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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Montreal Canadiens Are Just Not Tough Enough

Brandon Prust - Washington Capitals v New York Rangers
For the better part of a decade, Montreal Canadiens fans have been begging management to make our favorite team better, tougher and meaner.

The Habs have been way too soft for way too long. Moreover, in recent years, they rarely forechecked or dropped the gloves on questionable hits.

Images of Gregory Campbell hammering away on Tom Pyatt, Zdeno Chara slamming the head of Max Pacioretty into the glass or even Andrew Ference flipping off the fans because of a "problematic glove equipment malfunction", perpetually fill my mind.

The Montreal Canadiens, lacked character, cohesion and toughness and that is where Marc Bergevin comes into play.

In a short amount of time, Bergevin has begun addressing this issue with the signings of Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong, Travis Moen, Ryan White and Francis Bouillon. On paper, we will likely never have to see a line-up which features the likes of Yannick Weber or Rafael Diaz playing on the fourth line again.

A huge step in the right direction right? Surely, the team has a chance at the playoffs now?

I hate to play devil’s advocate here but the answer is no!

You can argue that the team has better depth, but there is no way that I am buying into the notion that the Habs got tougher.

Travis Moen and Ryan White were already part of this team last season. Only Prust, Armstrong and Bouillon have actually been added to the squad.

Brandon Prust

Prust's best asset is the fact that he has developed into an elite penalty killer. He was a key component of the Rangers PK, which sat near the top of the league in every year that Prust was part of the team.

On the physical side, Prust is one tough SOB. Though relatively small at a little over 6’0, he is a pit bull on the ice. Prust backs down from no one, sticks up for teammates and, despite his diminutive frame, led the league in fighting majors last season.

Colby Armstrong

Then there is Armstrong.

Here is a guy I have wanted in the Habs uniform for the better part of the last five years. When Colby is on top of his game, he is a skating torpedo. An agitator who absolutely lays people out with his vicious hits and then backs it up with his unwillingness to fight. 

Like P.K. Subban and White, Armstrong gets under the skin of alot of players in this league.

Francis Bouillon

Finally, little Franky Bouillon, a player the Habs should never have let go. I cannot think of a single player who plays with more heart and determination than Soupy. 

He is a good bottom pairing blueliner who will give his all and will serve as an excellent guide for those unfamiliar with Therrien's ways.


Still Not a Contender

All in all, the above three are players who play big and add depth to the organization. A group of players, who for some reason, most fans seem to think will help turn the team back towards playoff contention.

The problem is that their gain comes at the loss of Brad Staubitz, Mathieu Darche and Hal Gill.

Brad Staubitz

Staubitz is easily a better fighter than any of the players named above. He is bigger than Prust, meaner than Prust and led both the Habs and Wild in fighting majors last season. Like Prust, he backs down from no one, the only difference is that he usually comes out on top.

Hal Gill

Gill, although not ill-tempered, still represented a 6’7 frame capable of tying up some of the bigger bodies in this league. He was a beast on the PK, a great leader and, when called upon, was not shy to drop the gloves. Most fans were sour to see him arrive in a Habs uniform but he grew on many of them and will surely be missed.

Mathieu Darche

Darche was by no stretch a mean player, but he was a dependable role player on a 6’2 frame who still finished ninth on the team in hits despite playing just 61 games. I cannot say I am sad to see him go, yet he was an extremely serviceable player who provided grit to the bottom line.

What does this mean? 

For the sake of argument, let’s remove Darche from this equation. 

Anyone who even tries to argue that the Habs are tougher with Darche in the line-up has been smokin' a bit too much of the wacky tabacky.

So, what does this mean?

The team is younger — and you can perhaps argue more talented — and has a better group of fourth line players. However, the squad has definitely not become tougher and, in the process, somehow actually lost a full collective foot in height.

What is even more confusing is the fact that, despite finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference—due to a lackluster powerplay and limited goal production—the only positions addressed were the fourth line and bottom defencemen.

Where to go from here?

I firmly believe that Marc Bergevin is nowhere near finished tinkering with this line-up. Between Scott Gomez, Yannick Weber, Rafael Diaz and Tomas Kaberle, I would be shocked to see more than two of them return next season.  

The organization must acquire a big, gritty, mean winger to compliment the skilled players. A power forward who can play 20 minutes a game, drive to the net, crash the boards, create turnovers and drop the gloves when called upon to do so.

The question is who and at what cost?

---
Bryan is a Marketer by day, writer for HabsAddict.com by night and full time fan of the game. Follow me on twitter @BryanWilley78 but don't bother looking for me on Facebook, I'm just too old for that now!


(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)

17 comments:

Good stuff Bry! You do make some good points, but I do feel that the Habs are a bit tougher than they were.

Brandon Prust, unlike Brad Staubitz, can play 12 minutes per game (11:56 was his average last season). And, let's be honest, 12 minutes of Prust is a lot tougher than 6 minutes of Staubitz.

Add to that a healthy Ryan White/Travis Moen combination, and the team gains considerable sandpaper.

Having said that, I share your concerns on D. The setup of Weber, Diaz, Kaberle, St-Denis (and even Brendon Nash) concerns me. It's good to have D-Depth, but the aforementioned are far too similar in style (puck moving, offensive minded).

I have to say that I believe the Habs are tougher. White missed most of last season and so having him from the beginning is almost like acquiring another tough player.

If MB can find a quality top six winger and not have to use Moen then Moen can concentrate on filling the role he's expected too rather than have the extra pressure of being on a scoring line.

Prust was given an 11-7-2 record on hockeyfights.com last season whereas Staubitz was credited with one win. I guess it depends on how much stock you put into the site but I do feel better having Prust on the team.

Defense is another story, Bouillon does play tough but he is a small guy, so aside from emelin laying out whoever he can the D is still entirely way too soft.

Bryan,

I was about to challenge your analysis then thought I would look at the top 4 teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs (semi's and finals):

LAK - Dustin Brown (3 fights last 3 years, 293 hits)
NJD - Zack Parise (1 fight in 2007/2008, 65 hits)
NYR - Ryan Callahan (8 fights since 2007/2008, 271 hits)
PHO - Shane Doan (12 fights since 2005/2006, 205 hits last season)

Initially I was thinking how many teams have 'A power forward who can play 20 minutes a game, drive to the net, crash the boards, create turnovers and drop the gloves when called upon to do so.' After looking at the top four I realized its not how many do, its should you have one? Evidence suggests that having one contributes to success.

So I think the question has to be how do we get one, through a trade or draft? To me, Bourque could have been this player and maybe MB is waiting out the year to see if this happens and also if he can free up some bad contracts to acquire one.

I have never once left a comment on any blog post in my entire internet life (not news, sports or otherwise). But with all due respect, I vehemently disagree with your conclusion - 'the new players are tough, but the Habs aren't tougher' ... Um...

In my opinion, here's why the Habs are tougher:

Hal Gill was known to be the softest big guy (when it comes to hits and fights) in the league. He was 100% "shy to drop the gloves." I can't remember more than one fight in his entire Habs career. That said, HockeyFights.com reports that Gill had 7(!) fights over the last 5 seasons. Total. We're talking about a 6'7" player! Can anyone remember any of those fights? If I try really hard, I can picture jersey pulling and no punches being landed by either fighter. Not exactly Neil, Nilan, Probert, Prust, Thornton etc. type of fighting.

The simple subtraction of Darche makes the Habs tougher. Loved his heart, but that guy couldn't knock down or out a Pee Wee player.

Brandon Prust led the league (tied with Shawn Thornton) in fighting majors AND can play hockey. There's no comparison to Staubitz in my mind; he's a one dimensional player who averaged 3 minutes a game (I'm guessing). By being able to play Prust 12 minutes a game the Habs got tougher. Prust over anyone on the team makes the Habs tougher.

I have vivid memories of Bouillon taking out Darcy Tucker with his hitting and fighting. He was (I don't know much about his Nashville day) one of the league's most underrated hitters. If he can bring some of that back to the Habs and be a 5-6th shot-blocking, stay-at-home defenceman ala Gorges (but who can hit), I'll be quite happy. Bouillon over Gill, Weber or Diaz makes the Habs tougher.

If Colby Armstrong can play 60 games, your (accurate) description of his style of play over a Leblanc, Darche or Gomez makes the Habs tougher. In the two seasons before he went to the Leafs and became a hurt-bag, Armstrong had 82 GP, 22 goals and 141 PIMs and 79 GP, 15 goals and 101 PIMs. Armostrong over Darche, Gomez, Nokilainen (sp?) or Palushaj makes the Habs tougher.

Prust, Armstrong and Bouillon, individually and collectively, are tougher than Staubitz, Gill, Darche, Gomez and/or Palushaj. Hands down these additions make the Habs tougher to play against. It's ignorance to say otherwise; adding tough players and removing non-tough players makes a team tougher.

Could the Habs increase their toughness? Sure, but Rome (nor LA nor Philly nor Boston) wasn't built in a day... I'd also like to see tough guys that can play.

Thanks for the feedback

@Lou
Love Prust. He is a much better than Staubitz no doubt and will help Pleks with mins on the PK. He'll also fight anyone in the league but he is small and not at the same level as some of the heavy weights which is where Staubitz served his purpose.

@Sean

Glad you brought up hockeyfights.com. Look at his wins and loss'. When he fights the middlewight guys like Glass, Simmonds, Dowell, Bourdon then Prust comes out on top. When he fights the heavy weights like Lucic, Clowe, Sutton, Clfford, Barch, Boulton then the best he did all season was a draw.

@Sanman

Agree with what you are saying but apart from Cole we really don't have a physical forward. Bourque and Pacioretty rarely throw their bodies around like many of us would want.A guy like Brown has been at or at least near the top in hits on a yearly basis.

Pacioretty who was our 2nd most physical forward finished the season tied for 181st overall in the NHL for hits. Bourque was 244th overall

@HFITO

Thanks for hitting me back and posting a comment. Love discussing with Habs fans.

As I said above there is no comparison between Prust and Staubitz as players but if we are talking toughness and in my mind at least Staubitz takes Prust hands down.

Loved the image of Franky taking out Tucker. Or him going after Lucic in the playoffs but he's on his last legs. 1 fight last year, 3 the year before, 0 the year before and look at the people he has challenged. Jarko Ruttu, Glencross, Dorsett.....compare that to Gill who fought guys like Thorburn, Rypien (RIP), Clarkson, Martin.

Love you final comment about Rome not ebing built in a day and I think that this was the gist of what I am saying.

Bergevin made changes to address a need. Although I still do not buy that we are tougher, I also don;t thik that the current group of players will be our roster on opening night.

I am hoping to see MB add that power winger for Plekanec and then a stay at home D-man for our top 4

2 words: shane doan get him toi mtl!!!! 3 year deal/15 millions$, gomer in ahl kaberle traded for a 7 th rounder to long island!! thats waas lil bit more then 2 words but doaner would be the best fit for mtl, unless bergevin can steal clowe from sanjose somehow!!

I think what is key here is that the new players will make the Habs tougher to play against. Period.

Armstrong is a spit-distribuing, pain in the ass to play against. Prust is tough, gritty and in your face, and Bouillion, or Frankie the Bull, is also known as the human bowling ball. He's small, but gritty.

No, these three acquisitions do not make the Habs an instant playoff team, but they do make it so that fewer will be taking liberties with the Habs on the ice. They also make it so that you might beat the Habs on the scoreboard, but you'll be acking in the morning because of it.

And that, to me, is a good start...

Most of last season we only had Moen in the line up. Darche and Gill are big but do not look for fights. Gill can hug you and stop you from attacking a player.

when White returned and started to instigate fights and with Staubitz in the line up to help, the habs looked alot tougher.

Having guys who can play and having at least one guy on the ice that imposes respect at all times allows habs to play with an edge.

Prust, Armstrong added to guys like Moen, White is good. would still have liked a big physical D man that can drop the gloves occassionally on the back end.

Gorges, Subban, Emelin will hit and throw their weight around. In particular the latter two. They should not have to fight to be able to make hard clean hits. If they do not worry because guys have their back they are tougher to play against.

Moen, Bourque, Pacioritty, Cole, Armstrong etc if they know they are backed up will also play their game and take the body.

Overall all of this makes the team tougher.

New additions from beginning of year are Bourque, Armstrong, Prust, White, - These guys were not in the line up for the first half of the year and White and Staubitz only in line up towards end of year.

I agree HockeyGuy123, the Habs are clearly tougher than last year as a whole.
There is no doubt Staubitz is bigger and a probably a better fighter than Prust but he was only 6'1" 215 lbs, that is not a heavy weight either. He does not win the vast majority of his fights and is not a good player.
We all just fell in love with him because we were starving for that type of player.
We missed Moen, White & Staubitz for the vast majority of last year and you saw the difference when White & Staubitz were in the line-up. The issue is Staubitz played 2-3 minutes a game so we were not tough when he was glued to the bench. Prust will rarely be benched if ever.
Add a healthy Moen & White with the new additions and we will clearly be a tougher team than last year....it's not even close.
We are still missing a heavy weight but I have my doubts that's on Bergevin's list. Parros would have been a great 14th forward.

you forget that Bourque can do all those things., crash, bang fight and score

@Anon

Bourque may have the tools to crash and bang and fight but he doesn't. I think that's why everyone is against the guy.

I like to compare Bourque to Brian savage. A guy who was a good 2 way player, great skating abaility, scored 20-25 goals a year but who was streaky as all hell. Would go 8-9 without a goal and then score 3.

So far everyone has disagreed with the conclusion of this article. Including me.

Indeed they have !!!

And that's what makes sports great. We all disagree and have our opinions.

90 ish days til' puck drop......this is soooo long

@Bryan
I agree....just thinking Bourque may be a different player under MT, he is under contract and MB would be jumping the gun to trade for a guy with his qualities, before training camp and the first month of the season is done. No free agents to fill a top six role on the market, so it will be via trade if MB is to address that problem. Bourque fought the Capitals goon and won it, on his forst shift with the Habs, so call me hopefull....

@Anon

I thought I was the only one defending Bourque. All I hear is people wanting the deal the guy but apart from his stint in MTL he was on pqce for 29 goals last season, scored 27 in each of the previous 2 years and was on pace for 28 the year before that.

I like Bourque and can actually see a successful year.

As for fighting, the guy can do it ut it's not in his nature. I've never seen him lose a fight albeit he's only fought a handful of times.

Anon!ya it's very disappointing!We want to see our favorite place at top place.But the result of the team is not matched our desire.I wish the staffs of the Montreal Canadiens will take valuable steps for ranking this team.

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