dale Weise and Tomas Fleishmann, two solid and serviceable veterans. When the dust settled and the deal was announced, the Canadiens had acquired centre Phillip Danault and the Blackhawks’ second round pick at the 2018 NHL Draft. Danault, a Victoriaville native who had just turned 23 two days earlier, was Chicago’s first round pick in 2011.

“Phillip Danault is a young and gifted player who will be part of our core group of young forwards for many years to come. I am very pleased to have him join our organization. As a member of the Blackhawks management group, I was instrumental in the selection of Phillip in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft.” ~ Marc Bergevin after the trade.

In his first full season with the Canadiens, Danault had a career-high 13 goals and 40 points while playing all 82 games. The following season was more difficult for him due to injuries, but he still managed 25 points in 52 games, a pace to match his previous season’s 40 points.

200-foot player

When the Canadiens traded away Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk last summer, many “experts” were questioning where the offense would be coming from. Downplaying the impact that both Max Domi and Tomas Tatar would have on the team was their first mistake obviously, but Danault losing his left winger in Pacioretty brought questions marks. You see, they were several who were claiming that Danault’s offensive success was because he played with the captain on his wing. In retrospect, it turns out that they were wrong.

This season, Danault has already matched his career-high of 40 points… with 27 games left in the season! With 23 points in his last 24 games, he is also coach Claude Julien‘s appointed centre to face the opponents’ top line due to his great defensive awareness. Recently given Jonathan Drouin on his left wing, both French Canadian skaters are giving their opposition all they can handle alongside team sparkplug Brendan Gallagher. Last night against the powerhouse Winnipeg Jets, that line finished the game with a combined 10 points… while checking the Jets’ top line. It’s tough to attack when you don’t have the puck and Danault’s line put up a clinic of puck pursue and puck possession.

If you look at the definition of “underrated” in the dictionary, you will find Phillip Danault’s picture. Not literally of course, but as a figure of speech. Either way, he has found his niche in Montreal where he is well liked by his teammates, his coaches, and by the fans as well. We can only hope that he keeps on having that kind of impact when more skillful young centres are ready to contribute as ultimately, it will make the Canadiens even better.

Oh about that second round draft pick that Bergevin received from the Blackhawks… Trevor Timmins selected Alexander Romanov with it. How is that for a trade? Go Habs Go!

Advertisements

Top Cheese: February 2016 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ are trying to determine if they are buyers or sellers while other NHL as the teams prepare for the playoffs. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

1- Much has been said about David Desharnais’ lack of production as fans and even some members of traditional media are pouncing on him at every chance they get. While I have been protecting him for the longest time as I felt like most of the criticism wasn’t taking into account that he’s a $3.5M player and not a $6-7M player, I have now come to conclusion that it’s time to trade or buy-out the diminutive centreman and permanently move Alex Galchenyuk to centre.

2- Head coach Michel Therrien has his faults, no doubt, and the one that I’m questioning most is his support for Desharnais no matter his production. Had he stuck with Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk, Nathan Beaulieu or even Jarred Tinordi as much as he does for DD, those players might be further in their development at this point. Having said that, while he’s not perfect, far from there, he’s also not a bad coach, as bad coaches don’t win 364 games in the NHL.

3- Since writing an article on Tomas Plekanec, the Czech centreman has caught fire and it has benefited his line and the Canadiens in general, the team having won three of their last four games. I would, however, stick to my guns and trade him either at the trade deadline or during the upcoming off-season in order to not only free up some much needed cap space, but to attempt to get bigger and tougher to play against at the position of centre.

4- The Canadiens have five pending UFAs this summer: Dale Weise, Paul Byron, Ben Scrivens, Tom Gilbert and Tomas Fleischmann. Personally, I’d like to keep three for the rest of the season: Weise, Byron and Scrivens. This summer, I would not be opposed to re-signing both Weise and Byron. Prior to the trade deadline, I would trade Tom Gilbert and Tomas Fleischmann to give some playing time to Greg Pateryn and Sven Andrighetto.

WeiseDark
Dale Weise

5- Not too long ago, fans were raving about Dale Weise and it seems like now, they have changed their mind. Weise was up to a great start to this season but like the rest of the team, he got cold. But rest assured that the Habs’ downfall is not because of Weise, a quality journeyman on the 3rd and 4th line who can fill-in at times on the top-two lines here and there. He has great speed, plays a physical game and he’s responsible in his own end. And let’s not forget his play when it counts most, in the playoffs!

6- Something tells me that if Nathan Beaulieu was flawless off the ice, his name wouldn’t come out as much in trade rumours and mostly, he wouldn’t be scratched so often. The Canadiens are trying to instate a culture and until it is in place, there will be some ups and downs with some (younger) players. Having said that, if the Habs have a chance to get their hands on a quality forward for the top-six, there is a good chance that Beaulieu would be the one sacrificed, particularly with the play of Mark Barberio.

7- Much has been said and written about Steven Stamkos, including by yours truly. It was a breath of fresh air however when Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman came out to confirm that Stamkos will not be traded by the February 29th trade deadline and that their goal still is to get him re-signed to a contract. This should stop the rumour mill… at least until the end of the season.

8- People are (rightfully) getting frustrated with the status of Carey Price’s injury. It was originally said that he would miss 4-6 weeks but he’s been shelved since November 25th, closing in on three months now, with no prognosis as to when he could come back, if he does this season. While there is no denying how much his team missed him, I still believe that the team should simply shut him down for the season and if surgery is going to fix whatever problem he has, get it done now so that he can be ready for training camp next fall.

9- Players all get to that point in their career where they simply cannot perform at the level that they used to and Andrei Markov’s decline has been steep and sudden. Like the rest of the team, Marky started the season on fire but in recent weeks, he has not been the shadow of his old self. We all knew that he had lost a step or two skating wise, but it seems like he has also lost his best quality, which is to find passing lanes. He is victim of more turnovers and he doesn’t have the ability to fix his own mistakes, having to retrieve the puck from his own net too often. No, I don’t believe that he will be traded. It is my belief that this will be his final contract in the NHL and that he will finish his career next season in Montreal… hopefully in a slightly diminished role.

10- The Canadiens woke up on Monday morning six points back of the last Wild Card playoffs’ spot with three teams ahead of them outside the playoffs’ picture. Further, all of those teams have games on hand over the Habs, making it even harder to make up some ground. Their chances of making the playoffs are fading quickly and with the trade deadline two weeks away, team GM Marc Bergevin will have some decisions to make… if they aren’t already made.

11- It is great to see that Habs’ prospect Morgan Ellis has continued his progression and that he has now become the St. John’s Ice Dogs’ number one defenseman. While he was still playing junior hockey, he was a leader who, while not flashy, did an amazing job at both ends of the ice and that’s what he seems to be doing at the pro level. Watching him play, I’m thinking of a guy like former Habs and Flyers Eric Desjardins. Here’s hoping that he continues developing and can, one day, have an impact at the NHL level.

12- Just as I was telling someone on Twitter this week that I would be shocked if Zachary Fucale ever had an impact in the NHL, the Ice Dogs’ young netminder was named the AHL player of the week this week. Fucale went 3-0-0 for the Ice Dogs while conserving a goals-against average of 1.32 and a saves percentage of .964. While it is too early to change my mind on the young prospect, it is very much encouraging to see that he is starting to show some good things. Here’s hoping that like Ellis, he continues his development.

Go Habs Go!