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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Montreal Canadiens Moving Forward - Part 3 - Offence

Erik Cole - Montreal Canadiens v Carolina Hurricanes
Help Up Front

Over the past few weeks I've been taking a look at what it may take in each department to help the Canadiens find success as they move forward.

After taking a look at their need to find a new GM and coach — a task in which they are halfway finished — and some options at this June's draft, it's time to tackle their on ice needs starting with offence.

When it comes to the Canadiens forwards it is quite clear that although there are a few positives, they are still lacking the depth it will take to bring them to the post season and beyond. Let's start with a few names that I would consider as close to untouchable as you can find on the Habs roster.

Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole

It should go without saying that the Canadiens need to keep these big bodies on their top line. Cole is coming off his highest scoring season and Pacioretty enjoyed career highs in goals, assists and points. The Connecticut native left no reason to believe he can't top those numbers in 2012-13.

Ryan White and Brad Staubitz

When White returned from a surgery that kept him out of the line up for 62 games and Staubitz was picked up off of waivers there was a noticeable difference in the way the Canadiens played.

White and Staubitz instill a confidence in the team that allows them to play their game knowing that anybody who tries anything rough will have to answer for it.

Tomas Plekanec

There are many people in Montreal who feel that Plekanec is expendable while David Desharnais has earned his keep. I, however, fell that Plekanec's all around game makes him the more valuable player. Plekanec's point total (17-35-52) was impressive despite the lack of support on his wings and his two-way play is unmatched on the team.

With the above mentioned players being the only must haves on the roster next year, there is much to be done in order to fill up the roster.

Time To Go

As soon as a coach is in place and the duo of Carey Price and P.K. Subban are resigned, the Scott Gomez issue needs to be addressed.

It's time for the Canadiens to stop worrying about hurt feelings and send Gomez to Hamilton (Laval?). Buying out Gomez's contract is not the cap friendly solution and, unless Marc Bergevin can find a trading partner, Scott Gomez needs to be playing in the AHL.

Mathieu Darche will not be offered a contract by the Canadiens. I have no sources feeding me this info but what I do have is common sense. Darche served a purpose two seasons ago with his hard work and determination. Last year was a different story. Darche basically used up ice time that could have and should have been given to players who were producing or younger players who could've used the time to develop.

On The Fence

Brian Gionta played in only 31 games registering 15 points and a -7 rating. If the Habs are to keep Desharnais — and keep him between Cole and Pacioretty — then Gionta is the clear cut choice to play alongside Plekanec on the second line.

The Habs captain has had two 25+ goal seasons with the Canadiens — 28 in 2009-10 and 29 in 2010-11 — but missed 51 games in 2011 due to surgery on his torn biceps.

Marc Bergevin may have trouble finding a trading partner for Gionta and so it wouldn't be a shock to see him playing alongside Plekanec and the next "on the fence" player, Rene Bourque.

Bourque failed to impress the fans in Montreal due to his inconsistent play and lack of effort. However not every player can jump straight onto a team during a disastrous season and find their groove.

I'm sure it didn't help that he reaplced a fan favorite who was traded during the second intermission of a game. Either way, Bourque may or may not have a productive season in his first full stint as a Habs but I don't foresee any major complaints coming from Montreal if he were to be replaced.

Lars Eller and David Desharnais are both young and talented centers who could have successful careers in the NHL. Although having both of them as well as Plekanec doesn't provide the Canadiens with the biggest, strongest line down the middle.

Desharnais is loved in Montreal but may be more valuable to the team as trade bait. It's important to remember that the Habs need to add depth to their team in a year where the free agent pool is quite shallow.

Throwing Desharnais name out there may not make me very popular but don't throw his stats back at me as an argument to keep him. I recognize that he had an impressive season chalking up 16 goals and 44 helpers. I also recognize that Plekanec had only eight points less than DD without the luxury of talented - let alone consistent - wingers.

Travis Moen and Michael Blunden

Moen was on pace for his best season in 2011-12 until his season was cut short 48 games in with an upper body injury. Moen brings a gritty element to the Habs line up but is not exactly irreplaceable.

Michael Blunden has yet to make a huge impact in the NHL but at 6'4" 218 lbs, he could be developed into a Moen type player and would cost the Habs less than the nine year veteran.

Petteri Nokelainen is an effective fourth line center whose future won't have too much of an impact on the team.

I won't go into Louis Leblanc or Aaron Palushaj as I feel they both need another year in the AHL.

Where Do We Go From Here

It's clear that the current line up won't get the job done. Marc Bergevin will need to do some tinkering to make things work. The problem lies in the lack of talent in the free agency pool, so Bergevin will need to look to the draft and trades for improvement.

The draft, if successful, may provide help in the future. In the short term, trades or minor UFA splashes will be necessary to improve the roster.

Steve Sullivan could provide some speed and skill to the Habs second line if he were to be brought in.

Zenon Konopka is a key face-off man whose signing would help the Habs efforts to become a bigger tougher team.

Speaking of toughness, Jordin Tootoo would be an ideal replacement for Travis Moen and, coming from the Western Conference, the new GM is familiar with the 5'9" 199lb winger.

Jaromir Jagr has announced that he'll be playing another season in the NHL and while his playoff performance this year has been less than impressive, I will never lose interest in seeing him play alongside fellow Czech Tomas Plekanec.

Another seasoned veteran who would look good wearing the bleu-blanc-rouge would be Carey Price's cousin Shane Doan.

While signing all of these players is surely not plausible, just imagine a lineup that looked like this:

Cole-Desharnais-Pacioretty
Sullivan-Plekanec-Jagr (Doan)
Blunden-Eller-Tootoo
White-Nokelainen-Staubitz

Still some work would need to be done but the above forward roster has more talent and size than the current Habs roster and would be much tougher to play against.

If the Habs were to acquire Filip Forsberg in the draft and add him to the roster, he might find himself alongside Plekanec and any hypothetical free agent signing.


Which UFA's would you go after to improve the team's offence? Or would you try to bolster the lineup via trades?

---
Sean is a freelance writer currently contributing to HabsAddict.com. He is also a regular blogger and frequent panelist on the Habs post game show at MontrealHockeyTalk.com You can follow Sean on Twitter.

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

25 comments:

Good stuff Sean!

Although, for the life of me, I can't figure out why the Habs would keep Nokelainen.

As for keeping Plekanec's, I see his value and am impressed by his numbers with inept wingers. With that in mind though, don't you think he could garner something interesting in a trade? I think so and his departure could also provide extra cap space.

Just a thought.

Great piece, Sean!

I honestly think that, as the new GM, Bergevin should not be afraid to trade anyone on the team not named Carey Price.

Seriously.

Desharnais, Plekanec...it doesn't matter. The Habs simply cannot start the season with Plek, DD and Eller as their top-3 centers and expect to win. It just won't happen.

As such, I'd look to see what the return is for DD and Plek. It doesn't mean you'll trade either player, but at least find out if/how it could help you change or improve your team.

Sean

Good stuff but I have to admit I really do not like that line-up. I see very little change to what we have.

Sullivan is washed up. Jagr is washed up, Doan would be amazing but I just don't see him coming here. Nokelainen is a borderline NHLer and I don't like the idea of Tootoo as a 3rd liner.

Secondly where is Leblanc? Kid cracked the line-up so chances are he'll be part of next season.

To me having Bergevin will mean a Western Conference heavy line-up because they are players that he is familiar with.

I also think that like @KP said, we cannot be afraid of trading one of Desharnais or Plekanec even if it is an unpopular decision.

If the decision was mine Desharnais would be shopped. Don't get me wrong, I like what this kid has done but I would personally love to see him on a different team next season to add some size down the middle.

If this was my team I would be looking at something like the following:

Keep Blunden, Moen an Staubitz but let Darche walk.

1) Deal Desharnais to the Columbus Blue Jackets along with a pick (3rd round perhaps i'd probably even say a 2nd in 2013) for Derek Brassard.

2) Look to see if the Carolina Hurricanes could use the service of Rene Bourque in exchange for Anthony Stewart.

3) Offer a UFA contract to PA Parenteau

My Line-up would look something like:

Pacioretty-Plekanec-Cole
Parenteau-Brassard-Gionta
Moen-Eller-Leblanc
Staubitz-White-Stewart

This line-up would mean adding 2 top-6 Quebecois players and another Montrealer from NDG. Would also add lot of size with only Gionta being 6'0 or smaller and we'd have some serious toughness with White, Stewart, Staubitz, Moen.

Thats just my 2 cents though

hmmmm... no one likes Parise? Sorry guys, but if you have Gomez's cap space and you have a chance for Parise it's a no brainer. I'm not sure if he's playing left wing or centre but regardless he's a gamer, forget his size. At 27 he's just hitting his stride and being UFA, we give up nothing. Maybe have Gionta give him a call...

@kamal I would be down to trade Plek if the return was worth it but I feel he's too valuable to the team to spend too much time shopping him. I would prefer to ship off Desharnais.

@bryan the lineup I posted is definitely not one that will take us the distance but it would be an improvement for now. Jagr may have his best hockey behind him but he would click well with Plek and I can't help but feel he would teach a thing or two about using size and slick hands to put up points to Lars Eller.

Sullivan is also very fat still and that would fit into the Habs make up but you're right, adding too many players with their best hockey already having been played is not the answer.

Tootoo would help for those games against Philly and Boston and shouldn't have trouble making opposing teams keep their head up as he's used to playing in a bigger, tougher conference.

As for Leblanc I feel the reason he played so many games last year was due to all of the injuries, Inwould like to see him play another year in the AHL to further develop his game.

@louis Nokelainen was good in the face off circle which is a tough spot for the Habs. That aside, he shouldn't be too hard to replace and I'm sure nobody would lose any sleep over his departure

@ Sean

My major issue is that everyone sees we are too small however and somehow we actually get smaller? Lose Bourque, Darche, Leblanc and replace them with Sullivan who is 5'9 and Tootoo is who 5'09.

We get injured so often, lose so many battles as it is. This would kill us even more.

We need to get bigger, quicker, tougher, not smaller, older and easier to beat in puck battles.

@Bryan

Great point about size, however despite Tootio's stature a player of his make up plays much tougher than bourque who doesn't use his size as well as he should.
Leblanc still needs to fill out before he can use his strength properly as Darche... Well he just needs to go

I do understand what you're saying though, size is the Habs weakness and so Sullivan isn't as ideal as I had originally thought. But with Cole,patches, bourque (if kept and if he plays stronger) as well as staubitz a speedy winger won't bring us down too much

@Sean

For me there is a difference between physuicality and size. Tootoo is a physical player but he's small. When he has the puck, he is easily pushed off it by D-men who are 6'2 and bigger.

No denying he'd likely be the most physical player on the team and to be honest I would love to have him but he's small.

Bourque on the other hand is not physical but he's big. He doesn't forecheck but he's hard to push off the puck, harder to clear from the front of the net. He requires a big physical D-man to push him out of the way simply because he's a big boy.

The Habs need to get bigger. We have to stop relying on out numbering the opposition in the defensive zone simply because we are too small to contain someone 1 on 1.

We need to start wearing down the opposition with a cycle game instead of always allowing the easy play. We don't cycle, don't forecheck, don't pressure. It's always 1 and done then retreat. We need bigger bodies to make their job more difficult.

I have never played an elite level of hockey but I can tell you that as a D-man, it is more more tiring battling for position in front of the net or trying to contain a player along the boards the bigger they are.

we've been trading/signing old shitty players that are way beyond their prime. signing more shitty old guys wouldn't do us any good in a rebuilding stage.

why would we trade/sign anyone?? whats the point?? theres no way we're gonna contend this year, so why shouldnt the new gm/coach take time to figure out what they inherited... its not like anyones job will be on the line.

habs fans need to accept the fact that we're in FULL rebuilding mode and use this year to make an accurate assessment of our talent, while allowing several excellent young prospects to develop (along with whoever we draft this year).

we have spent way to long trying to plug holes instead of trying to establish a young core group of players and when they develop, we can then sign complementary players like the suillivans and jagrs, which is what teams like st louis did with arnott and langebrunner, or nashville did with their veterans.

the players you've mentioned are additions for teams that are one or two moves away from the cup. we are along way off and shouldnt be adding any more veterans that will take more ice time away from our big, fast and strong developiong players. im not gonna say we dont need size, but we dont need to trade/sign players just cause they're big. we should draft big centremen and we have paches, blake and eller all over 6 foot and some big defense coming up. centers dont have to be huge, and i think DD will become a star in this league, but we as fans and the media need to allow them to develop and temper our expectations for the next few years.

as youve mentioned, we have very few "untouchables", for me, now that we've given up the best goalie prosepct in hokcey, our only untouchable is price cause it would take too long to develop a golaie (not cause i think hes that good). if we develop the talent that we have on this team and give them the ice time and the time to mature (physically and metally), our gm will be able to make proper judgments about players instead of allowing the media to ruin any chance of proper development.

i think we need to suck, get some high draft picks, and give everyone (including the current players) enough time to show what they can do.

Good one sir.
Dont agree with numerous items, but eeach have own opinion.
Love Plekanec, but he is the trade bait.
Doan super, but not a chance get him
Sullivan, Jagr are for contenders not retooling teams.
Cammalleri was a fan favorite? you are joking arnt you?
(Cammalleri 65 goals last 3 years, Bourque 71 goals at 1/2 price)
Leblacn in AHL? he will be a different player come the fall, will be bigger and stronger skater.
Pacioretty-Desharnais-Cole
Bourque-Stastny-Gionta
Leblanc-Eller-Blunden
White-Emgqvist-Staubitz

Geoffrion-Shultz-Palushaj as call-ups

@anon #1

Although I agree we are not going to compete for the cup we definitely should not tank. We have veterans like Plekanec, Gionta, Markov, Gorges, Cole, Moen who are decent players to build around.

Add a young group of Subban, Pacioretty, Price, etc.... and IMO we have the ability to at least compete on a nightyl basis against the oppositions best.

We still need to incorporate youth into the line-up which is where pacioretty, Leblanc, White, eller, Subban, Diaz, Emelin come into play.

We need to go ou and sign UFA's but where I personally disagree with Sean was to go out and sign 35+ year olds. This was where we went wrong.

Let's get some guys who want to play here, local boys who'll play with passion and let's get this thing going.

@Anon 2

I would personally avoid Statsny. Another small center who makes way too much money. I would rather keep Pleks and Desharnais if it meant adding him.

Personal choice though

IMO we should draft based on size/best available player becuase anyone on our roster can be replaced and we dont have anyone that should be considered #1 line material. the only reason why cole put up big numbers is becuase he got so much pp time, if you give that to any decent player theyd put up those kind of numbers, just look at ryder...

our franchise is in the shits and gainey left us in worse shape then when he came, the only good thing is that gauthier realized where we were at and labelled us sellers instead of trying to add players in an attempt to try and keep his job.

lets not be like the maple leafs and acquire whatever shitty players are available at the time. instead, draft intellgently and wait.

btw the anonymous post was too ;)

@Anon I would agree with your 'sucking' theory if it would land us more high draft picks and a quicker turn around. The problem is we have not got the players to trade for picks. As you said other then Price no one is untouchable. In order to truly suck we would have to stay where we are or get worse and even then we may not come in last. How do you do that with the contracts we have, the goalie you don't want to get rid of, and a new GM, coach, etc. I see your point, if we did nothing, that may have happened. But lets look at the suck theory in terms of the Oilers:

1) Oilers are loaded with talent and have sucked for ten years or more
2) they may still suck next year
3) they have no goalie
4) all the contracts for these first picks will cripple the team in about 3 years

Apply that to the HABS, which you feel should be torn down. Is Price going to stick around for ten years? Are we certain the picks we garner will pan out? How do we get more then our allotted first rounder's with no trade bait? Once we get the young team will the cap restrict us from getting the other essential parts of a team to win the cup?

I don't believe the Oilers and Islanders method works anymore. It last worked with Pittsburgh but clearly has not in Tampa Bay.

Good scouting, having a few franchise players, and creating a player plan that addresses all the aspects required in a Stanley cup team can be done without tearing down. Example's - NJ, Pho, and PHI who especially have mastered the art of trading, signing, and drafting in the new cap era.

@Sanman

I see only 1 alternative then. Price has got to go.

@Bryan hopefully that's not the inference from my post. In response to Anon1's scenario Price is the only untouchable. I believe that he is, but do not believe he's the only one. Nor do I believe this team is in need of a full rebuild. What wins in today's hockey is 4 lines, 3 d pairs, and goaltending that work well together but not necessarily the best in the NHL for each segment. If we truly think all 4 lines and 3 D pairs are 3rd worst in hockey as per last years standing then blow it up. If not, you have to say what do we need to do line by line to fix it. Like I said, who would argue dollar for dollar, player for player Gomez for Parise? That's the way it's done, 1 player at a time, 1 line at a time with the ultimate team view - unless you believe we truly are 3rd worse in the league which I don't.

@Sanman.....

Sarcasm my friend.

I am of the belief that no player is untouchable but am not rushing out to deal Subban, Price or Patches.

When it comes to parise however I cannot stand the guy. Hes a great player, gives his all, but I just cannot stand him for some reason.

@Bryan sorry missed the sarcasm, got all 'up in the moment'.

I'm not good at judging personalities since I see no probs with Subby but lots of people do. I just figure put the CH on the jersey and if they are better then Gomez, I like em.

@ Sanman

Understand exactly where you are coming from. Just have a deep hate on fro the guy. The looks of him agitates me beyond belief.

If we shell out big $$$ I would much rather throw it at Suter. Really get an anchor to that D-core and protect Carey

my theory doesnt invlove a fast turn around but it does inlove higher draft picks, which would be the case if we gave more ice time to the young guys instead of signing/trading for pieces that will maintain the mediocrity of the franchise. im sorry but im tired of finshing in 8th place, which is what sean is esentially proposing by signing these complimentary peices. why complent a team thats everyone knows is not a core group that we can win with.

i dont underrstand how you are comparing us to edmonton? they dont have a gaolie or a defense, which are two core aspects fo our team. not to mention we have a lot of young role players currently on our team, so its not necessarily about more/higher draft picks cause we have talent that we can devlop, we just need to give them time. obviously it would be nice to get mckinnon in next years draft but its not a must... take

as for the contracts, my theory is long term, which would account for the expiration of contracts such as gomez, gionta, markov, kaberle, bourque, cole, moen and plek. alththough, i think the last three can be incorporated into the developing system as veteran/tw-way players.
we need to use our collection of draft picks (5 in the second round the next two years, and our first rounders) to build a solid young core group while our aging roster dies out. i relaize we have contracts that will kill us long term if we by them out i.e gomez and bourque, so we'll have to accept that the next three years are a rebulding phase, plain and s imple.

@ bryna thanks for the kudos but dealing price isnt the answer lol he will be ready in three years to lead a team

yes, we would have the ability to compete on a nightly basis, but why do that? so we can continue to be a mediocre franchise for another two decades? we have a unique opportunity with a new gm and coach to allow this team to properly rebuild. all those players you mentioned are nto good enough to win the cup, and thats all that should matter.

we have zero attachments (calgary: iginla and kippur) as fans and management has zero attachments to current players, so as an unbiased management group, they can get rid of anyone they dont like cause they didnt draft them

@ellis:

2009 8th place Flyers go to the Finals
2010 8th place HABS go to the Semi Finals
2012 8th Place LA in the semi's (so far)

Coming in 8th and winning two rounds or more may be the new norm based on 3 out of the last 4 years. Just saying, comming in 8th doesnt mean less success in the playoffs.

With regards to Edmonton comparison is that they have had high draft picks for years and are no better. Example of a team that has been rebuilding and no end in sight. I don't agree with the Edmonton model for the HABS.

its clearly not an edmonton model, since they have no goalie or d...ive already explained this...


im sorry, but did any of those teams win the cup??
do we not agree that the core group of players on the habs WILL NEVER WIN THE CUP
here's some better examples for you: the last three cup winners
chicago: drafted well, won the cup
pitt: got lucky, drafted well, won the cup
boston: drafted extremely well, made a ridiculous trade with toronto, won the cup.

yes, any team that makes it to the playoffs has a chance but the habs are not even an 8th place team. i think we can be if we make a few additions but thats exactly what im advocating against...why make additions to make us a bubble team and get another mid level draft pick, instead, let young guys play a lot of minutes and see what happens. if we suck then we get a high pick, if not, then we actually have good players coming up. that what i call a win-win situation.

are you proposing that we sign a few players and burry our talent, so that we can maybe make it intot he playoffs, and then maybe make it to the second round??

@anon1

You bring up some good points but I can't agree that this team is in full rebuild mode, with a core of Patches,Cole,Plekanec,Subban, Gorges and Price as well as promising youth in Emelin, Eller, and Leblanc - not to mention prospects Beaulieu, Tinordi, Gallagher - this team just needs to re-tool to improve.

@anon2

I won't argue with that stats but look around the Bell Center, bars and downtown Montreal and see how many Cammalleri jersey's there were, and still are. He may have had a bad attitude at the end of his stint as a Hab but overall he was a fan favorite along with Price and Subban.


@Ellis


I agree that the Habs should go for the best big player available at this years draft. We all agree that size is an issue and so that needs to be addressed.


@Bryan


Don't worry, Suter's name will 100% be in my focus on the defense moving forward....problem is he will be on many teams radar


@ellis

I love your preference to go for long term as that is clearly what the Canadiens need to do. It's that mentality that had me put down that hypothetical line-up. There is no plausible way to turn around and win it all next year and so turning this roster from a 15th place team to an 8th place team is just a step. We have plenty of draft picks over the next two years like you pointed out so that gives us a good opportunity to draft as well as can manage but I don't see any harm in bringing in help from wherever we can while those players and the youth in our system develop

Anon2
I guess some fans had more Cammalleri Hab jerseys than he had! haha
I love the parting shot by Gauthier; dont let the door hit your ass on the way out baby Mikey!
Too bad Molson made amends (but was a mature jester and proper thing to do i suppose).
But dont assume he was loved and will be missed by all.

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