The Summer of ’16… A Habs Review

It’s August 16th, and without a Patrick Roy love letter to chew on, the hockey world is focused on Jimmy Vesey… a completely unproven left winger, fresh out of college, with several teams reportedly in pursuit.

Yawn.

As dry as things are right now, we can hardly accuse Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens of having a dull summer. For better or for worse, this was a franchise-altering summer. Captain Patch seems convinced the team is better after addressing some team needs.

So let’s review some Habs plots from the summer, and you can decide if the story is uplifting or leaves you with a knot in the pit of your stomach.

The Sixth Sense

In training camp last September, the Habs revealed a top 6 composed of Pacioretty-Plekanec-Gallagher and Eller-Galchenyuk-Semin.

We were momentarily happy. Happy for Lars. Happy Chucky was finally at centre. And the early chemistry with Semin looked promising. Unfortunately, this film was fated to be a short. Those of us who love Eller know he is a 3C, and the outcome of the Therrien-Semin relationship was as mysterious as a bucket. By Christmas, 29 teams knew they could focus on one line, because the Habs did not have a 2nd. The league narrative was that the Habs had four top-6 players.

I like what Bergevin has accomplished this summer for the top 6. Signing Alexander Radulov might have been the best deal of the summer. While the sixth top 6 player is yet unnamed, I see a lot of potential for guys like Andrighetto, Lehkonen or Carr to take that spot. If a young player does not rise to the challenge, Andrew Shaw has demonstrated he can fill the spot.

This is a good story.

Powerplay

Abysmal. That is the alternate name for a flick about the Montreal Canadiens powerplay of the 2015-2016 season.

Honestly, I thought the powerplay would see dramatic improvement by the simple addition of Kirk Muller. Since then, Bergevin has added Radulov, Shaw and Weber. As much as I love P.K, and as much as I hated the trade, the powerplay is one area where I think Weber edges him out. This summer’s Powerplay epic is summarized in one tweet.

Coach

The Score’s Sean O’Leary recently ranked Michel Therrien at 24 among active NHL coaches.

Unfortunately, this resonated with the views of Habs Nation. The ranking was attributed to Therrien’s failure to adjust when Carey Price was lost to the team. Loyal Habs fans know the list of flaws is considerably longer, and yet, Therrien is not completely without strengths.

While Marc Bergevin has remained inexplicably loyal to Therrien, there is no mistake in Kirk Muller’s title. He is the Associate Coach rather than an Assistant. He will presumably influence more than the powerplay.

The jury is still out on this storyline.

Central Intelligence

Is there any Habs dynamic that has provoked more discussion than the C position? For years we have heard that to truly contend for a Stanley Cup, a team has to win the middle. Remember the Desharnais-Plekanec-Eller-Malhotra days?

Galchenyuk has emerged as a true 1C, if Therrien is not too bone-headed to leave him there. Plekanec is free to be a complete 2C. The 4C position looks good with Mitchell or Danault landing there while the other plays his right wing. A giant question mark appears at 3C.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Habs would be a better team had they been able to offload Desharnais instead of Eller. While Shaw is an upgrade on Eller from an offensive perspective, and can likely more adequately play the 2LW position, Eller’s absence leaves an enormous void at 3C.

It has always been my opinion that Bergevin will demonstrate to me that he is serious about a Stanley Cup when Desharnais is no longer a Montreal Canadien. Desharnais will not work at 3C long term, and I lack confidence in how Therrien will make up for that. This storyline may become more significant for the Habs as the season progresses.

Take the Lead

What the heck happened in the Habs dressing room last season? We will never know. But there is no doubt that Bergevin felt he needed to address a leadership void, and this was a significant part of his decision-making when trading for Shea Weber.

Will the addition of Shea Weber and the return of Carey Price be enough to bring this group back together?

The Back-Up Plan

None of us blinked when Tokarski unseeded Budaj. And we barely noticed when Condon unseeded Tokarski the following year. Who cares, right? How significant is your back-up goalie when your starter is the best player in the world?

To the chagrin of many, the predictions of the analytics community were realized last year when Carey Price suffered a season-ending injury after playing just 12 games. With the Six Million Dollar Man out, the team’s weaknesses were exposed and the season was lost.

With Al Montoya signed, we can assume Condon has now been unseeded. But is the back-up plan adequate? If Carey Price goes down for another extended period, are the Habs any better off with Montoya than with Condon? Have team weaknesses been addressed sufficiently to minimize over-reliance on Carey Price? Do we hope we never find out?

True Grit

The latest phrase in Habs mantra is that of “being hard to play against.” The players have confirmed they got the message, loud and clear, that they were not.

Marc Bergevin has tackled this issue, perhaps more fiercely than any other. Shea Weber, Andrew Shaw and Bobby Farnham are all described as gritty and dreaded opponents. It remains to be seen how much this identity shift will impact on the score sheet.

Good Night, and Good Luck

P.K. Subban is gone. There was no bigger story in all of Habsland this summer than the departure of our beloved P.K. We’ve been through the stages of grief, multiple times. But he is gone. There is no choice but to wish him well, and to embrace Shea Weber.

Is Bergevin’s work with the defensive group complete? Is Weber’s partner already on the roster, or should we look for another move? This is perhaps the most unresolved Habs storyline, and there is no doubt that the climax will not occur until training camp, or perhaps even as late as trade deadline day.

 

It has been an eventful summer of Habs stories. Of course we’re amused by Patrick Roy’s latest display, and we’ll be curious to see where Vesey lands. But for genuine Habs fans, our attention is always drawn to what may unfold in the days and weeks that lie ahead for the team we love.

Just a few more weeks to training camp. Hold tight.

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3 Responses to The Summer of ’16… A Habs Review

  1. This has all been gone over and over again. Boring

    zak August 17, 2016 at 1:15 pm Reply
    • Perhaps you didn’t understand that the author was writing a review of the summer and going over the storylines heading into the new season that will be tackled. Not every fan is glued to hockey throughout their summer so it’s a nice recap of what happened and things to keep an eye on.

      Cam Hunter August 17, 2016 at 5:50 pm Reply
    • A review is to look at something again, to describe or show a series of things that happened in the past. 😉

      Michael Gomez August 17, 2016 at 5:52 pm Reply

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