by Kamal Panesar
So a challenge, of sorts, has been thrown out into the Habs blogging community this week by @shmitzysays of the blog Shmitzy Says.
And what is the challenge?
To name the 12 forwards that I would choose to start the season in Montreal.
Given the nature of this assignment, I think "challenge" is perhaps not the right word. Shmitzy is a smart guy and with all the conversation and opinions going on about who should or should not be on the team, he simply wants to get all of the Habs blogger's opinions on the topic.
...and I think it's a great idea!
So, without further ado, here is my 2011 Habs forward lineup:
The First Line
Michael Cammalleri - Tomas Plekanec - Andrei Kostitsyn
Cammalleri and Plekanec are both locks on that top line. The only question mark is Andrei Kostitsyn.
Since the beginning of camp, Andrei is playing like he means business and wants to earn himself another contract. Perhaps having his brother out of the picture and seeing how that played out helped clear AK's head and get him focused on the task at hand.
Whatever happened, Andrei looks ready to try and finally break the 30-goal barrier.
And hey, what do the Habs have to lose? If he's not cutting it by Xmas, try to trade him and bring up a player like Max Pacioretty or Aaron Palushaj, both of who are chomping at the bit.
The Second Line
Benoit Pouliot - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta (freshly named as captain!)
I know, I know, Pouliot has not been outstanding so far at camp. His intensity level is sometimes questionable, and he occasionally looks nervous and unsure of himself.
That aside, there have been some flashes of goodness from him and he often seems to be going to the net, so all hope is not yet gone.
I think that one of Pouliot's problems is that he is feeling the breath of players like Lars Eller and Max Pacioretty on his neck, and is not rising to the challenge.
That being said, I think that the Habs have to at least give him a chance to show what he can do/ see if he can become the top-six forward that he should be.
That's why I have him next to Gomer and Gio. I would want him to prove me wrong.
In all honesty, though, out of AK46 and Pouliot, I think the latter has the best chance of losing his spot to a youngster during the course of the season.
I hope I'm wrong, because Pouliot has the hands to score 30 goals in this league—but there seems to be something wrong between his two ears!
Like AK46, if things don't work out with Pouliot by Xmas, trade him for picks or bundle him for a prospect, and let Max Pacioretty or Lars Eller take his spot.
The Third Line
Ryan White - Lars Eller - Maxim Lapierre
Lars Eller is a natural center and I, personally, would like to see him continue to play as a center.
While there is no doubting the fact that his blend of speed, skill, and size would fit nicely on the wing in the top-six, I would prefer to let him learn at the NHL level at a position that he is used to playing.
Moreover, having Eller as the Habs third line center gives them a serious upgrade in the bottom-six.
I think that combining Eller with two speedy, grinding players like Lapierre and White, will give that line the opportunity to be very dangerous offensively—while playing against the oppositions third best defenders—and equally defensively responsible.
The beauty of this line is that with Lapierre and Eller, you would have two centers on the ice in key defensive situations, which is always a good thing.
An ancillary benefit for Lapierre would be that, freed from the responsibilities of the centerman's position, he could focus more on causing havoc in the corners and going to the net.
As a result, we should see Lapierre return to the 15-goal range.
The Fourth Line
Travis Moen - Jeff Halpern - Dustin Boyd
This line is a get-your-nose-dirty, in-your-face kind of shutdown line that goes out there and hits everything in sight.
Your stars need a rest? Send this line out to wear down the opposing team’s defense a little bit and hey, maybe even start a fight or two.
I would also not hesitate to shift Travis Moen and Ryan White back and forth between the third and fourth lines as the need arises.
The great thing about this line, is that you have Jeff Halpern at center—a player who had comparable faceoff and penalty killing numbers to Plekanec last season—and as such, Jacques Martin doesn't have to worry so much about having Plekanec on the ice for key defensive zone faceoffs.
Tom Pyatt and Ryan O'Byrne.
OK, they are not both forwards but I, personally, wouldn't have two forwards as spares.
I think Pyatt and O'Byrne can float in and out of the lineup as needed. I really like Pyatt and would have liked to see him in the lineup, but I think that there are too many other players that are of should be ahead of him in the depth chart now.
If it wasn't for his tremendous speed, he would be waived or traded.
Ben Maxwell and David Desharnais.
As good as Maxwell has looked at camp—and he has looked real good—there is no room for him on the team.
With the top two center positions locked down between Plekanec and Gomez, and Lars Eller and Louis Leblanc nipping on their heels, Maxwell just doesn't fit into the team's plans.
More importantly, the Habs would have to place Maxwell on waivers—which he would surely not clear—before sending him down to Hamilton.
With the talent and potential he possesses, losing him for nothing would be a crime.
Trade him for a pick or package him for a prospect.
Desharnais represents another small but gifted player who just does not have a place on this team. It's unfortunate too, because Desharnais works his butt off on every shift and has tremendous speed, skill, and heart.
The thing working against him is his size. At 5'7" and 182 pounds, Desharnais is another small player trying to crack a lineup that can't use another small, offensive player. As such, there is no way he could slot into the logjammed center ice position on any line.
He does look like an NHL-caliber player, however, and as such the Canadiens should trade him and give him a chance with another team.
Like Maxwell, he could fetch a pick or be packaged for a prospect.
Is there any explanation needed?
Darche, for all his effort and heart, lacks the foot-speed to keep up with the pace of the modern game and, more importantly, the pace of the speedy Canadiens.
I would place him on waivers and hope that another team picks him up. If not, let him play in Hamilton and eat the NHL salary that you'd have to pay him because of his ridiculous one-way contract.
So there you have it, folks. Those are the four lines that I would roll with going into the regular season.
So the bloggers have spoken but now it's your turn!
I want to know who YOUR top-12 Habs forwards would be going into the regular season. So let us know!
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
by Kamal Panesar