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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Should the Montreal Canadiens break up their top line?

Before I start, I'd like to quickly introduce myself. My name is Amos, and I'm an addict.

I was born in a small Ontario town where I was first introduced to hockey by my father--an incredibly allegiant Leafs fan—with hopes for a future recruit. It didn't go as planned...

I'll be doing a regular column here at HabsAddict.com, and covering prospects and their development.

I'm very happy to be joining the Habs Addict family, and I feel privileged to be working with and writing for a group with such an incomparable passion for the CH!

So, without further ado, here's my first column...

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Looking at players and line combinations for next season, would you break up the Montreal Canadiens' top line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Eric Cole?

The answer is usually a quick, resounding “NO,” and chief among reasons is that it’s unwise to dismantle the only line that produced offensively last season.

While I agree—after the train wreck of 2011-12 and the uncertainty it has created—that the mere idea is a frightening one, let me give you a few reasons why I think the benefits could be worth it.

What to do with Lars Eller?

It's been suggested before that Lars Eller on the wing, completing a second unit with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta would be an ideal scenario if Eller were comfortable there.

Who doesn't want to see a budding player with his promise develop further alongside offensive-minded attackers?

Personally, I don't believe—when looking at a checking line—that Eller is the right guy for the job. Yes, he's technically the team's largest pivot and isn't necessarily shy of the physical game, but isn't he meant to be a top-six player?

The potential is there and he deserves a real shot at an offensively defined role.

But for me, the real problem with the winger idea came when Eller said that he "doesn't mind playing there," followed by "I'll play where I'm needed".

He's not a veteran, nor a rookie. He's at that stage where things can quickly go south if he's not utilized properly. You don't want Lars playing a position that he "doesn't mind". You want him at center where he's naturally at his best, whether he's adjusting to the wing or not.

So the question now involves Desharnais and, more importantly, Plekanec.

The Plekanec Problem

I am still a firm believer that Plekanec is a No. 1 center in this league and, though he's very good defensively, is a world-class playmaker. There is tantalizing point-production that has been evaporating from his game while he toils on an ever-shifting, uncertain second line.

Until the Habs trade him in a package for a superstar pivot, Plekanec needs to be centering the best possible linemates available, consistently.

In my mind, Cole and Pacioretty are pretty well inseparable and they are both lock-ins for the Habs' premier line. I think we are all mostly in agreement on that, and for now I wouldn't suggest splitting them apart.

Desharnais on the other hand is a slightly different case...

Where to put Desharnais

This is not to suggest that DD hasn't earned the spot he's in, and I'm not denying the chemistry that he has with Pacioretty and Cole. Looking back at the year though, I don't remember DD being as integral to that unit's success as Cole and Pacioretty were.

For all intents and purposes, the Habs are at square one this season. They're starting from the bottom of the barrel and there's a new coaching staff driving the boat.

Is there not time to generate some new chemistry, perhaps with Plekanec centering the Cole line, and Eller centering Gio and Bourque? It's been talked about, but Le Tricolore remain without a solid, fully-defined second unit, and now seems as good a time as any to try and fix that.

Barring the signing of a more capable left winger than Bourque—though he deserves a second chance—to round out the No. 2 line, these are pairings that are still worth a shot for the benefit of Eller and Plekanec going forward.

Do we project Desharnais to be more important to the future of the Habs than Eller? And after all, is such a sacred chemistry not powerful enough to rekindle itself if these propositions don't work out?

What would you do to remedy the still very real issue of only having one decent line going into 2012-13? Is DD just too small to center the checking line, or not good enough defensively? Would you rather see DD on the No. 2 unit at Eller's wing, or is Eller better suited for a third line defensive role? Where would you play Scott Gomez?

Lets hear your thoughts!

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Amos is freelance writer and columnist who covers prospects for HabsAddict.com. He also covers the Habs for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

42 comments:

Good stuff Amos, and welcome aboard!

You bring up some interesting points here and I'm sure Frank Dumais will agree with you that Plekanec is a legit No. 1 center in the league.

For me, I'd also like to see Eller given a chance in the top-6. He has the size, hands and skill to be an excellent second line center.

That said, I still believe the bigger problem for Montreal is that they need a legit No. 1 center. I have no problem with Eller in the two hole, but then you need to trade Plek for an elite No. 1.

Not that that is going to happen.

As for DD, he is a great player and is well insulated with two big wingers in Patches and Cole. My fear is if you shift him away from those wingers he won't be as effective.

And especially not on a third line. DD is an excellent offensive player but is not that great on the defensive side of the puck. If he is going to stay with the Habs, he needs to be in an offensive role.

With Therrien now at the helm, I wouldn't be surprised to see him switch things up, at least at training camp.

Food for thought to be sure!

Good job Amos and welcome.

@KP I disagree with your assessment here.

For one I think Plekanec is a #1 center. He may not be a Getzlaf or a Malkin or a Crosby but he is still among the elite. he has hvered 2 times in the past 5 years around the 70 point mark. This season despite horrible wingers and no support he still finished tied for 29th in points and in a regular season still scored 52 points. Right there with Statsny, Backes and just behind Getzlaf. So what happens if he returns to his 59-70 point range....it means top 20 in NHL scoring among centers which means he's number 1 on about 1/2 the teams in the league.

As for what to do with DD, Not directed at yourself but I am quite frankly fed up of the people mentioning we should deal Plekanec and keep DD. Yes he was a feel good story but Desharnais is nowhere near the player Plekanec is. Pleks played with absolute crap players and still finished just behind DD in scoring. Put Pleks between them and we'll see that line emerge as something even better than it was.

When it comes to Eller I would like to see him with a more prominent role as well meaning DD would be on the 3rd line. Where we disagree however is that I don't think our 3rd line has to be a defensive line.

When we have the potential to throw out Moen, Prust and White as a 4th line then we have the potential of an in your face group where all three guys can be used as shut down forwards (Moen and Prust already filling that role). This would free up that 3rd line for offensive production.

So not knowing what is going to happen with Gomez, Galchenyuk or whether we'll be boosting our forward group I would personally like to see us enter the season with something like the following:

Pacioretty-Plekanec-Cole
???-Eller-Gionta
Bourque-Desharnais-Armstrong
Moen-White-Prust

Good stuff Amos! Glad to see your first piece

Personally, I think we don't credit DD nearly enough. He ended up averaging nearly (or over) a point per game at every level before the NHL, but somehow we focus so much on his wingers.

Truth be told, although Plekanec is an amazing centre, I don't know if he is bonafide no. 1. At one point, he may need to be moved to actually acquire a 65-80 point, sizeable top line pivot.

An interesting point brought up elsewhere, was that we really have to try DD somewhere aside from the twin towers.

If we enter into contract negotiations without him having ever really had less than superior wingers, it puts us in a bind of not knowing his true value. We could end up with a severly bloated, untenable contract for a smallish player that requires coddeling. On the other hand, if he excels and draws decent production out of lesser-lights such as Bourque/armstrong, he demonstrates that he's the real deal and an essiential cog moving forward.

DD has been insulated by larger players all his hockey career because he's been smaller than most players on his teams.He's always proven himself.There's no proof that Plec would be better between Pac and Cole. He's a different kind of center.Stop belittling DD.

Welcome aboard Amos, I'm glad my referral paid off :) As for DD, he's the real deal and it's time to give the guy a break. Let him play with #67 and #72 and get top-quality power play minutes and he will produce.

@Anon (no. 2)

Of course he's been insulated by "bigger" players! He's 5'7 !

At that size, saying he's been coddled by bigger players is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, no?

Lots of interesting comments/ideas Amos, well done sir.

Simply put, just cant have DD and Plekanec as the top 2 centres and expect to contend.
Desharnais is a very smart player who could easily adapt to play wing, whereas Eller cant and i see Eller as the future #2 centre. But for this year he just needs a good winger, like Leblanc and he should do fine as 3rd line centre.
Desharnais is already insulated by the two best wingers, who would do jut as well (if not better with either Eller (which i would love to see) or Tomas, but Plekanec takes the brunt of defending vs all Top centres and Desharnais simply cant defend very well.

Tomas is not a #1 centre and is better suited as more a defensive match-up against other top lines, with Gionta and Bourque.
#1 centres need to be able to win faceoffs, and Tomas seemingly cant and never has (and Desharnais and Eller both need to improve).
Habs as a team must be almost near bottom of league in fceoff %.

don

Personally, I don't see anything wrong with DD being insulated by big wingers. Quite the opposite actually...I see it as smart management/coaching.

DD is an exceptional playmaker, but he's small. So what? Play him with big wingers and you have a great line.

Why is that a bad thing or a knock on DD? Personally, I don't think it is.

@KP

Thanks for the welcome!

While I agree that there is a much better centerman to be had via trade, I still think Pleks is best suited for the job as the roster stands.

It's definitely tough seeing DD being as effective without such insulation, but he's displayed some pretty good hockey sense, and I think it's worth a shot.

I don't think the chemistry of that line would be lost forever during an experiment.

@Bryan

Thanks a lot, man.

I wouldn't suggest dealing Pleks for any reason involving DD, but I'd definitely be open to moving him in a reasonable package for a knock-out centerman who's better at the circle.

@Bry and all: For me, the Habs will NEVER be a contending team with Plek, DD and Eller as their top three centers.

That's the only reason why I would be open to trading Plek, but only for an elite No. 1 center. I'd also be open to moving Desharnais.

To be honest, I'd be open to moving any of the centers on the team if it meant getting bigger, better at the dot, and more offensive at the center position...

But, again, only for the right return.

@Louis

Thanks for the warm welcome!

I agree with your DD assessment. Watching him closely last season, he did some very impressive things on his own. That being said, I think there are more people overrating than there are underrating him.

@Anon No. 1

Agreed. At this point I think DD needs to be seen without the pillars he's used to.

@Anon No.2

DD is not being belittled at all. The whole point of this proposition is that we don't know if Pleks would be better there. It's ignorance not to try him there, though. His playmaking ability is world-class.

Split the towers I say. We do need more balance on our top lines.

I'm highly doubtful it would work but I'd like to see something along the lines of :

Patch - Pleks - DD
Cole - Eller - Gio

Then get Louis Leblanc to center your third line. We have to keep Pleks until Eller is ready to play agaist strong opposition and I don't get why we'd trade to get a #1 center when by all means we have one coming (Gally) in 1-2 years from now.

I understand we won't contend for the cup before that happens and I'm at peace with that.

I find it disgusting that a Habs fan would want or even consider trading Plekanec one of our best and smartest forwards. He's a Hab for life imho.

If DD thrives between twin towers, put him on the third line with Prust & Bourque.

Pacioretty - Plekanec - Cole
Gomez - Eller - Gionta
Prust - Desharnais - Bourque
Moen - Nikolainen - White/Armstrong

@Fred

Thanks again for the referral, man. I owe you!

The point of this was not to suggest that DD be removed forever. The purpose would mostly be to try and get Plekanec going again, and see if there is better one-two punch with what we have.

@don

Thanks a lot, man.

I'm in agreement that Pleks is not an ace at the circle, but I wholeheartedly disagree that he is better suited as a defensive match up.

I think people have been conditioned to feel that way because he's been semi-forced into that role, and because his production decreased as a result.

Great stuff, Amos and welcome to the HA family!

I have wanted to see Plekanec on that top line for quite some time now as I firmly believe he would produce more.

I do however agree with Kamal that Desharnais would suffer if place on another line.

I also agree with Bryan when he says he would like to see Eller given more of an offensive role. Eller has tons of talent and will only get better with more ice time and better support on either side of him.

@Anon 2
Plek did pretty well at proving he can produce on a line with talented wingers on 07-08 when he produced 69 points alongside Kovalev and Kostitsyn. I would be plenty surprised of he put up smaller numbers if he were to play a full season with Parches and Cole.

Amos,

Great article, you make some very good points about Pleks.
I think if you look at it objectively Pleks is clearly a number 1 Center and statistically so it Desharnais.
DD finished 22nd in scoring for Centers this past season (TSN.ca) with such stalwarts as Jokinen & Pavelski ahead of him.
Lets be real here, based on some very inflated criteria there may only be 10-12 1st line Centers in the league.
But then reality has to set in that there need to be 30, arguably both DD & Pleks would fall into the top 30 Centers in the league at this point.
Let's be fair and define as Elite 1st line Centers and Normal. Maybe 10 teams in the league have Elite Centers....at most.
Last time I looked Boston won a Cup without one.
I don't think anyone would say the Krejci or Bergeron are Elite Centers, both are in that same class as our Pleks and DD.

For anyone who thinks a point per game is the criteria then you are down to 5 if we add Crosby and that includes Kessel who is not really a Center.

DD will continue to be offensive force and has a few surprises for us along the way. I think he will get close to the 90 point range soon. He is one heck of a playmaker and he`s not done improving. We have a guy that will be in the top scorers in the league and he deserves the credit for it, not just his wingers. Let`s give him the time he needs.

Plekky is fine on the second line, let`s give him a stable set of wingers. Eller should take care of a third line with better wingers with more offensive responsibilities this year. He has to be the leader and the force on that 3rd line for us to consider moving him up.

go habs

Amos, i simply mean PLekanec is a better 2nd centre and is super at defending vs opposition top line. I know Tomas's producion would be much higher if Desharnais lined up vs other top lines (as he does on the road). Similar to Datzyuk, who could put up more offense if didnt defend ( a la Cammalleri, who didnt ever make an effort to defend).

don

@KP

Completely agree that we are not a contender, or even a real threat, up the middle. I'd be most open to trading Desharnais, but if moving Pleks and/or Eller brought in a superstar pivot, I'd be laughin'

@Anon No. 3

I don't find it disgusting at all that a Habs fan would be open to improving their team substantially if it's possible.

I agree that Pleks is very intelligent, and he's one of the most purely talented players we've had in a while, but we're still an incomplete team.

If I'm Bergevin, I feel like I have to at least entertain the option of moving anyone on the current roster outside of PK, Price, Patches and Cole.

Ultimately, Eller is our prize piece after the Halak trade. If you don't give him more playing time and quality linemates you get zero return on your investment. DD works hard and will still be effective on whichever line you place him on. Although he does need some size around him to free up some space. Here's my thoughts:

Patches - Pleky - Cole
Gomez - Eller - Gionta
Bourque - DD - Prust
Moen - White - Army

The uncertainty of Gomez certainly changes things. Slide Doan in that spot of we are fortunate enough to land him. Long and short of it is that Pleky and Eller need to be 1-2 to continue Ellers development.

Love the feedback here, great conversation piece in the off season

@Kp There have been teams who have won the cup win decent center depth with nothing outstanding.

Look at 2 of the past 3 winners

2010: Bruins had Krecji with 62 points
2009: Chicago, Toews had 68 points

These are good centers but they are not elite point producers.

I don;t think it is a stretch to say that both DD and Pleks can have 60 point season putting them right on pace with the top centers on 2 of the past 3 cup winners.

The key to any Stanley cup team is depth and timely goal scoring.

If we can throw out 3 scoring lines with a competitive balance then IMO we can compete with absolutely any team in this league.

@Sean

Thank you, good sir.

There's definitely a possibility that DD will suffer outside of that unit, but it's worth giving it a try if it benefits more than just one line.

@Hype

Thanks, man.

There's no denying DD's numbers. Statistically he appears to be a capable No.1 center, but what if he's centering second-tier (but still very capable) attackers and his numbers decrease substantially?

He's been impressive so far, but is he already worth his salt as a No.1 center if most of his production can be attributed to having specific wingers in one season of play?

@don

I think Plekanec is an excellent defensive forward, but don't you feel like he's more spirited/happier in an offensively defined role?

If we were to add a capable top-six LW, I'd be happy with him in a more offensive role on the no.2 unit with Gio

@Anon No.4

Very good point about not getting a return on your investment. Eller was not a throw-in, and this is part of the reason I make a case for utilizing him properly if we're keeping him.

After all, we won't be seeing Schultz crack the lineup anytime soon with the additions of Prust and Armstrong

Amos,

I think as a group, we are heaping way too much on Cole & Pacioretty here. Cole playing with DD and scored 35 goals, his best season playing with Eric Staal who I think we can all agree is a top 10 center in the league, possibly higher was 30 in 05/06 and he does this with many experts thinking he is close to falling apart.
Pacioretty, prior to playing with DD had 6 goals in 86 NHL games. I don't think any Hockey professional would have considered either one a first line player prior to last season.
I am not a huge DD fan but let's give the man his due.
We are coming down on him too hard for his size only.
At 850K next year he may be the best bargain in the league....bar none.
I believe he has the potential to become an elite center point wise as his vision and play making abilities are way above average and should improve.

@Hype

I made sure to highlight in the post that I wasn't taking credit from DD and that I recognized his earning the spot he's in. Since he became part of the regular lineup, I've never personally criticized him for his size.

I don't think DD's potential is being debated, at least it isn't by me. I'm still very intrigued by how Plekanec would fare on the Cole line, though.

Amos,

You are right, my bad.
My comments were more directed to the masses who are constantly saying we don't have a 1st line center.
I did note that you are only asking if we should break up the DD line which I think would be too risky, we need a "go to" line if we are going to be a playoff team.
I believe based purely on last years numbers they would be ranked in the top 10 lines in the league, having 2 of the NHL's top 17 goal scorers.
I think the focus should be on getting a solid 2 & 3 line going that can contribute some offense.
Signing Doan would go a long way towards that objective.

@Hype

I don't know that it'd be too risky for a temporary experiment, but I do love the line as it is. I think any Habs fan would be silly not to. I just want to see Plekanec with life in his eyes again.

I'm a big fan of Shane Doan and I love the idea of picking him up for reasonable term. I'd be more than happy with him rounding out the second unit w/ Pleks. That is assuming he can play left flank...

Amos,

I seem to remember at the start of last year we tried Pleks with Cole and Cammy as our top line and it did not do well.
I agree that we could test things out in the preseason
but unless we see real results and great chemistry, I don't think we should mess with what little success we had last year. Maybe swap in Bourque with DD and either Patches or Cole, just to see if we can get him going?

Doan will cost a lot but better than trading and giving up high end assets which is what it will cost to get a Bobby Ryan or someone similar to fill out the 2nd line. It will be similar to Cole, we will have to give that 4th year, where everyone else is offering 3, if that's the case. Plus pay an extra 1M over the highest bid to cover the taxes etc....
That's just our reality.

Hi Amos, was thinking the same thing. Assuming we don't bring in anyone new, I'd give the Gomez/Cole/Gionta combo a shot to see if they can salvage anything in the pre-season then try DD & Pacs on Pleks wing. As much as Eller maybe deserves a shot in the top 6 he is the best suited to play a 3rd line shut down role with Bourque & Armstrong. I don't think MB & Molson will just send Gomez to Hamilton with at least giving him a fair chance and maybe even if he doesn't play great maybe he plays well enough to get picked up on waivers for someone needing to reach the cap floor. Or maybe Galchenyuk dominates and wins the #1 role and we shake up the etch-a-sketch and start all over.

Great topic for discussion Amos.
To be completely honest, the only SOLUTION to the PROBLEM that we have... Is to trade away David and get rid of Gomez. DD is a good C but not much versatility to his game. He is a small, offensive, playmaker who will benefit with two BIG wingers.. BUT!! Plex has to be number 1 with Eller at number 2, and when Galchenyuk is ready to take the number 1 or 2 spot, Plex will be on our shut down C.. I really hope Eller continues to grow into that number 1 or 2 C.. Honestly, that Kostitsyn Moen Eller line was one of my favorite, and if Moen didn't get injured, and Kosty didn't have his issues, I strongly believe that all 3 of them could have had one of the best years of their careers. Gomez and Desharnais got to go.. WE WILL BE A TOP TEAM ONE DAY WITH GALCHENYUK # 1, ELLER # 2, PLEX # 3 at least I hope so.. And if we trade away DavidD, Bourque and, a prospect / draft pick for Bobby Ryan, that Cup might come sooner than we all thought..

@Jonpro

I't not so sure that trading DD and dismantling the line permanently is a wise decision. Having the possibility of throwing a proven point-producing line together in a pinch is always a good thing.

Pleks is a great defensive forward, but I think it'd be a mistake to ever have him confined to a checking/3rd line. I feel like he needs to be a top minutes playmaker to be at his best.

On Bourque, do you not think he deserves a second chance before we move him? He's had a pretty consistent career the last few years as a Flame. Perhaps he just needs a defined role and some confidence?

DD had 60 points playing essentially his first full year in the NHL. That is six less points that the NHL's highest paid player who only had 66 points. All this chatter about what if DD can't produce on the second, third or fourth lines. Moot point....he produces on the first line...that's all that matters. Leave him there. Plekanec is a second line centre...and a great one at that. DD is a future Martin St. Louis!

big habs fan (my take on it)
cole desharnais pacioretty first line
gionta plekanec alex galchenyuk 1 round 3rd pick(second line)
moen eller gomez third line
prust white staubitz 4th line all fighters
gorges subban
markov emelin
diaz weber

Staubitz???? You paying attention this off-season!!?? Galchenyuk an elite centre......not winger...
Anyways,

No one here is be-littling DD.....but straight up, Pleks is better. More point production (on average), consistent production year after year.....DD has to prove he can do that...and yeah Pleks in an elite penatly killer.....and world class 2-way player. Even if DD can have Pleks-like consistent scoring over 5 years...he'll never have the defensive game of Pleks....therefore, PLEKS IS BETTER, and of HIGHER VALUE than DD!!! I'm not knockin' DD, but giving Pleks the credit he deserves

I agree with the above comment, plek's all around play is what makes him so valuable.

Seriously! Gomez on the second line! He doesn't en deserve to Be in the NHL!

If desharnais is better with 2 big players the try a line out with him a the wing with eller and pacioretty.

That would make

Cole plek gionta
Patches eller desharnais
Bourque ? Armstrong
Prust white moen

For the third line center spot you can easily fill it through free agency in arnott, lankgow,etc.. Or through trade

MY take on things is Plekanec seems more expendable to ME... simply because if a team was thinking about DD theres the risk that he does rely on big talented wingers, where as plekanec has established himself as a skilled 2way C (In saying this I don't mean plek is better than DD they are different players with different roles). So i believe Mtl could get more in trading plek, also I believe DD has some off upside, i think he will get even better. Eller is a very skilled hardworking centre who, with exp could become just as solid def as plek so i think eller could replace plek as the 2way C. in the future you would have, if my ASSUMPTIONS come true,
GALCHENYUK - Elite Centre
DESHARNAIS - OFF Centre
ELLER - 2way Centre

thats just a different scenario that i haven't seen mentioned and I'm just wondering what others think about it agree or disagree? I'd love to hear

Also I heard a RUMOR (which is always fun to talk about) that MTL and CHI are negotiating regarding Plek and bourque with Sharp + Teravainen or Hjarmallson and picks from both sides if that trade happened, which i personally hope it does, these would be my lines come the start of 2012-13.

Pacioretty-Desharnais-Cole
Sharp-Gomez-Gionta
Leblanc-Eller-Armstrong
Prust-White-Moen

Before I get knocked for having Gomez on 2nd line I'd like to say Gomez is fast and smart, has a lot to prove and Therrien as a coach who is determined to get the most out of his players (spec gomez i hope) the sharp line just rolls of the toungue right. If gomez doesn't work out thats fine eller gets his chance at an offensive role. the sharp deal just sort of sets up a 2nd line for either DD or Galchenyuk in 2013-14 which is when I expect mtl to become among the best in the league

Also haha since Bergevin came from CHI he knows what he's getting

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