All Habs Mailbag: Beaulieu, Budaj, Tokarski, O’Reilly, Leblanc, Collberg

By Robert Rice, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

TORONTO, ON — The All Habs Mailbag is as popular as ever! This is the place to send in your questions about all things Montreal Canadiens.
allhabsmailbag 300x259 All Habs Mailbag: Beaulieu, Budaj, Tokarski, OReilly, Leblanc, Collberg

Then check every Thursday to read the answers to the most popular or poignant questions about the Habs. Keep in mind that we will discuss the entire Canadiens organization so questions about prospects and roster players are equally welcome!

Submissions can be mailed directly to robertr@allhabs.net

Three Guidelines for Submissions:

  • This is not for hate mail or complaints. If you have an issue with what you read on these pages, this is not the place to bring it up. The mailbag is for questions about the Montreal Canadiens organization and the NHL.
  • As long-time readers of All Habs know, we do not publish rumours.  Therefore I will not engage in discussion of the validity of rumours — frankly I consider them a waste of time anyway.  For every rumour that was close to accurate, there have been about a thousand duds.
  • Nothing of essay-length please. There will be other people who will have questions and it is a bit unfair if I have to dedicate the Mailbag to answering one very large question or someone who’s asking five questions at once.
So, let’s open the All Habs mailbag!

All Habs Mailbag (week ending February 28th, 2013)

Logan

Who has impressed you the most out of the Habs prospects not playing AHL? Anyone you’re real excited about?

I would give a nod to Tim Bozon of the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League. Bozon offers the profile of a pure scorer, something that Montreal is always after but never seems to be able to stock up in quantity. Bozon has been a key contributor on a strong Kamloops team, he has already passed career bests in assists and points this season and has been a notable power play weapon, with 13 of his 32 goals coming with the man advantage. Bozon is not truly exceptional with any of his tools, but offers the prospect of a well-rounded offensive forward with no notable weaknesses. He will be eligible to join the Hamilton Bulldogs in the 2014-15 season.

 

How close is Nathan Beaulieu to NHL-ready?

Looking at reports of his overall play in Hamilton, along with personal observations and his scoring numbers, I would project Nathan Beaulieu to potentially have call-up work with the Montreal Canadiens in the 2013-14 NHL season, and potentially earning a full time spot by the 2014-15 season. Beaulieu still has work to do in adapting his offensive skills to the professional level as well as balancing out his defensive game. There have been long-standing concerns about Beaulieu’s decision-making abilities when a game speeds up,

 

Brendan

With Peter Budaj a UFA do the Habs go with a vet or a rookie backup for Carey Price next season. I say Dustin Tokarski fits.

I would think based on Peter Budaj’s last two starts and his general body of work for Montreal, he remains primed as the backup for Montreal going into next season. Dustin Tokarski does not presently hold the statistics in minors to support him stepping up to a backup role over Budaj in my view and it would only harm the team’s goaltending depth. By keeping Budaj behind Carey Price, it would allow Montreal to give Tokarski the starter’s role in Hamilton and amass development time, rather than sit behind Price and play perhaps 15-18 games in a season in an NHL setting where he won’t really develop.

 

Steve R

Reports say that the Colorado Avalanche want an established player (Eller), top prospect (Kristo), and high pick (CGY 2nd round) for Ryan O’Reilly. Would you do it?

On paper, the deal does offer some appeal as Ryan O’Reilly has stepped forward as a high-value asset after just three NHL seasons. He became the points leader on a poor Colorado team last summer over players like Matt Duchene and Paul Statsny and offers a very complete game. The issue at hand is the word coming out of the O’Reilly camp that he is pursuing a long-term contract and will not budge on the subject. Given that Marc Bergevin went through a very long, tenuous negotiating process with the more valuable P.K. Subban, one has to consider Bergevin’s attitude. I can’t imagine Bergevin budging for a player with no history with the organization and only one strong season so far while giving up 3 valuable assets to do so. While Lars Eller doesn’t match against O’Reilly, his cheaper contract while Bergevin looks to maintain cap flexibility is something to consider, as is the need to add a pure offensive talent like Danny Kristo to the team.

In a vacuum, O’Reilly is a player you would like to add to your team but given the team’s centre depth in the Top-6 is locked up with Tomas Plekanec until 2016 and his no-trade clause, plus the emerging Alex Galchenyuk it is hard to guarantee him a Top-6 centre position either. One would also have to consider any movement of Plekanec to make room could be a setback considering O’Reilly may have overachieved last season and could not provide the strong defensive value Plekanec has given over his career in Montreal. In my view, the price is a bit too much given the circumstances around why O’Reilly is a holdout in Colorado.

 

Marc B

Louis Leblanc’s stats are very underwhelming this season. I haven’t been able to watch a Bulldogs game this season, has he been playing that bad? Or is bad luck and lack of talented linemates more of a contributing factor?

Louis Leblanc has been one of the better players on Hamilton of late, while he took a long time to overcome his ankle injury he has mostly been confronted with having to play on a very poor Hamilton team, while also facing bad luck. This is certainly a down season for him, but given his previous work in the AHL and NHL level last season and his steady progression through junior hockey previously it isn’t a serious concern. Leblanc will have to battle very hard to compete in the depth chart to get his spot in the NHL, as a year ago he would have been the favourite to hold the NHL spot that currently belongs to Brendan Gallagher, who leaped ahead of Leblanc this year as an NHL-ready prospect. This is probably a season that Leblanc would like to play over, but many prospects have a season that doesn’t go their way for development purposes. He will have to keep improving on his game and likely improve his conditioning but he is not to be ruled out as an NHL player just yet.

 

When can we expect to see Sebastian Collberg playing in North America? Has he signed an extension in Sweden for next year?

Sebastian Collberg has presently signed a one-year extension with Frölunda HC in the Swedish Elitserien for 2013-14 season. This was likely partly motivated by the former coach for the Swedish World Junior team, Roger Ronnberg being set to take over the bench of Frölunda in the 2013-14 season. Collberg has won a Gold and Silver medal with Ronnberg at the 2012 and 2013 World Junior Tournaments and so the two enjoy some history together and Collberg likely looks forward to working with his World Junior coach. Depending upon his progress, he could elect at minimum to spend next year and possibly the following season in the Elitserien developing his skills and improving his physical conditioning to prepare for coming over to North American hockey. I would expect Collberg to sign his Entry-Level contract by next year, but signing an Entry-Level deal doesn’t necessarily mean a European prospect has to leave their pro league upon signing it if they already have committed to a European league for the coming season.

 

Steve R

Do you expect one of Montreal’s big contracts to be traded away (Cole, Gionta, Kaberle, Bourque) to make room for free agents in the summer?

Given that Erik Cole is already departed, it would depend on what the Canadiens intend to do in free agency in search of further salary cap economies. Tomas Kaberle is likely departing via way of the team’s option to use their 2nd amnesty buyout to clear further cap space as well, but after that questions abound. Tomas Kaberle being cleared from the salary cap gives the Montreal Canadiens 19.4M in salary cap space for the 2013-14 season with 14 skaters under contract, plus Carey Price.

If the Canadiens were to be bold, they might consider dealing Brian Gionta in his final season to clear another 5 million in salary space and chase a high profile free agent like Corey Perry, Alex Semin or Jarome Iginla. Granted these players may have no interest in playing for Montreal or price themselves out of what Marc Bergevin may consider a reasonable offer but the attempt should arguably be made. With $24.4 million in salary space available to Montreal, the argument could hold that there is sufficient space to add on a top-end free agent forward to compliment the team’s core talent and give them the edge.

However one most consider the trepidations of signing any of these players. Perry will certainly command a contract that may be richer than that of the recently departed Scott Gomez. While Perry would be a huge boon to Montreal in terms of top offensive talent, the threat of his salary making the team too top-heavy without sufficient depth is a potential issue. Looking at Semin, his style and ongoing discussions about his commitment level may not grant him favour with the new Canadiens management group, and his salary requests can still range well above 6 million because of his talent level. Iginla is the most questionable due to his age, Montreal dealt Erik Cole with concerns over his age and Iginla would be signing a 35+ contract if he were to come, a highly volatile consideration even with his talent level, any notable term and a drop in performance could handcuff Montreal for years. It should be kept in mind such a commitment in salary could give Montreal a lot of trouble in trying to retain their own core talent as players like Alex Galchenyuk and P.K. Subban look for new, potentially very lucrative contracts in the near future. Albeit you can also factor in that the salary cap is expected to keep growing it and may be a situation Montreal can work around in the long term.

There of course less expensive names like Ryan Clowe, Nathan Horton, David Clarkson, or a retention of Michael Ryder in order to maintain better cap savings while adding a solid offensive presence to the team to help out the scoring depth. Montreal should not necessarily look to break the bank to acquire a new free agent and adding one of these names that is not an All-Star but they are still top-6 talents that could aid Montreal.

 

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Rick is the Editor-in-Chief, lead contributor, and owner of the All Habs network of websites. His mission is to build a community of Canadiens fans who are informed, engaged and connected. He is the vision behind all four sites within the network - All Habs, Habs Tweetup, We Are Canadiens, and The Montreal Forum - and is responsible for the design and layout of each. In concert with the strong belief that "Habs fans are everywhere!", Rick is pleased that people use All Habs as a conduit to find and connect with other Habs fans worldwide. He is also proud that Habs Tweetups have allowed fans to meet in person and develop long lasting friendships.
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