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Monday, May 21, 2012

Montreal Canadiens Moving Forward - Part 4 - Defense and Goaltending

Ryan Suter - Nashville Predators v Phoenix Coyotes - Game Five
Greetings Habs Nation!

After discussing the importance of finding a GM and coach for the Habs — half of which has been resolved  looking at a few of the options at the upcoming draft and taking a look at what can be done to bolster the offense, it's time to finish off the Moving Forward series by weighing the Habs options when it comes to their defensive line up for the 2012-13 season.

Goaltending is the last line of defense and, in this department, Marc Bergevin's priority is quite simple, sign Carey Price.

Price is a top-ten goalie in the NHL with top-five potential. With Price signed, Bergevin will have more time to focus on the rest of the roster without worrying about having security between the pipes. That being said, the sooner he's signed the better.

As for backup, Peter Budaj is signed for another year, but his first year with the CH hasn't turned many heads. However, Price is capable of playing 65-70 games per season, so if the rest of the line up can be improved than the position of back up goalie is hardly worth losing any sleep over.

Not many people are against Price being a top priority — if not THE top priority — for Marc Bergevin. At the same time, you would be hard pressed to find a handful of fans who wouldn't agree that P.K. Subban is next on the list.

Subban is set to become a restricted free agent, and will no doubt be signing for much more than the $875,000 he made last year.

After taking a lot of heat for most of the year for not putting up more points, Subban finished the year strong under interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth and concluded the season with 36 points, just two less than his career high the previous year.

What seemed to escape most critics was that his +9 rating was an incredible improvement from his -8 in 2011.

Alexei Emelin is another RFA who should be high on Bergevin's to do list. In his first year playing in the NHL, the hard hitting Russian defender doled out 236 hits, good for 15th in the league and fourth among defensemen.

Emelin's 30 penalty minutes show that while he regularly delivers crushing checks, he's doing so legally and rarely gets sent to the box.

Emelin's presence is essential on a team that all too often gets knocked around. For once, it's the players in the visiting jersey who neeed to worry about their well being when entering the offensive zone.

Andrei Markov is signed for the next two seasons and, if his knee can stay healthy, he can bring a lot to the team with his puck moving ability and powerplay skills.

Josh Gorges is signed until the end of the 2017 season and there is no telling how much rubber he will get in front of between now and then. This past season, Gorges was the only player in the NHL to block more than 200 shots, taking 250 pucks to various parts of his body. Nobody can question that Gorges is the heart of this team and having him on the backend along with Markov and Subban gives the Canadiens a very impressive top three.

Tomas Kaberle is signed on for another two years and this is where it gets tricky. Kaberle has got to go and it will be hard for Bergevin to find a taker. The fact that Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford managed to trade him still baffles everyone, Rutherford included.

Kaberle brings with him a $4.25 million cap. That's four million dollars being spent on a defensemen who can't defend and who is all too predictable in the offensive zone. The man can pass, there is no question about it, but there is also no question as to whether or not he will pass.

Having the ability to dish the puck is hardly worth anything when everybody knows what you're going to do, he has become all too easy to defend when he's quarterbacking a powerplay an that makes it all the more frustrating knowing he's taking up so much room on the payroll.

Yannick Weber is also contractually linked to the Habs for the upcoming season but don't be surprised if he's included in a deal to acquire a draft pick, prospect or bag of pucks. Weber has not yet managed to secure a spot on the team over the past four years and with Raphael Diaz and Frederic St-Denis developping nicely as well as Nathan Beaulieu and Jared Tinordi just another year or two away from the NHL, it seems that Weber's time is up in Montreal.

Assumimg that Bergevin can't rid the roster of Kaberle the Habs will likely go into next season with Subban, Markov, Gorges, Kaberle and Weber.

Raphael Diaz and Frederic St-Denis will likely be re-signed - they are both RFA's - and battle for the sixth spot.

However, if Kaberle gets bought out or demoted to the minors and the Canadiens find themselves with some room to manouver, who wouldn't like to seem them make a pitch for Ryan Suter?

As a UFA in Nashville, Suter will be one of the most sought out players along with New Jersey's Zach Parise and Colombus's Rick Nash — although Nash will be the center of a trading war since he is still under contract with the Blue Jackets.

Suter would bring size — 6'1" 198 lbs — to the Habs blue line while also chipping in with some offense as he has accumulated 238 points in 542 NHL games.

A lot of what transpires will depend on Nicklas Lidstrom's future with the Red Wings. If Lidstrom should decide to hang up his skates after 20 NHL season's and four Stanley Cup's then you can be sure that Hockeytown USA will do their best to acquire the NHL's top defenseman in the free agency pool.

One other player I wouldn't mind seeing the Habs have a go at is Dennis Wideman. Wideman finished his season in Washington in 2012 with 46 points - tenth among defensemen - with four of his 11 goals coming on the powerplay. The previous year, he finished with nine powerplay goals sharing the league lead with none other than P.K. Subban.

Just imagine the Habs blue line looking like this:   

Markov-Gorges                                                                        
Subban-Suter
Emelin-Wideman
with Diaz/St-Denis as the seventh d-man.

Wishful thinking I know, but even if just Wideman signed in Montreal there would be an improvement.

Markov-Emelin
Gorges-Subban
Wideman-Diaz
St-Denis

Not too shabby.

What direction would you like to see the Canadiens go in on the back end?

---
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.


(Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

8 comments:

i think markov is still the key figure.if he can return in good health, then the habs d will be fine. i prefer st. denis over diaz, who looked overmatched on most nites. diaz has good hockey sense, but i still can't see why as much as 6 teams coveted him.i think subban will settle his game this year.emelin is a great hitter, but he lacks speed.some nice components here, but an upgrade or two certainly won't hurt. and getting larry robinson as a asst coach sure wouldn't hurt either.

I think your Markov-Emelin match up is flawed. The last thing the Habs should do is try to force him to play his off side. We need to leave Subban and Gorges alone, ditch Kaberle, find a RHD who can play with Markov (Wideman is pretty much perfect for the role), and let Diaz and Emelin grow together with St. Denis as the 7th guy.

@sean

One day we'll agree. You just watch and see.

I am going to say the same thing I have been saying for a good 4 years now. Our D-men are not big enough, not strong enough and this is our Achilles heal.

You cannot teach big no matter how hard you try. When you are a d-man, life is about down low battles, pinning forwards against the boards and struggling for position in front of the net.

As it stands we have Markov, Subban, Gorges, Kaberle, Emelin, Diaz, Weber as next year's crop on the blue line.

When I see this group I think here comes yet another year of struggles and injuries because we are no big enough or strong enough to contain guys one on one so have no choice but to out man the opposition in every single battle.

translation of this is essentially our players have to work more than her average players just to be able to compete in simple battles.

Yes we have guys like Dietz, Tinordi, Beaulieu who'll one day help this cause but for the moment, we are screwed.

If we want to turn the corner as an organization then we need to make tough choice.

One of Markov or Kaberle and one of if not both of Weber or Diaz have to go.

In their place we need to bring in D-men towards the likes of Shane O'Brien, Corey Sarich, Barrett Jackman.

In other words guys who fill not be impact players but who will battle and clear the net, stick up for teammates and make life easier for Price.

Question is who?

Suter is on a wishlist, just not Bergevin's i hope.
Love Kaberkle trade and you want to replace him with Suter at 2X the cost and fewer points?? Smart play.
Weber is 6th d-man? on which team, Diaz is 6th d-man and Weber is dead man skating.
I agree with you on 1 point, that Weber could bring back an OK 3rd round pick?
Hab are basically set on back end and Yemelin/Subban and rest will get done.
I would sign/add Bryan Allen or the like for a 1 year deal, is about all i would spend on d-core.
Price is resigned, no question other than how long and much.
I would take any extra $$ and use to find a #1 or 2 centre or an All Star winger (Parise?)

@ Bryan I'm looking forward to that day, but until then keep your points coming it'd great to hear your feedback!
I do agree that we need size in front of price which is whybinthinknwe are set for the future. The Habs won't win this year and so waiting the year or two for Tinordi and company isn't so bad, besides Emelin is still learning and so by the time Tinordi is here we will be yay much bigger in back. Also, if Wideman were to enter the fray that would be a significant addition for a quick fix. His 6"0 200 pound frame would be welcome in front of Price.

@ Anon 1 Diaz does have flaws but is young and wasn't so bad considering it was his first year, he should show some improvement this season and personally I'm glad the Habs didn't ship him off.

@ Anon 2 I would pick Suter over Kaberle any day of the week no matter the Price. He is stronger than Kabs, better defensively and we have Markov and Subban who could make up for the points kaberle would be getting. As for Weber, I would take whatever is offered.

Anon2

Sean, spending big bucks on Nashville d-man would turn out exact same as Campbell did in Chicago, OK but no way worth the crazy money.
And have no fear, some dumb GM will offer a ten year deal.
So i will stick with $4/year for 50 points from a cup winning, team-first, puck moving, albeit a bit soft d-man.
And instead address the real issue with Habs, lack of offense from top 3 forward lines and i would take the $7-8/year you want to waste on a d-man (which the Habs have in spades) and spend on Parise, or use in a Plekanec/Beaulieu deal for an All-Star top 2 centre.

my 2 cents

I have no doubt that Suter will receive a long term offer and I am sure it won't be from Montreal, but I still think he would be a great addition to the Habs back end. And while I don't have as much faith in Kaberle as you do I would prefer to see them pick up somebody like Wide,an for less and spend the remaining money on help up front. Although IMO, a big center is more of a priority than another small winger like praise.

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