Despite Lineup Holes, Future Looks Bright for Canadiens

 

(Photo by Vincent Ethier/IconSportswire via Getty Images)

Just 11 games into the NHL season, one of the biggest surprises this season is the early success of the Montreal Canadiens; a team seemingly destined to have yet another lottery year in hopes for another top-ten (or top five) pick in the 2019 draft. Not many would have expected Les Boys to have a 6-3-2 record and sitting at third overall in the league, but here they are. Marc Bergevin has taken some serious heat during his seven year tenure as Canadiens General Manager, some of it was obviously justified while other instances were fans getting mad, just to get mad. During the regular season, Bergevin is hesitant to make “big” splashes at the deadline, but he’s always been one of the more dramatic general managers once the season wraps up, and especially when free agent frenzy rolls around.

For Bergevin, this summer may have been his best offseason to date. There was the somewhat controversial pick in Jesperi Kotkaniemi, a player who some thought should have been selected somewhere after the top five. With the exception of the fan reaction on Sportsnet’s coverage of the draft, the criticism died down quickly once fans and analysts received more intel on Kotkaniemi. Filip Zadina falling from third overall to sixth overall and not even starting the season in the NHL also helped calm the knee jerk reaction. The majority of fans and analyst alike came to the consensus that with the abundance of skilled, young wingers and the obvious lack of any top-six centres within the organization, that Kotkaniemi may not have just been a positional pick, but the best player available after Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov.

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Acquiring Max Domi was a move that was disliked almost universally by Habs fans once it was announced. You could argue that the reaction from fans was less about acquiring Domi and more about losing Alex Galchenyuk, Bergevin’s first pick as GM and the “hopeful” coveted number one center of quality the Canadiens haven’t had for nearly two decades. The other “major” deal was shipping established 30-goal scorer and former captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Nights in exchange for Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar and a 2nd round draft pick in 2019. Tomas Tatar was seen to be a “bonus” in this deal coming off an underwhelming season in Vegas (six points in 20 games) while Suzuki was the key player in this deal. Based on their previous track records, statistically, Pacioretty takes the edge in terms of overall offensive production than Tatar. That’s different this year. Both on the score sheet and to the eye. Tatar is sitting at eight points in ten games while Pacioretty has only two in ten games. While you can’t track effort per say, Tatar is inherently more physical, tends to go in the dirty areas and uses his hands and creativity to his advantage, something we rarely saw Pacioretty do.

There are a handful of players who have taken people by surprise. An injured Shea Weber (yet again) has forced Jeff Petry up the lineup with an already weak defence core. He’s been the cornerstone of their defence corps so far as well as the main quarterback on the power play. He has his share of defensive lapses as all players do, but lets remember that for the second straight season, he’s playing out of his role and still excelling. Currently with one goal, eight assists for nine points in 10 games, Petry is sitting at fourth overall in the league for points among defencemen.

Max Domi is the team’s leading scorer with five goals, six assists for 11 points in 11 games. After a rough first few games, Jonathan Drouin seems to have found his game. He’s more engaged in the play, more physical, and has found stability on the wing, a position with more offensive freedom without the defensive responsibility of a centre.

The Canadiens play not only took most by surprise but their recent success obviously made an impression on Marc Bergevin as on October 29th, he called a press conference to address the media and comment on the teams play. Compared to his press conferences in his previous years, when the team was under mass scrutiny, Bergevin remained calm, composed and was able to address the current state of the Canadiens, not only their on ice play but their overall attitude this season.

“They don’t give up, they’re hungry, they play fast, they’re having fun together, and they enjoy coming to the rink every day and that’s a big difference for me.”

Bergevin also took the time to put a narrative that’s been prevalent for quite some time to rest.

“Maybe in the past we did rely only on Carey, or mostly on Carey, to win games. But now we play better as a team in front of him [and] that makes his job easier, that’s the way it should be.”

Despite all the success, there are still some questionable lineup decisions as well as some underproducing players in the lineup. It’s understandable to be positivity high with all the success but lets address some new, and some recurring issues this lineup is facing.

Karl Alzner has played only four out of the 11 games the Canadiens have played this season. The cap is usually irrelevant to coaches as their main focus is icing the best lineup possible. That being said, the scrutiny will, and already has fallen on Bergevin for that signing atrocious. He out-bidded himself in an attempt to get Alzner. Right now, $4,625,000 is sitting in the press box. While the right side consisting of the aforementioned Petry, Noah Juulsen and Jordie Benn, is adequate, the left side remains an issue. Mike Reilly has made tremendous strides, and same could be said about Victor Mete. Even then that side is still lacking some strength and overall stability. On the top of Marc Bergevin’s to-do list should be looking for a young piece for their top-four in the near future. Furthermore, Nikita Scherbak has yet to play a single game this season despite making tremendous strides last year. Charles Hudon has received the short end of stick multiple times as well. Claude Julien seems to have more faith in Mathew Peca and Nicolas Deslauriers, two players who’s impact skill wise and production wise aren’t as great as that of Hudon and Scherbak.

Years of mediocrity can have an impact on the way a team is viewed. Maybe this team is the real deal or they’re on a lucky streak. Having a bounce back year and making the playoffs would be an incredible story, as would struggling and maintaining a spot in the bottom 10 in hopes for a high pick. One thing everyone can agree on is that the future looks bright. A team that was once thought of to have the worst centre depth in the league now has an extremely bright future. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ryan Suzuki and Ryan Poehling down the middle. Imaging those three surrounded by Max Domi, Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, Arturri Lehkonen, Tomas Tatar, Paul Byron, Nikita Scherbak, Charles Hudon and Joel Armia to name just a few. That’s a strong, fast, skilled forward lineup with centers capable of playing in all situations.

There’s obviously some holes in todays lineup but the future is bright.

It’s important to remember that wherever this season may go, it’s guaranteed to be an emotional rollercoaster. So, win or lose, lets enjoy it together.

As always, Go Habs Go

For AllAboutTheHabs

-Patrick Tallon

 

 

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