Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Montreal Canadiens: Looking ahead to 2014-15

Most Montreal Canadiens’ fans are probably feeling pretty content with how last season went. It was a success, and not everybody predicted it would go as well as it did.

Last off-season general manager Marc Bergevin made some interesting and questionable moves that were critiqued throughout the 2013-14 campaign. The signings of a barely NHL calibre defenceman in Douglas Murray, ageing, declining and small forward in Daniel Briere, and the acquisition of fourth-line plug and over-the-hill enforcer George Parros puzzled many.

None of the above players panned out for the Canadiens, and none of them will be back for the 2014-15 season. PHENOMENAL.

Marc Bergevin appears to have learned from his mistakes, and is making smart, analytical moves that have really made the team better, faster, and younger. I want to take a look at Montreal's possible line combinations, should the season start today (assuming Lars Eller and PK Subban resign).

This is what I currently have for Montreal’s depth chart for forwards.
Montreal Canadiens forward line combinations

Now, before people start freaking out saying I am  “disrespecting Plekanec” or I am “overrating Lars Eller”, hear me out!

I want to give P-A Parenteau a shot on the first line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty as I think it will help spark his offensive abilities and rebuild his confidence after a shaky season last year. This line will be used during sheltered minutes, and mostly offensive zone starts. I can see this line being a very quick and lethal line that will threaten the opposition shift after shift.

I decided to reunite the “EGG” line as I believe last season all three players really grew into their own and developed substantially. Eller has proven he is talented at both ends of the ice, while both Galchenyuk and Gallagher have proven to be offensive weapons. I think this line would be used in different scenarios and they have the ability to be momentum changers.  

For the third line I decided to place Tomas Plekanec with Jiri Sekac and Rene Bourque. Both Plekanec and Bourque have the abilities to play in both ends of the ice. Plekanec is one of the best two-way centres in the NHL and it is shocking how little credit he receives. This line will be a solid shut down line with a surprising offensive upside. I do not know what Sekac will bring on the defensive side of the game, but my understanding is that he is able to use his body well, and put the puck in the net. I believe that it would also help Sekac transition by playing with a player from his home country (Czech). Both Plekanec and Bourque are able to put up offensive number as well, and I believe this line could surprise people. Mostly defensive zone starts for this line.

Newly acquired Manny Malholtra is a fiend in the face-off dot. He was second in the league last season in face-off percentage at 59.0%. Brandon Prust and Dale Weise are extremely good at fore checking and maintaining pressure. They can all use their bodies to their advantage and are able to play all over the ice. This line will see most of their zone starts in the defensive or neutral zone.

Michel Therrien likes to roll four lines and this team is built to play that way. All four lines can play both sides of the puck and can be relied upon to put the puck in the net. I view the second and third line specifically as two second lines. They will play very similar minutes in different scenarios. I would be very content to see this type of set-up for Montreal this upcoming season.

On defense there is really only one decision to be made for this roster. Which kid gets the chance to play full time?

Now that Josh Gorges is gone, Alexei Emelin can slot back into his natural left side position. The way I have this set up is so that each pairing has an offensive defenceman and a stay at home type defenceman.

First pairing is one that has obvious chemistry after being relied upon so heavily during power plays. I like this combo because Markov has enough experience and hockey sense to be able to cover Subban when he is dominating offensively.

The second pairing is one I like for even strength usage. I would love to see Emelin have a turnaround season after showing some struggles last season. Gilbert is the new face here, and he has the ability to chip in offensively. If Emelin ends up struggling with his game, I would not hesitate to slot Beaulieu into this top four spot in his place.

The third pairing I like simply because Weaver is a stud defensively and it would allow Beaulieu some leeway to take some risks offensively. It would be nice to have a rock on D beside the rookie to give him some confidence.

Finally, the goalie situation.

I still have Peter Budaj ahead of Dustin Tokarski. I would much prefer to have Budaj shipped out, and have Tokarski as the full time back up. He proved to Habs Nation that he deserves to be in the NHL after his stellar performance during the playoffs in the absence of Carey Price. I would feel more confident with Tokarski getting 15-20 starts next year over Budaj. This would allow Price some much needed rest sometimes, and Tokarski some killer experience moving forward.

Overall, I am happy with the players Montreal has on their roster.  It is now up to Michel Therrien to create some stellar line combinations to enhance each players strengths.

Let me know what you think of my line combinations, or what adjustments you would make!
Follow me @darrinharmy on twitter, or leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading!


I would love to see Eller excel in a second line C role. He has never actually proven that he is up to the task though. Eller should start the season as the third line center until he proves he is ready. After all, a lot of Ellers early problems in Montreal stemmed from a sense of entitlement. I find it remarkable that people continually want to move him up the depth chart, even though his regular season numbers don't warrant such a move. Yes, he had a great post season, but so did Rene Bourque.

Aside from this I think you are spot on. With my initial complain in mind I would love to see the EGG line step up, but i am skeptical considering how poorly they fared last season after teams started keying on them defensively.

A lot of 2014-15 success will come from how Therrien uses the team's lines. His tendency to "shake" things up on a by period basis eliminates any semblance of Team Chemistry. When I say Therrien and line changes I mean only the 2,3 & 4th lines. Therrien never touch's little DD's line. He may take off and put on Gallagher but that is it.....no other changes. This is very selfish leadership by Therrien. He also needs to share the power-play time more with the 2nd unit instead of letting DD's line take most of the time. This is especially frustrating when there are games when DD's unit is just totally outmatched at even strength and PP time. Therrien never makes an adjustment with another line. I'm afraid that unless Michael Therrien changes his behaviours behind the bench too man good opportunities will be missed by the next edition of Team Blue, Blance & Rouge.

Lars Eller asking for $3.1 Mill a season, Habs wanna pay him $1.65 Mill So what happens, They agree to give him $3.5 MILL a yearfor Four years...WRAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH

I agree with Anonymous and Smith Montreal overpay for Under Achievers. Twelve goals and a -15 At best a third line center. Cant Timmins find a Third line Center?? Now watch them low ball Subban.

I have alot of faith in Eller and his abilities to be a top 6 centreman. This Montreal team is built to roll lines and they have three solid centreman who can play in that top six roll. Eller is an impressive two way forward, with the ability to play in the important moments of a game. Eller was playing well until he was given sub-par linemates through out the final 2/3 of the season. Therrien tried getting Eller to prduce his way out of a fourth line role, which is difficult when you're stuck with linemates who don't help produce.
This season will be an interesting one, and Eller needs to prive himself yet again that he has the abilities to be an offensive threat!

What I find most interesting is that it seems to be a consensus that Beaulieu is ahead of Tinordi on the depth chart. After seeing Beaulieu lose the majority of this one on one battles in the defensive zone, I don't think I'd have him ahead of Tinordi. Another concern is the minutes Markov would have to put up while playing with PK. Markov's minutes have to be limited to 20-22 a game to ensure he has enough left in the tank come playoff time. I also have a pet peeve called Bourque, so I'd have Bournival in his place, but no way Therrien does that. Otherwise, good line-up.

Among all active players in the NHL, only Joe Thornton (-27) has a worse career playoff plus-minus than Plekanec (-21). Just sayin'....
fyi, worst all-time is zhitnik (-33).

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