Habs Centres: Not a Oversight

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If you have been around the NHL for some time, if you have followed trends, you will have noticed that the last team to win the Stanley Cup becomes the “norm” to build a winning franchise. Back when the Canadiens won their last two Stanley Cups, it was believed that you needed to have excellent goaltending if you wanted to hope to win the Holy Grail of hockey excellence. In the Red Wings’ run, it wasn’t as important as having a true number one defenseman ala Nicklas Lidstrom, or the Blackhawks with Duncan Keith. Now with the Penguins lifting Lord Stanley, you need quality centremen. The truth sits somewhere in between: you need a good team, filled with players willing to do what it takes to win and that, no matter what position they play at. 

As many feel like the centre position is pivotal (pun intended) in order to win as it stands today, November 2nd, 2017, let’s see what the Canadiens have done in order to try to draft players at that position. Understanding that drafting 17-18 year-olds in the top rounds doesn’t guarantee success, let’s see if the franchise has attempted, or not, to address the need that many are planting on Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin.

Since 2009, the Canadiens have drafted a total of nine (9) centremen in the top 3 rounds, and have tried converting one more, Michael McCarron, from the wing to centre. In a year when they lacked second and third round pick (2010), they took a flyer on centre Mark MacMillan in the fourth round. Results? Obviously not great as the team is still trying to fill that void. Does that mean that they haven’t tried? Allow me to doubt it.

Centre of attention

In 2009, the Habs selected Louis Leblanc (remember the fans chanting his name at the Bell Centre?) 18th overall. What could go wrong? A local, young future star pivoting the Canadiens’ top line? Need I say more? That year, the Habs had no second round picks and they selected Joonas Nattinen in the third round, 65th overall. That one unfortunately didn’t pan out either.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Minnesota Wild
Louis Leblanc was picked 18th overall in 2009

2010 was tough on Trevor Timmins as the team’s head draft man had no second or third round picks to play with. Still, he took a chance on selecting a centre, Mark MacMillan, with the 113th overall pick. Mark unfortunately moved on this year but as a fourth round pick, he was a long shot, let’s admit it.

After a dismal season seeing the team lose Carey Price for the season, the 2012 saw the Canadiens have the third overall pick and with it, they drafted a player whom they thought would be the team’s number one centre for years to come. Alex Galchenyuk has shown flashed of greatness, but much more disappointment than anything and he’s been reverted back to the wing by a second coach now. We know the rest of the story.

In 2013, the team drafted Michael McCarron (25th), Jacob De la Rose (34th) and Connor Crisp (71th). The last two were potential centres, and they are still attempting to see if McCarron can become a good centre, although it seems like he won’t be a top-six player at that position. We cannot say that the team hasn’t tried to fix this whole at centre, at least not that draft year!

2015 was another year with which Timmins had no second round picks so he selected Lukas Vejdemo (87th) in the third round that year. Time will tell if this was or not a good selection but when drafting that late, it takes time for those players to develop to the point of having an impact at the NHL level.

Timmins selected William Bitten in the third round of 2016, having no second round picks once again. Bitten is showing some very good things at the CHL level, which should leave the fan base hopeful.

We all know what the 2017 draft brought the Canadiens as both Ryan Poehling (25th) and Joni Ikonen (58th) drew much attention on the international stage this past summer. Those two could very well become, in due time, a very good one-two punch down the middle for a team in much need of such depth.

Conclusion

As we can see, we can argue all we want about Trevor Timmins’ effectiveness at drafting, but there is no denying that the lack of depth at the centre position was NOT a oversight by the team or its management team. Sometimes, teams need to catch a break with players coming out of nowhere, or players developing and turning into what scouts saw in them in junior. Here’s hoping that the drought is coming to an end… until a new trend comes along with the next Stanley Cup winners. Go Habs Go! 

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Top Cheese: June 2017 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as they are getting set for the the Free Agents’ Frenzy on July first. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

While some Habs’ fans like calling team GM Marc Bergevin “Bargain Bin” due to his history of getting good deals for bottom-6 forwards and bottom pairing defensemen, they will have to be more creative in their attacks since Bergevin made the two of the biggest trades of the summer two years in a row with the Weber trade last year and the Drouin trade this summer. Perhaps those who have an axe to grind against the organization should look at new and more creative ways and material to find fault if they wish for people to listen to them.

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The French side of the media found yet another way, the political one, to blame the Canadiens, Trevor Timmins in particular, for not drafting French Canadian players for a second year in a row. While I will agree about the importance of having local talent on the team, those media members are going to war days only after Bergevin gave top prospect Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin. They also “forgot” to mention that only nine Quebec-born players were drafted in this year’s draft in seven (yes 7) rounds of 31 teams picking! If you want to bark, at least bark at the right tree: Hockey Quebec, the poor boys of the CHL for decades now, fail drastically in comparison to their counterparts in the WHL and the OHL.

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Andrei Markov

Reports out of Montreal came out that Andrei Markov is insistent on a two-year deal. While he did perform well last season, one has to wonder why the 38 year-old is so adamant on those terms at this stage in his career. With his final two contracts, Nicklas Lidstrom signed one-year deals with the Detroit Red Wings. Rob Blake did the same with the LA Kings for his last two contracts. Other Hall of Famers like Scott Niedermayer, Chris Chelios and Joe Sakic, just to name a few, all did the same. What makes Markov so special that he can’t help the team that helped him through his entire career, including through three injury-plagued seasons? It pains me to say this as I would love him to retire as a Habs, but I would personally offer Markov a one-year, $5.5 million contract, take it or leave it.

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Much is being said about Alexander Radulov‘s contract demands but the fact remains that those are just rumours and even if they were not, they are simply a starting point for contract negotiations. Having said that, if Radulov’s camp was remotely close to what the Canadiens are willing to offer, he would be signed by now. We must now face the fact that he may not be back with the Canadiens next year unless he brings his demands closer to what the team can live with. Personally, while I would prefer three years, I would go up to four years, $26 million maximum for Radulov. I can’t talk about Radulov’s contract without touching on those so-called experts on Montreal radio who have been claiming that Radulov and Markov had contracts signed prior to the expansion draft. Hoping Habs’ fans learn their lesson by ignoring those so-called insiders and trust the true ones: Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, Pierre LeBrun and Elliott Friedman.

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One of the reasons why Bergevin has to be careful with the money he is handing out to Markov and Radulov is the fact that Carey Price is scheduled for a big raise starting in time for the 2018-19 season. Price is on record saying that he wants to stay, and Bergevin is also on record saying that re-signing him is a priority. But as Bergevin said in a recent interview, it’s difficult to negotiate contracts with other players not knowing how much it will take to re-sign his top player

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A young man by the name of Josh Wegman wrote a spot on The Score which drew the ire of many Habs’ fans, myself included, when he ranked the Draft for all Atlantic Division teams. He gave the Toronto Maple Leafs, his favourite team, the highest mark of the division and ironically, the Canadiens the worst marks for this year’s draft. The problem is that in the article itself, he recognizes that he has watched video highlights and stats from HockeyDB.com to justify his findings. How can a company like The Score allow this is beyond me as there are many people following those prospects in person who could provide a much better, more accurate and more professional opinion on the topic? One of my followers pointed this out to me:

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It is important to note for Habs’ fans that just about every Prospects Expert, those who have gone to games to watch those prospects play, have ranked Timmins’ work as amongst the top not only this year, but in the last three summers. Time will tell.

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Twice in the last few days since the Jonathan Drouin trade, Marc Bergevin told the media to “expect the unexpected” when asked about trades. Yet, nothing has happened at the time of  writing these lines. Should we read anything into it and if we should, what exactly? We know that rumours have been swirling around Alex Galchenyuk and it was reported on Draft day that as many as 14-15 teams had shown interest in the Canadiens’ young forward. Could it be that Bergevin, not receiving any offers that would help his team get better, decided to keep his trade chip and re-sign him to a shiny new contract, hoping that the departure of Nathan Beaulieu and his negative influence reflects on his performances? It’s very much a possibility folks. As I’ve stated all along, Bergevin isn’t looking at unloading Galchenyuk but if a hockey trade is to be made, one that would improve the Habs, he would pull the trigger. That obviously hasn’t happened… yet.

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The Las Vegas Golden Knights picked Alexei Emelin from the Canadiens at the expansion draft, leaving the team a little thin at the blue line, they who are already looking to add someone to play alongside All-Star defenseman Shea Weber. While Bergevin has added some quality depth in acquiring 30 year-old rearguard David Schlemko, I have a feeling like the team has pretty high expectations on another player we tend to forget about. Signed in late April, the Canadiens added Czech Republic native Jakub Jerabek, a 26 year-old offensive defenseman who finished last season with 34 points in 59 games playing for Vityaz Podolsk in the KHL and who likely made Beaulieu expandable. Bergevin shouldn’t have any problem finding a partner for Weber as there are many available. Finding top-6 offensive players is a whole different story though, one that could very haunt the GM.