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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Season Review: The Good & The Bad

Greetings Habs Addicts,

Well the NHL season is almost over. The Los Angeles Kings are one win away from taking home their second Stanley Cup in the past three years. Very impressive considering they were one loss away from being swept in the first round by the San Jose Sharks. The New York Rangers have battled, but they are in no way on the same level as the Kings. As great as our Canadiens played this year - especially in the playoffs - it's hard to say we would have given the Kings more of a battle. They are just so strong.

The Habs had a tremendous playoff run and showed a lot of growth as a team as they went along. After miserable regular seasons, Lars Eller and Rene Bourque came on strong in the post-season. Eller was the top point-getter up front with 5 goals and 13 points in 17 playoff games. Bourque led the club with 8 goals after scoring just 9 in the regular season. P.K. Subban elevated his play back to his Norris Trophy winning form in the playoffs, leading the team with 14 points in 17 games, including 5 goals. He was a terror against the Boston Bruins, with 4 goals and 7 points in that series alone. Carey Price stood on his head and continued his tremendous season until it was abruptly cut short in the Eastern Finals after a collision with the Rangers' Chris Kreider injured his knee. Unheralded Dustin Tokarski stepped in for Price and held his own with Henrik Lundqvist, but ultimately the Habs fell to the Rangers in six games.

Photo Credit: AWinningHabit.com

But now the off-season approaches. The NHL draft is just over two weeks away on June 27-28 in Philadelphia. Free Agency begins July 1st - three weeks away. The Canadiens have a glut of free agents, including both key contributors and some spare parts. Captain Brian Gionta is unrestricted, as is defensive stalwart Andrei Markov. Trade-deadline acquisition Thomas Vanek is the biggest name available and has made his intentions known all season long that he is looking to test the waters. After a very disappointing post-season, where he failed to make an impact on offense and was playing on the fourth line by the end, it's hard to determine exactly what Vanek's value will be. Vanek claimed he was healthy but could not find chemistry with Tomas Plekanec after being removed from the Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais pairing. Most pundits have him heading home to Minnesota. Depth defenders Mike Weaver, Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray are all unrestricted. Only one of those is expected back and for the teams' sake it better be Mike Weaver. Weaver was a tremendous pick-up at the deadline, bringing veteran leadership and a shot-blocking prowess to the line-up as well as a right-handed shot. Paired with a youngster like Nathan Beaulieu, they could make a very effective 3rd pairing next season. The biggest contract of the off-season will undoubtedly be going to P.K. Subban, whose two-year bridge contract expires. Subban will be a restricted free agent, but Marc Bergevin should be quick to sign arguably the team's best player before another NHL team submits an offer sheet to the 24-year old all-star.

It will be an interesting summer to say the least. But before all that excitement begins, lets take a look at the good and the bad that happened during the 2013/14 season.

Forwards

Good: Max Pacioretty was without a doubt the best forward for the Canadiens this season. Scoring a career high 39 goals, he finished one goal shy of being the first Habs player to reach 40 goals since the 1993/94 season (Vincent Damphousse had 40). Pacioretty finished with a team-leading 60 points in 73 games... After starting the season in a horrible funk where he had just one assist in the first 21 games and even had the mayor of Montreal calling for his demotion to Hamilton, David Desharnais responded after he was reunited with Pacioretty and finished the year with 16 goals and 52 points in 79 game... Tomas Plekanec scored 20 goals and 43 points in 81 games and finished +11 in a shutdown role for the Canadiens. Plekanec made an strong argument for a Selke nomination as one of the best defensive forwards in hockey. Paired up with Brian Gionta, they were a formidable penalty-killing duo. Captain Gionta finished the year with 18 goals and 40 points in 81 games... Brendan Gallagher saw his scoring pace slow down from his rookie year, but brought tremendous energy and drive to the net all season long. He was a presence on the powerplay with 8 of his 19 goals coming on the man-advantage. For the season, Gallagher contributed 19 goals and 41 points while appearing in 81 games... Trade-deadline acquisition Thomas Vanek found chemistry with Desharnais and Pacioretty and the trio paced the Canadiens down the stretch and into the playoffs. Vanek had 6 goals and 15 points in 18 regular season games as a Canadien... Michael Bournival made the team out of training camp and the youngster got his feet wet at the NHL level. Spending most of the season on the checking line, Bournival provided 7 goals and 14 points in 60 games, but missed time after suffering a concussion. Bournival has tremendous speed and upside and should take another step forward as a sophomore next season.

Bad: Lars Eller started the season strong as he was paired up with Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. The "EGG line" was the team's top offensive trio for the first 18 games but Eller fell off tremendously after that line was broken up and after putting up 12 points through the first 18 games, Eller only added 14 more over the next 49. Eller was also a team-worst -15 on the year... Alex Galchenyuk started the year strong but while he showed flashes of brilliance and potential, he did not improve on his rookie season. Injuries limited the sophomore to only 65 games, and he contributed 13 goals and 31 points but was a -12 on the year. A revolving door of linemates did not aid his development either... Brandon Prust missed time due to injuries again and did not provide a similar offensive contribution as last year. He was an effective penalty killer and dropped the gloves frequently. Shoulder injuries limited his effectiveness and he was prone to taking dumb penalties at crucial times in the game. Prust finished with 6 goals and 13 points along with 121 penalty minutes in 52 games... Daniel Briere was signed by Marc Bergevin to provide scoring and did so in limited minutes. However, his minutes were limited because he never managed to earn the trust of Michel Therrien and the coaching staff nor could they seem to find a fit for him on the roster. He came up with some big goals but after signing a two-year/$8 million dollar deal, Briere provided the club with only 13 goals and 25 points in 69 games played... George Parros was a non-factor. Brought in to provide toughness, Parros suffered a horrible concussion during the season opener in a fight with the Toronto Maple Leafs' Colton Orr. This was the first of two concussions suffered on the year. Overall, Parros looked tentative and slow and was a -6 with one assist in 22 games played. He racked up 81 penalty minutes while averaging only 4:33 of ice time per game. A waste of a roster spot, essentially... Travis Moen played in 65 games and finished with 2 goals and 12 points. He played a more inspired game physically compared to last season but still contributed very little overall. A revolving door of Moen, Prust, Bournival, Parros along with Ryan White and Dale Weise comprised the fourth line all season long. They provided various degrees of toughness and the odd point here and there but were relatively interchangeable when healthy. Having six fourth liners on a 23 man roster is not a good thing in today's NHL... Lastly, Rene Bourque was acquired in a trade for Mike Cammalleri. Since that deal, he as provided nothing to the lineup except for a $3.3-million cap hit. Beyond disappointing sums up Bourque's uninspired effort this regular season. No physical presence and often a healthy scratch. Bourque went from 27 goals in Calgary to 9 this year, finishing with 16 points in 63 games. If not for his playoff performance, this year would have been a complete wash for Bourque.

Defense

Good: P.K. Subban followed up his Norris Trophy winning season by contributing a career high 53 points while playing a full 82-game season. His shooting percentage was down this season and he only managed to score ten goals with four of them coming with the man advantage. Subban was a member of the Canadian Olympic team as an alternate and won a gold medal in Sochi. While his lack of playing time may have irked him, he was the ultimate professional in how he handled the situation and certainly learned from the experience which served him well in the playoffs this year. Subban is one of the most electrifying players in the NHL and easily one of the most dynamic skaters of any blueliner... Andrei Markov had another solid yet unspectacular season. The veteran workhorse logged an average of 25:14 minutes per game, playing both power-play and penalty kill and contributed 7 goals and 43 points in 81 games. Markov has certainly lost a step in terms of speed at his age, but proper positioning has allowed him to continue to play at a high level, as evidenced by his +12 rating on the year... Josh Gorges provided leadership and shot-blocking while providing next to nothing offensively. Another typical Gorges season... Mike Weaver was a solid addition at the trade deadline, blocking shots and adding a valuable right-handed shot on the 3rd pairing.

Bad: P.K Subban clearly regressed defensively compared to last season. This is one of the reasons why Team Canada coach Mike Babcock did not trust him with regular minutes at the Olympics. Habs coach Michel Therrien benched him on various occasions throughout the year due to poor play hurting the team. Subban did not see very much time killing penalties and this hurt him in the Norris voting this season as his offensive numbers ranked right up there with the league leaders... Alexei Emelin returned from a serious knee injury suffered last season and was a shell of his former self. He was a liability on the right side when paired with Markov and turned the puck over far to often. He was still a ferocious hitter but jeopardized positioning on order to do so... Douglas Murray proved to be one of the worst defensemen in the NHL this past season. After not being re-signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins, 'Crankshaft' signed a one-year deal late in training camp with the Canadiens. Corsi and Fenwick ratings proved his ineptness but were not needed as the naked eye could see that Murray cannot skate and was a tremendous liability at even strength. While he remained a skilled penalty killer and at-times ferocious hitter (just like Steven Segal, if you came right at Murray he would hit you hard but cannot hit a moving target) he provided 2 assists offensively and was a -12 in 52 regular season games. Highly unlikely he returns to Montreal or any other NHL team next season... Francis Bouillon played big minutes on big pairings for Michel Therrien, much to the chagrin of pundits everywhere. Bouillon, 38, should have been nothing more than a reserve defenseman this season but in turn saw the ice in 52 games while providing the club with 2 goals and 8 points while finishing at a -5 rating. His high water mark was the overtime winner in the huge late-season comeback win against the Ottawa Senators that sparked the Habs torrid pace entering the playoffs... Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu each enjoyed a cup of coffee at the NHL level while excelling for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL. Tinordi and Beaulieu each contributed 2 assists in 22 and 17 games, respectively. The Canadiens would have been better served having these two rookies play bigger minutes and gain valuable expereince over the time given to ageing veterans Murray and Bouillon but that was Therrien's decision... Raphael Diaz had 11 assists in 46 games with Montreal but was most often a healthy scratch before he was finally traded to the Vancouver Canucks during the season for forward Dale Weise. Diaz was a Corsi standout, often ranking as the Habs best defender according to the metric. To show that advanced stats do not always tell the story, Diaz was subsequently dealt to the New York Rangers for a 5th round pick at the deadline by Vancouver and has been a healthy scratch for most of the playoffs. His lack of physical game and turnover prowess earned him a spot in coach Michel Therrien's doghouse right from the beginning.

Goaltending

Good: Carey Price. Olympic gold medalist. All-World goaltender. Price appeared in 59 games this season, and did miss some time directly after Sochi to heal an injury suffered at the Olympics. Price had a record of 34-20-5 with a 2.32 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. Price also notched 6 shutouts and kept the Canadiens in many games they had no business participating in. Price took the necessary steps this season to cement his status amongst the elite at the position. His calmness and leadership took over. This was the player the Canadiens drafted 5th overall... Peter Budaj had another solid year in a backup role. Great in the locker room and a good mentor for Price. Statistically, Budaj was average with a 10-8-3 record and a 2.59 goals-against and a mediocre .909 save percentage. Budaj had one shutout... Dustin Tokarski appeared in three games for the Canadiens before his breakout playoff performance. Tokarski had an impressive start against the Anaheim Ducks, which he stood tall and made 39 saves in a 4-3 overtime win. Tokarski also had a surprise start against the Buffalo Sabres, where he notched a shutout in a 2-0 win. Overall, Tokarski had a 1.84 goals-against and a .946 save percentage while going 2-0 on the year. Tokarski should battle Peter Budaj for the job of backup to Carey Price, provided the club does not trade Budaj this off-season.

Bad: Peter Budaj showed in the post-Sochi stretch that he cannot handle the bulk of the work load if Price is injured and is better suited as an occasional starter. The goal-tending was consistently solid all year long and without the goal-tending being what it was, this club would not have had the season it did.

Front Office/Coaching Staff

Good: Marc Bergevin is in the running for General Manager of the year and for all the right reasons. His off-season moves did not pan out as expected. George Parros' days as an NHLer are over. Douglas Murray no longer has the speed to play at the NHL level without being extremely sheltered by the coaching staff in terms of usage. Daniel Briere produced when given the opportunity but did not mesh with his line-mates nor did he seem to gain the trust of the coaching staff. Briere did as much as he could with his limited minutes and limited line-mates, but when the team is investing $4-million per season in you, your coaches better get maximum value out of that deal and Michel Therrien certainly did not. While his off-season acquisitions did not pan out well, his in-season moves did. Trading future free-agent Rafael Diaz, who had fallen out of favour with the coaching staff for speedy grinder Dale Weise was brilliant. Weise was a force in the playoffs and turned into a fan favorite for his tenacity. He reminds a lot of fans of Steve Begin. Landing Thomas Vanek for Sebastian Collberg was fantastic work at the trade deadline and to top things off, he also brought in Mike Weaver for future considerations. Bergevin also signed future backup goaltender Dustin Tokarsi to a contract extension before his playoff experience could have upped the cost of signing him... Stephane Waite was brought in as the goaltending coach and his work showed immediate dividends as Carey Price had a breakout season and both Peter Budaj and Dustin Tokarski were solid. A change was needed and bringing in the guy who mentored Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford to Stanley Cup wins wasted no time getting the best out of Carey Price... Michel Therrien took some risks in the playoffs, inserting Nathan Beaulieu into the lineup for Game 6 and 7 against the Boston Bruins and the rookie responded with an assist in both games. He also made the decision to start Dustin Tokarski over Peter Budaj after Carey Price went down and the rookie did all he could as the Habs fell in the playoffs.

Bad: Michel Therrien was a tale of two coaches this year. His dump and chase preference proceeded to hamper the offensive output of his team, as the squad was built around speed puck possession and not large grinders who can win corner battles. He was often outmatched by opposing coaches in terms of line match-ups and his preference to play ageing vets Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray over the youth of Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu was mind-boggling at times. Young forwards Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk did not show many signs of development and P.K Subban seemed to regress after his Norris Trophy season. For a coach who was brought in because of his ability to work with young players having coached Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, his reliance on ageing veterans was frustrating. At times it seemed the Canadiens were winning despite Therrien and not because of Therrien. He stepped up his game in the playoffs and had the team firing on all cylinders against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins however could not seem to adjust his style of play against the New York Rangers. His insistence of using a point-shot strategy against the NHL's best shot-blocking team was like hammering a square peg into a round hole. Or P.K Subban hammering a puck into the shin guards of Ryan McDonagh. His inability to adapt against the Rangers cost his team in the series. Overall, Michel Therrien has the trust of his players and never lost his locker room. The comeback win against Ottawa proved that and this team came back to win a bunch of games in the third period this year. Michel Therrien had this team playing hard for him, which is a credit to him despite all the questionable decisions he makes.

Overall, this was a very satisfying season for Habs fans. The bitterness of the playoff loss to Ottawa subsided as the team came out and developed into one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference despite many media types predicting a non-playoff season for the squad. This will be a pivotal off-season for Marc Bergevin but should be an exciting one as well. There is lot of promise on this roster and the 2014-15 season should show our young players take more strides towards greatness.

Have a great off-season, Habs Addicts!

Thanks for reading and following the team all year long!

---
Nick Malofy is a transplanted Montrealer, currently living in evil LeafLand. He is a contributor here at HabsAddict.com and give him a follow, as he can often be found rambling on Twitter.

5 comments:

Its a crying shame that the Habs did not make it to these Finals, all thnx to Krieder & his deliberate & successful attempt to injure Price. Rangers are a useless team with no heart. If Therrien prepared these guys for GM 1 things could of been different.

Glad to see Rangers humiliated. Bettman must love this shit of a Final.

I don't at all buy MT as a 'Bad'. You don't take a mediocre team to the conference finals behind a bad coach.

I have never been on board with the #FireTherrien and cannot agree that his decisions were bad. We went from 15thy in East to back to back playoff appearances including an Eastern Finals run this year.

The team has superseded expectations so how can you pin the coaching as poor?

I see your points, Bryan, but I have either good and bad not good, average and bad. As the season went along, there were many stretches where people thought Therrien should be on the hot-seat. His work in the playoffs was great and as a motivator, he never loses his locker room and the team plays hard for him. In hindsight, I should have put those points under good and not summarizing him under the bad.

In terms of in-game strategies and insistence of using players who should not be in the lineup has been questioned all year, playoffs included. He also did very little to develop our younger players which was what Marc Bergevin claimed was a strength when he announced Therrien as a coach.

I mostly agree with the author. He never said coaching was nothing but bad... About the bad: Game one with NYR was a disaster and than game two followed - bad coaching. Agree about not really developing the youngsters, and... we never saw the obvious change in lineups: I think he sould've try to put back in lines Vanek-DD-Patch and AG-Eller-Gallagher - sure, we could never know if it would've worked out good...

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