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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Getting To Know The Habs 2014 Draft Class

Greetings Habs Addicts,

Well the 2014 NHL draft has came and went and the Montreal Canadiens have added six new faces to the organization. Trevor Timmins and his staff added three forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender. Or essentially, one player at each ice position. Talk about balance. Here they are:
Photo Credit: MontrealGazette.com

Nikita Scherbak (RW) - 1st Round (26th overall)

  • 6-2 and 174lbs.
  • Shoots Left
  • Western Hockey League (WHL) in 2013/14 (Saskatoon Blades)

Brett Lernout (D) - 3rd Round (73rd overall)
  • 6-4 and 205 lbs.
  • Shoots Right
  • WHL in 2013/14 (Swift Current Broncos)
Nikolas Koberstein (D) - 5th Round (125th overall)
  • 6-2 and 190 lbs.
  • Shoots Left
  • Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) in 2013/14 (Olds Grizzlys)
  • Has committed to play at the University of Alaska - Fairbanks after completing his AJHL career.
Daniel Audette (C) - 5th Round (147th overall)
  • 5-8 and 168 lbs.
  • Shoots Left 
  • Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) in 2013/14 (Sherbrooke Pheonix)
Hayden Hawkey (G) - 6th round (177th overall)
  • 6-1 and 180 lbs.
  • Catches Left
  • United States Hockey League (USHL) in 2013/14 (Omaha Lancers)
  • USHL Goaltender of the Year (2013/14).
  • Has committed to play at Providence College after completing his USHL career. 
Jake Evans (RW) - 7th Round (207th overall)
  • 6-0 and 172 lbs.
  • Shoots Left
  • Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) in 2013/14 (St. Mike's Buzzers).

Analysing The Picks

Nikita Scherbak was a highly-touted prospect who fell down a few notches and was available to the Habs are 26th overall. Various scouts had him going on average at the 20th overall pick, so he did not slide by any means. The Russian import had a fantastic first season in the WHL. Scherbak showed that he is fearless when he opted to break into the North American game playing in the tough and very physical WHL. His Saskatoon Blades team was among the worst in all of Canadian junior hockey, but he still managed to lead all WHL rookies in scoring with 78 points. Scherbak was in on 41% of his teams offensive output. Scherbak also impressed the media and fans alike with his post-pick interview with TSN's James Duthie. If you haven't seen it, take a moment and do so now. Not bad for a kid who has only had a year of English under his belt. He already wants to take up French. 

The next two picks were questionable. Third round pick Brett Lernout improved his stock with an impressive showing at the scouting combine and had a solid season in the WHL. He is a big, hard hitting, nasty defender who lists Chris Pronger as his idol. He will not provide close to the offensive output that Pronger did during his career, but should be a capable penalty killing crease clearing beast. Nikolas Koberstein was considered a stretch pick by Trevor Timmins. That is putting it quite mildly. He was ranked 205th by Central Scouting entering the draft and the Canadiens took him at 125th overall. Another physical defender, Koberstein has a lot of leadership traits having served as his team's captain in the AJHL this season and will return to that role next season. For a fifth round pick, it's not the worst thing to take a gamble on potential. 

Daniel Audette is the son of former NHL player Donald Audette. The elder Audette played briefly for the Habs during his career and is currently a member of the team's scouting staff. Timmins indicated that the family connection did not influence the pick and that Donald was not in the room when discussions were made involving his son or other potential choices. Donald also sat in the stands with Daniel during the draft and not at the Habs draft table. There is no question that the younger Audette is talented. He was the first overall pick by the expansion Sherbrooke Phoenix and was the team's leading scorer this season. He has great hands and great hockey sense, but his small frame brings into question his ability to match up physically. He is often pushed off the puck and will not win too many battles for loose pucks. Trevor Timmins acknowledged that his size was an issue, but the talent level was unquestioned. You draft for talent and again, in the fifth round there really are no bad picks. 

Goaltender Hayden Hawkey has a last name made for the sport. Literally. Hawkey. Hockey. Perfect. The reigning USHL goaltender of the year had a tremendous season and will be moving onto University hockey after his USHL junior career is over. He has a chance to develop into organizational depth with upside. Afterall, if there is one position that the Canadiens seem to routinely develop well its goaltenders. Nothing wrong with this pick in the sixth round.

The last pick, Mr. Irrelevant of the Canadiens draft class is an OJHL winger Jake Evans. He has average size, average speed and has a chance to crack the organization in a depth role. Most likely a career AHLer when it is all said and done. Nothing wrong with that in the seventh round. 

Summary

Frankly, this draft is all about Scherbak. 

Brett Lernout might develop into a third pairing stay-at-home type or a solid depth option to fill in for injuries. If he can fashion himself a Mike Komisarek career it would be considered a success. Koberstein will be given time to develop. Audette needs to develop strength in order to make it past junior, skill or no skill. None of these players will be in Montreal next year. For as talented as he is, Scherbak is still raw in the North American game and another season of junior would serve him well as he adds some bulk to his frame. TSN listed Scherbak as a player comparable to Jakub Voracek on draft night, which is pretty solid upside. He has tremendous skill and vision with the puck and he will look good lining up beside Alex Galchenyuk in 2015/16. 

---
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.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Montreal Canadiens Rumors Round-Up: Draft Edition

Now that the Canadiens have re-signed impending UFA Andrei Markov to a three-year deal worth $17.25 million, the dominoes should start falling down pretty soon, especially with the 2014 NHL Entry Draft only 72 hours away. What is new this year is that impending free agents now have a one-week window to negotiate with teams and get a better feel of the market ahead of July 1st, which marks the beginning of free agency.

For those Habs fans who missed it, GM Marc Bergevin also re-signed RFA Dale Weise last week to a two-year deal worth $2.05 million (or $1.025 million annually). The 25-year-old winger was acquired mid-season in exchange for rearguard Raphael Diaz from the Vancouver Canucks.

With the draft looming, the rumors are swirling that the Canadiens and the scouting staff, headed by Trevor Timmins, would like to move up in the top 10 of the draft if possible, or at least in the top 16, if not. The team is willing to sacrifice a young defenseman (not named Jarred Tinordi) to make it happen. Currently slated to draft 26th overall, the Bleu Blanc Rouge is really eager to move up in this year's draft since it's a very shallow draft and a late-round draft pick is unlikely to pan out. The Canadiens are looking to add a power forward blessed with a combination of size and talent, and Alex Tuch, which is ranked 17th on TSN Draft Rankings would be the perfect draft pick. Tuch is a 6'4'', 215-lb right winger who plays a physical and rugged style of play while contributing offensively as shown by his 32 points (13g, 19 a) in 26 games with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. However, these kinds of deals happen most of the time during the draft right on the floor when teams realize the player they want is gone or is still available at a specific moment. 

In other news, Stephen Bartlett, who is the agent of team captain Brian Gionta, sounded cautiously optimistic that Gio would be back with the team next season as the organization is very interested in retaining his services. A favorite of head coach Michel Therrien, Gionta tallied 18 goals and 22 assists for 40 points in 81 games this season with the Habs, reaching the 40-point plateau for the third time during his five-year contract with the team. Since Gionta is longer able to play in the top-six and is more suited to play a shut-down role on the third line, Bergevin will make him a substantially lower contract offer. I'm hearing that a two-year pact worth between $2.5 to $3.0 million annually is the offer on the table. The 35-year-old winger is still hesitant on accepting the deal and will most likely see what the other 29 NHL teams want to offer him before making a decision, but he likes the city and the organization.

As for shot-blocking specialist, Mike Weaver, negotiations seem to have hit a snag between the organization and Weaver as per Renaud Lavoie and Jimmy Murphy. It seems like the right-handed defenseman, who proved to be the steal of the trade deadline, is not a priority right now for Marc Bergevin. Weaver was a force to reckon with on the penalty kill and a shot-blocking machine throughout the series. He would make for a cheap veteran presence on the third pairing and he could mentor youngsters Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi. Weaver earned $1.1 million last season and will be looking to sign a two-year deal in the same salary range.

Finally, the Canadiens have yet to start negotiating with all-star defenseman P.K. Subban, who is expected to break the bank after signing a two-year bridge contract worth $5.75 million before the 2012-13 season. According to his agent Don Meehan, the two parties will meet at the draft in order to set a meeting schedule to get the negotiations going to finally reach a long-term deal. Subban, who recorded 10 goals and 43 assists for 53 points in 82 games, will more than likely earn at least $8 million annually over eight years (the maximum number of years allowed under the last CBA).

Don't be surprised if Marc Bergevin is named the GM of the Year tonight at the 2014 NHL Awards live from Las Vegas, Nevada. Our own P.K. Subban will be among the award presenters during the ceremony.

What do you expect from the Canadiens and their GM Marc Bergevin?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday Musings: Following The Kings Blueprint For Success

Greetings Habs Addicts,

The off-season is officially upon us as the Los Angeles Kings have collected their second Stanley Cup in three years, easily dispatching the New York Rangers in five games. The Kings were a very strong team and even with Carey Price in net, its hard to imagine the Habs would have put up much more fight than the Rangers did. Henrik Lundqvist was on fire the whole series but it just was not enough. The blueprint for how to build a championship team is resting in Los Angeles. Montreal has some work to do to get on that level, but the structure is there just a few key pieces are missing.

Two key areas of note: Only two Kings players were listed under 6'0" in height: Mike Richards and Slava Voynov. Both are 5'11". Only one player was listed under 190 pounds in weight: Linden Vey at 189 pounds. And at 22 years old, he has room to grow into his frame. Size matters. It allowed the Kings to control the puck, win the battles and ultimately dominate the possession time against the Rangers. At times it looked like the Kings were toying with the Rangers and simply playing keep-away. The New York Rangers were a very fast team, clearly faster than the Habs were in the Eastern Final. As big as the Kings players are, they can all skate, too. Big AND fast with skill. That's the recipe for the Cup.
Photo Credit: MontrealGazette.com

While some of the key contributors the Kings had this year have been acquired in trades (Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams, Marian Gaborik) the core of the squad have been drafted and developed by the team (Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown). The defensive core has a mix of skill and physicality. Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez were both mid-round picks. Good drafting throughout the draft and a GM willing to take trade risks. That's the recipe for the Cup.

The Canadiens have some of these pieces in place: Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov, P.K Subban and Carey Price have all been drafted and developed by the team. Marc Bergevin illustrated with the Thomas Vanek trade that he is willing to make the big deal needed to improve his team and Trevor Timmins has been one of the most successful drafting scouts in the NHL. While some of his first-round picks have not panned out (Louis Leblanc notably) he has struck gold with many mid-to-late round picks (Markov, Mark Streit, Brendan Gallagher). Many anti-Timmins pundits like to point out the players the Canadiens could have had instead of his failures and hindsight is always 20/20. No one seems to make these observations on draft day. Nor do they point out all the mid-to-late round players who never panned out they could have taken over the success stories. Right now, the Canadiens top young players are all on the blueline: Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn. Where the organization has struck out in recent years is at forward. The Habs need some serious talent to enter the system and develop into impact NHL players. Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have already made the leap to the NHL level and should take another step forward next season. Louis Leblanc did not and has since been sent packing to Anaheim.

The Canadiens need to improve their size this off-season. Plain and simple. Smaller, skilled players no longer win in this league. Sure you can have a couple, but the core of your team needs to be strong as puck possession is the way this league is shifting and either you adjust or you spend another 20 years watching other teams win. With Andrei Markov, Brian Gionta, Thomas Vanek and P.K Subban (restricted free agent) all without contracts and a lot of cap space to work with this summer, Marc Bergevin needs to make better moves than he did last year (George Parros, Daniel Briere, Douglas Murray).

For some additional reading on what moves Marc Bergevin can make this summer, HabsAddict's Fred Poulin took a look at what veterans are available this off-season.

TOP UFA DEFENSEMEN TO TARGET

TOP UFA FORWARDS TO TARGET 

This is going to be a pivotal summer for Bergevin and the organization.

He has already shown faith in the coaching staff by extending Michel Therrien for another four seasons but the club has lost assistant coach Gerrard Gallant to the Florida Panthers who named him their head coach this past Friday. Gallant is a fantastic motivator and great with young players. He will certainly be missed in the locker room.

The Los Angeles Kings have created the blueprint and raised the bar for what a championship team should look like. The Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have created the blueprint for how a championship organization should be run. Marc Bergevin came to us from the Blackhawks so he knows how to get a team to this position of success. So far we have seen tremendous growth during his his two years at the helm of the Canadiens. Going out and adding some key pieces to the mix this summer should open up a championship window for the franchise.

Pressure is on, Marc.

---
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.

Past Monday Musings 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Top UFA Forwards To Target For The Montreal Canadiens

With the NHL Entry Draft about on week away and free agency looming, let's have a look at some potential free agent targets for the Montreal Canadiens. With trade-deadline acquisition Thomas Vanek slated to test the market on July 1st, the Canadiens could really use help on their top-six up front. While the team has a plethora of bottom-six forwards in the likes of Travis Moen, Brandon Prust, Michael Bournival, Rene Bourque, Daniel Briere, Dale Weise as well as impending RFAs Lars Eller and Ryan White who are more than likely to come back, Montreal could use another winger to play on the team's second line with Alex Galchenyuk and Tomas Plekanec.

So, unless Habs GM Marc Bergevin moves a center like Plekanec and David Desharnais, the Canadiens are more than likely to add a talented winger via free agency.

Potential free agents targets:

Jussi Jokinen, 31, Pittsburgh Penguins. After being acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes at the trade deadline last season, Jokinen had his second best offensive season during which he recorded 21 goals and 36 assists for 57 points in 81 games to go along with 18 PIM and a good +12 rating, Playing mostly with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on the Penguins' second line, Jokinen can play all three forward positions and he is sound defensively. Jokinen, who made $3 million/year for the last three years, will certainly be looking for a pay raise of at least $4M annually on the open market and there will be plenty of suitors for his services. With seven seasons of at least 40 points during his underrated career, Jokinen makes for a solid second-line player who can move up and down the line-up with ease.
(Salary in 2013-14: $3,000,000)

Radim Vrbata, 33, Phoenix Coyotes. Playing in the middle of the desert where hockey is an afterthought certainly did not help Vrbata make a name for himself in the NHL. This season, the right winger scored 20 goals and 31 assists for 51 points in 80 games to go along with 22 PIM and a disappointing -6 rating. Vrbata Vrbata, who scored 20+ goals four times during his career, has had problems producing out of Phoenix where he played for the last five campaigns. Vrbata who was left off the Czech roster for the 2014 Sochi Olympics is very familiar with Tomas Plekanec, which could be a good fit. Expect the 33-year-old forward to command a similar salary and if the Coyotes can't afford his services, he is more than likely to get it somewhere else, and that might very be well in Montreal.
(Salary in 2013-14: $3,000,000)

Matt Moulson, 30, Minnesota Wild. Traded twice this season, Moulson finished the year with the Wild, after playing for both the New York Islanders and the Buffalo Sabres. Overall, Moulson quietly enjoyed a solid campaign despite playing for some lowly teams, recording 23 goals and 28 assists for 51 points in 75 games to go with 34 PIM and a +2 plus/minus differential. While the 6'1'', 205-lb left winger is not overly physical, his size would be welcomed on the Habs. The problem with Moulson is whether he can produce offensively without his close friend John Tavares... Moulson was a healthy scratch with Minnesota during the playoffs because of his lacklustre play.
(Salary in 2013-14: $3,900,000)

Milan Michalek, 29, Ottawa Senators. After a disappointing season with the Ottawa Senators, Michalek needs a change and, as a result, he is slated to hit free agency on July 1st. After potting 60 points with the Senators in 2011-12, his offensive production has declined. In 82 games with Ottawa this season, the Czech winger notched 17 goals and 22 assists for 39 points with a putrid -25 rating. The smooth skating Michalek has five 20+ goal seasons under his belt and he is eager to turn the page and move on. Michalek trains in Montreal during the summer and his wife Karen is from the area. Familiar with the media pressure, Michalek would be a good fit in Michael Therrien's as he is an adept penalty killer and boasts a great wrist shot.
(Salary in 2013-14: $6,000,000)

Ryan Callahan, 29, Tampa Bay Lightning. Acquired from the New York Rangers in exchange for veteran Martin St. Louis, the gritty Callahan scored 17 goals and added 19 assists for only 36 points and a +1 differential in 65 games between Tampa Bay and New York. A great leader and two-way player, Callahan has only recorded one 50-point season throughout his career and he is not known for his offensive attributes. More of a checker than a scorer, Callahan might very well be the next David Clarkson on this year's free agent market. A team will overpay for his services and I sincerely hope it won't be the Canadiens.
(Salary in 2013-14: $4,825,000)

Alex Hemsky, 30, Ottawa Senators. Maybe the most talented player listed here, but also the most inconsistent, Hemsky can fly on the ice and he possesses electrifying skills. A typical Band-Aid boy, Hemsky usually misses his fair share of games every year. Last season, between Edmonton and Ottawa, the right winger 13 goals and 30 assists for 43 points with a -15 plus/minus rating in 75 games. Hemsky has not hit the 50-point plateau since the 2008-09 season when he potted 66 points in 72 games for the Oilers. The Habs need size and grit on the wing, not one of the softest players in the entire NHL. Pass.
(Salary in 2013-14: $5,500,000)

Other players such as Paul Stastny and Jarome Iginla could also become UFA targets, but they are more than likely staying with their respective teams.

Who would be your choice to replace Thomas Vanek's offensive production?

No Foolin' Fred Poulin

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Montreal Canadiens Rumors Round-up

Now that the Stanley Cup final is over and that the Los Angeles Kings have been crowned, it is time to turn our attention to the 2014 NHL Entry Draft that is now only ten days away and to Julys 1st, which marks the beginning of free agency.

For those Habs fans who missed it, Montreal traded their former 1st round pick Louis Leblanc to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a conditional 5th round pick on Saturday. Leblanc, who was an impending UFA, struggled again in the AHL this season, potting only 13 goals and 15 assists for 28 points in 70 contests under the "tutelage" of Sylvain Lefebvre. The organization should have allowed Leblanc to finish his degree at Harvard instead of asking him to play in QMJHL for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. As NBC analyst Pierre McGuire said on TSN 690: "Pulling Louis Leblanc out of Harvard after one year was ridiculous."

Douglas Murray's agent, Anton Thun, confirmed to Richard Labbé of La Presse what we all knew: Crankshaft will not be back with the organization next season after playing only 53 games this season. He recorded two points and posted a mediocre -12 plus/minus differential. Murray participated in only three games during the playoffs. The 34-year-old defenseman was only efficient on the penalty kill this season, being a liability at even strength. It might be the end of Murray's career...

According to Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports and JT Utah of 25Stanley.com, the Canadiens are close to announce a contract extension with RFA Dale Weise, a pact that would pay him $2M over the next two years ($1 million AAV). Weise was acquired mid-season from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for defenseman Raphael Diaz, who ended up playing in the Stanley Cup final with the New York Rangers. After scoring six goals and ten assists for 16 points in 61 regular season games, the 25-year-old Weise scored three goals and added four assists for seven points in 16 games on the Habs' run to the Eastern Conference final. Weise brought speed, size and energy to the Canadiens' fourth line and is already a fan favorite. (UPDATE: the deal is now official.)

According to TSN Bob McKenzie, Andrei Markov's agent, Sergei Berezin, is seeking a three-year contract worth $18 million for his client.
Coming off a solid season during which he recorded 7 goals and 36 assists for 43 points in 81 games, the 35-year-old veteran who played his entire career in Montreal is looking for his last big pay-day in the NHL. While the Russian General mentioned that he wants to end his career with the Bleu Blanc Rouge, his demands might prove to be too much for Marc Bergevin and he might elect to let him walk on July 1st. Markov earned $5.75 million a year after signing a three-year pact worth $17.25 million prior to the 2011-12 season.

As for shot-blocking specialist, Mike Weaver, it has been reported that their is a mutual interest in brining back the right-handed defenseman who proved to be the steal of the trade deadline, acquired for a 5th round pick from the Florida Panthers. Weaver was a force to reckon with on the penalty kill and a shot-blocking machine throughout the series. He would make for a cheap veteran presence on the third pairing and he could mentor youngsters Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi. Weaver earned $1.1 million last season and will be looking to sign a two-year deal in the same salary range.

Finally, the Canadiens have yet to start negotiating with all-star defenseman P.K. Subban, which is expected to break the bank after signing a two-year bridge contract worth $5.75 million before the 2012-13 season. Subban, who recorded 10 goals and 43 assists for 53 points in 82 games, will more than likely earn at least $8 million annually over eight years (the maximum number of years allowed under the last CBA).

Which players should the Habs re-sign or let go?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Top UFA Defensemen To Target For The Montreal Canadiens

With the NHL playoffs coming to an end soon and free agency looming, it is time to have a closer look at some potential free agent targets for the Montreal Canadiens. One area where the Habs could use help is on the blue line, and especially a right handed defenseman who can move the puck and play on the second pairing. The team has a glut of left-handed defensemen (Gorges, Emelin, Beaulieu, Tinordi, Drewiske and most likely Markov), but lacks depth on the right side.

With veterans Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon not returning next season and the possibility that GM Marc Bergevin is unable to re-sign rearguard Andrei Markov to a multi-year contract, the team will need to find help in the blue line if it wants to repeat this year's feat of reaching the Eastern Conference final.

Potential free agents targets:

Matt Niskanen, 27, Pittsburgh Penguins. After his best offensive season during which he recorded 10 goals and 36 assists for 46 points in 81 games to go along with 51 PIM and a solid +33 rating, Niskanen will be the most coveted defenseman on the market if he can't reach an agreement with the Penguins before July 1st (which is unlikely). Niskanen is expected to command a five-year contract of at least $5.5 to $6M annually on the open market and there will be plenty of suitors for his services. The puck-moving blue liner rebounded nicely this season after a difficult campaign during the lock-out shortened season where he only notched 4 goals and 10 assists for 14 points in 40 games. Should Marc Bergevin be unable to re-sign Markov, Niskanen becomes the number one option on the back end to replace him, but there will be plenty of teams interested in his services, most notably the Detroit Red Wings, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals.
(Salary in 2013-14: $2,500,000)

Dan Boyle, 37, New York Islanders. Recently acquired from the San Jose Sharks for a draft pick by New York Islanders' GM Garth Snow, Boyle is highly unlikely to sign with his new team as he has expressed his wish to finish his career with a contender. This season, the Ottawa native scored 12 goals and 24 assists for 36 points in 75 games to go along with 32 PIM and a disappointing -8 rating. Boyle, who is looking for a two-year deal, will also be sought-after by many teams who are looking for a veteran presence on the blue line. The Toronto Maple Leafs are rumored to be very interested in his services. Boyle could also go back to Florida where he both played for the Panthers and the Lightning. His wife Amber is also a native of Florida so it could play into his decision.
(Salary in 2013-14: $6,666,666)

Tom Gilbert, 31, Florida Panthers. Signed to one-year deal worth peanuts by the Panthers prior to last season, Gilbert quietly enjoyed a solid campaign under the sun. The right-handed defenseman recorded 3 goals and 25 assists for 28 points in 73 games to go with 18 PIM and a +5 plus/minus differential. While the 6'3'', 205-lb defenseman is not overly physical, his size would be welcomed on the Habs blue line, especially if the organization doesn't re-sign veteran UFA Mike Weaver, who is also a righty.
(Salary in 2013-14: $900,000)

Anton Stralman, 27, New York Rangers. Currently playing for the Stanley Cup finals against the Los Angeles Kings, Stralman has been a revelation this spring. In 81 games with the Blueshirts this season, the Swede notched 1 goal and 12 assists for 13 points with a +9 rating. The smooth skating Stralman is currently playing in the Rangers' top-4 alongside Marc Staal to the tune of almost 20 minutes per game and he would be a great fit beside Andrei Markov on the Canadien' second pairing. A great skater and a solid defensive player, Stralman would make a great depth signing for the Canadiens should the Rags let him go due to salary cap issues.
(Salary in 2013-14: $1,800,000)

Stephane Robidas, 37, Anaheim Ducks. Acquired from the Dallas Stars for a draft pick at the trade deadline, the veteran defenseman was plagued by injuries all season. Robidas, who suffered a broken right leg on November 29th, only dressed for 38 games, scoring 5 goals and adding 5 assists for 10 points and a +10 differential. A steady rearguard throughout his career, the former Habs defenseman broke the same leg again in the first round of the playoffs, but he was able to avoid surgery and should be ready for the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Robidas might be willing to accept a salary cut to finish his career with the team that drafted him way back in 1995. Robidas could be paired with a youngster like Nathan Beaulieu on the team's third pairing while playing on the second power play unit and kill some penalties.
(Salary in 2013-14: $2,850,000)

Derek Morris, 35, Phoenix Coyotes. After spending the last five seasons in the desert where people don't care about hockey, it would be a complete change of scenery for the bruising defenseman. The veteran notched 5 goals and 12 assists for 17 points with a -2 differential and 41 PIM in 2013-14. The Albertan will certainly not be back with the cash-strapped Coyotes even though he resides in the area all-year long. The rugged blue liner would bring sandpaper to the Habs defensive corps as he plays with an edge and brings a lot of character to the table.
(Salary in 2013-14: $2,750,000)


Who would be your choice to fill the glaring hole on the Habs blue line in the offseason?

No Foolin' Fred Poulin

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!

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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.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Monday Musings: Rangers Shutdown The Habs

Greetings Habs Addicts,

The magical playoff run is over.

The New York Rangers proved to be too much for the Canadiens to handle as they fell 1-0 in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final. The Rangers limited the Canadiens to 18 shots on goal, including just 5 in the third period to win the best-of-seven game series 4-2. Obviously, losing Carey Price was a big blow to the Habs but their inability to generate any consistent offense five-on-five or on the powerplay was the real story. The Canadiens are a team built around speed, but the Rangers proved to be the faster and stronger team throughout the series. As such, they now have the opportunity to lose to face the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup finals. The Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime of Game Seven of the Western Conference Final last night marking their third Game Seven win of this years playoffs.

Canadiens post-game salute to the fans.
- Michel Therrien was outcoached by Alain Vigneault throughout this round of the playoffs. Therrien was phenomenal against the Lightning and throughout the Bruins series. He must be commended for making the smart decision to insert Nathan Beaulieu into the lineup late in the Boston series. The kid had two assists in his two games as the Canadiens knocked off the Bruins. Therrien also made the risky decision to go with youngster Dustin Tokarski over veteran backup Peter Budaj after Carey Price was injured in Game One of the Rangers series. Tokarski matched up well with Henrik Lundqvist and was the only Canadiens player to truly show up on the ice in Game Six. But as I wrote in last weeks article:
The Canadiens are playing a tighter defensive system to shelter the youngster at the expense of the offense. The powerplay has been rendered irrelevant by the Rangers penalty-killing scheme and the ignorance of Michel Therrien to adapt has rendered the man-advantage useless. The Rangers are the best shot-blocking team in the NHL and the Canadiens continue to run the power-play through the point. Subban and Markov have not been able to get open for clean shots and most of their attempts have been blocked. The Canadiens should be trying to set up down low and have one of their defenders pinch into the slot for a similar shot, or continually cycle players around. Keeping P.K. Subban stationary at the point to hammer pucks at the Rangers shin guards is the hockey equivalent of trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. Adapt, Therrien.
Ultimately, Michel Therrien did not adapt his offense to counter the Rangers defensive schemes. He went back to playing the dump-and-chase style that did not serve the team well during the regular season. The Rangers would have a man on the boards to block the dump-ins or often were the stronger players on the back end and recovered the puck in the corner and in turn created offense breakouts of their own. For as well as he matched lines and created good strategies in the first two rounds, he failed to capitalize on opportunities against the Rangers. Alain Vigneault had his Rangers better prepared to shutdown the Canadiens attack. Whether Therrien would have adapted his game plan better if Carey Price was healthy in goal is unknown and ultimately irrelevant.

- Thomas Vanek did not help his free agent stock this post-season. Vanek finished up the playoffs as a member of the fourth line while continuing to see power-play time. Overall, he averaged only 14:53 of ice time; a number strengthened by his top-line minutes in the first two rounds. In 17 playoff games, Vanek contributed 5 goals and 5 assists. Four of those goals came in a pair of two-goal games against Boston. Vanek often looked lost against the Rangers and often displayed a lack of intensity and effort. Vanek battled hard in Game Six but that was it. The sniper also failed to shoot the puck on goal when the opportunity presented itself, preferring to pass to teammates who were either not expecting it or covered. After the series, Vanek attributed his playoff performance to the inability to find chemistry with his new linemates after he was removed from the Pacioretty-Desharnais line and not to injury or lack of effort. While the honesty is commendable, a superstar in the league should be able to create offense and make their linemates better. Vanek turned down a $50 million dollar extension from the New York Islanders earlier this year and is still the biggest name available on the market. But his inability to contribute when the stakes are at their highest might be enough to make Minnesota other teams pause about handing out the max-length contract the 30-year old is looking for.

- P.K. Subban is one player who certainly helped his stock this post-season. Subban was the best player on the ice on a nightly basis for the Canadiens. Subban led the team with a 27:26 in ice time throughout the playoffs and led the team with 5 goals, 9 assists in 17 playoff games. Subban has 10 goals and 30 points in 43 career playoff games and is one player who raises his game substantially when the stakes are high. Since signing his bridge contract - which expires this off-season - Subban won the Norris Trophy as the leagues best defender during the strike-shortened 2012/13 season and this year had a career-best 53 points. He experienced on growing pains and ended up benched or in Michel Therrien's doghouse a few times throughout the season and his shooting percentage was down this season. At times it looked like Subban should be clashing with Therrien over how he was being handled but always maintained a smile and positive energy as well as a level of humbleness that showed a level of maturity. Being the extra defender at the Olympics in Sochi was tough, but he handled it well and was proud to represent the country even if his role was more of cheerleader than scoring leader. This side of Subban certainly goes against the brash and cocky persona the media has labelled him with.

On the ice, teams keyed on Subban as the season wore on and the Canadiens needed to do a better job utilizing their asset. The Nashville Predators' Shea Weber has a very similar style to Subban as both have rockets from the point and both are right handed. The Predators did not boast the strongest power-play in the NHL, but Weber had 23 goals, including 12 on the man-advantage. They cycle their players around a lot and manage to get Weber open in various spots on the ice and in turn generate more scoring opportunities. As was evidenced against the Rangers, the Canadiens needed to adapt their power-play strategy as keeping Subban relatively stationary at the point is not going to work anymore.

Subban had an incredible playoffs and will certainly be receiving a huge payday this summer. As a restricted free agent, Subban does not have the leverage to go any place he chooses and there will not be a bidding war for his services like there will be for Thomas Vanek. However, general managers are not shy to give offer sheets to players of Subban's ilk. Shea Weber was signed to a huge offer sheet by the Philadelphia Flyers that Nashville matched and last season Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly signed one with the Calgary Flames that Colorado matched. If Marc Bergevin does not sign Subban to a contract close to his terms, the terms may be set for him by another NHL club. With lesser players making big money (Dion Phaneuf earns $7 million per year in Toronto) the price for P.K. will be high and deservedly so. The future captain (in my opinion) of the Canadiens wants to end his career in Montreal and will probably sign an 8-year deal worth around $60-64 million dollars.

With the season being over and the news surrounding the Habs begins to dwindle throughout the summer months, Monday Musings will continue to provide you with links and insight into developments that happen, including the NHL draft, free agency and player news and rumours. Thank you for reading this season, it was an enjoyable one. The Canadiens are just a few pieces short of their end-goal: A trip to the Stanley Cup.

Enjoy your summer, Habs Addicts!

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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.

Past Monday Musings