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.

MReillyVees
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!

TatarBench
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!

Advertisements

Time To Put Up or Shut Up For Habs’ Hopefuls

HabsNeedChange

North America, both in Canada or in the United States, is known as the land of opportunities. This is where people are entitled to dream. Where people can hope to make it big, whether it be in business, on the movie screen, in pro-sports. While in most environments, opportunity can come knocking at any time in one’s life, the same cannot necessarily be said in hockey, a league already known for giving chances to younger and younger players each year, or so it seems. For some of them, the window is already starting to close before they will have to make important decisions when it comes to their future in hockey… or elsewhere.

The Montreal Canadiens have a few of those players, those who have turned pro a few years ago. While every opportunity is important, this 2018 training camp is particularly crucial for a few Habs’ hopefuls as time is running out and other younger prospects are pushing hard behind them for their own opportunity. Let’s have a look at the most prominent in this year’s crop for the Habs, as they are getting ready to hit the ice for what could be the last time wearing the red, white and blue.

Byron Froese (1991) – C

After bouncing from the AHL with short stints in the NHL, he managed to crack the Habs’ line-up last season with a career high 48 games with the Canadiens. Sound defensive player, the fact that he is playing centre on a team desperately seeking help at that position helped him, but he did steal the job from veteran Torrey Mitchell. He is one who won’t be pleased to see Tomas Plekanec coming back and Matthew Peca coming into play. To make matters worse, Jacob de la Rose seems ripe for a breakout season. At 27 years of age, time is the essence for him.

Simon Després (1991) – LD

Després is a different kind of bird all together. Once seen as a top prospect with the Penguins and the Ducks, he already has just under 200 NHL games under his belt. Injuries, particularly concussion issues, have contributed to his set-back and the 27 year-old signed a Professional Try-Out contract so he’s a good gamble for the Canadiens and if anyone could help get his career on track, it might just be Joël Bouchard. The skills are there. The confidence and ability to put it all together is what’s lacking here.

Michael Chaput (1992) – C

Chaput has been on the fringe with both the Blue Jackets and the Canucks and at 26, the native of Île Bizard, QC, is hoping that some home cooking will have the same effect on him as it has on Nicolas Deslauriers. Standing at 6-foot 2-inches, he has the size, grit, determination and physicality to be a great agitator. Further, he is very versatile and can be counted on in all situations in all three zones. He signed a two year, two-way contract with the Canadiens this summer.

Kenny Agostino (1992) – LW

Agostino is a newcomer in the Canadiens’ organisation and the 26 year-old is a prolific points producer at the AHL level, but has yet to be able to put it all together in the NHL. Like the other players brought in this summer, Agostino has, you guessed it, a solid two-way game to his repertoire. His game is based on speed and the 26 year-old winger likes to play an up-tempo game.

Xavier Ouellet (1993) – LD

Ouellet
Xavier Ouellet

Ouellet is perhaps Marc Bergevin‘s most publicized acquisition of the summer after Max Domi. Born in Bayonne, France, the former QMJHL star has 145 career NHL games under his belt with the Detroit Red Wings. The 25 year-old excels at moving the puck up ice. He has excellent mobility from the back end, as well as some offensive ability. He also owns an accurate point shot. Like Chaput, he and the Canadiens’ organisation are hoping that some home cooking will launch his career for good.

Hunter Shinkaruk (1994) – C

I hesitated putting a 23 year-old on that list but this will be Shinkaruk’s third team already. Recently acquired in a trade with the Flames for Kerby Rychel, Shinkaruk was once perceived as one of the Canucks’ blue-chip prospects. In his post-trade assessment of the trade which saw the youngster traded to Calgary, Canucks’ GM Jim Benning told the press that they had analyzed his goals in the AHL and figured that it wouldn’t translate to offense at the NHL level. Fans in Vancouver were very upset at Benning for trading him. It now remains to be seen if Bergevin hit a homerun with this one, or if it’s another one of his low-risk, possible high-reward moves.

Rinat Valiev (1995) – LD

Acquired from the Maple Leafs along with Rychel and the Leafs’ second round pick in 2018 (Jacob Olofsson) in the trade for Plekanec, Valiev owns excellent size (6-foot 3-inches, 215 pounds), plus the ability to use it to shutdown opponents as well as play a physical game. He does have some offensive ability. He is only 23 but the Canadiens’ defense is starting to get pretty crowded with guys with his abilities so he will need to step up his game in order to earn himself a spot.

Michael McCarron (1995) – C/RW

What hasn’t been said about McCarron that could be added here without sounding redundant? Again, we’re talking about a 23 year-old here but would a 6-foot 6-inches, 231 pounds towering forward with power-forward acumen clear wavers if sent down? In my opinion, the Canadiens need to stop trying to make him a centre and play him on the wing, where he can be more efficient. This will be a very important training camp for the Michigan-born young man, one that could very well determine his future with this organization.

 

Don’t believe the anti-Bergevin naysayers forks: the Canadiens’ organization is on the right path and even THEY know it. They simply don’t want to see him succeed for reasons that are well beyond hockey matters. The depth in the organisation is as good as it’s been in many years and the prospect pool is in the Top-6 in the entire NHL according to Corey Pronman, prospects specialist for The Athletic. With competition comes pressure to perform and with that, a team full of players who will have to give their all every day, not to lose their jobs to others who want it just as much. Go Habs Go!