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!
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- 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- As long-time readers of All Habs know, we do not publish rumours.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.
Mailbag (week ending January 23, 2013)
I’m wondering about your opinion about this Eller sitting situation.
I can not say I am a fan of it. I did not like Michel Therrien’s comments about Lars Eller “lacking intensity” when he is a pretty hardworking forward in my view on a nightly basis and is progressing well as a defensive centre. I have been informed (as I do not watch the program myself) on the RDS show Antichambre, where Therrien was an analyst last season he was at times critical of Eller. My concern is he brought a prejudice against Eller with him as a head coach and was looking for an excuse to scratch him. Other concerns sit that Therrien might have the “big men have to play big” prejudice and feels Eller isn’t physical enough since he isn’t quite a natural scoring talent.
However as it has been discussed, it is possible that Therrien feels Eller can do more and wants to challenge him a little. Sometimes benchings do light a fire under a player and Therrien doesn’t seem to have that much of an issue with creating player motivation, as evidenced by the far more spirited effort of the Canadiens on Tuesday night against the Panthers. Hard to say where this situation is going, but it’s difficult to justify keeping your 2nd-best defensive centre out for multiple games, especially when you want to develop him in case the worst happens and the team’s best two-way forward in Tomas Plekanec is injured.
How long do you think before Collberg starts playing in North America? Smallish, but highly skilled and playing against men.
Sebastian Collberg is a very nice scoring prospect, but at present it is a little difficult to chart his career course as to where he will be playing for the next three years. At present, Collberg is playing in the Swedish Elitserien, their top professional league and while he is not collecting many points at present, the experience of playing in men’s league action can be very valuable. While not a ‘smurf’ at 5’11”, Colberg does not possess an overly powerful frame so he is getting the benefit of adapting to a league where he has to find the best ways to outskate and outplay bigger, stronger players on a regular basis and having to shoot against professional goaltenders.
At the same time, Collberg is still very much a stranger to the smaller North American ice surface and it’s not unreasonable to suggest that in the next 2 years he should definitely be playing in North America on some level, perhaps even next year. The question comes to where, since Collberg has yet to be selected in the CHL Import Draft, no team currently holds his rights. He could easily be picked up this summer, but that would also require him wanting to play major junior hockey as it’s arguable he is gaining more playing in the professional Swedish ranks. The other alternative is the American Hockey League as since Collberg has never played in the CHL previously, he could sign his entry-level deal with the Canadiens and join the Hamilton Bulldogs at 19 to gain professional experience on this side of the Atlantic.
The other factor to consider is noted Swedish Under-20 National team coach Roger Rönnberg is set to take over the bench of Collberg’s Elitserien team next season. Given Rönnberg and Collberg are no strangers to each other, having won Gold and Silver medals at the World Junior Championships in 2012 and 2013 together one would imagine Collberg would like to play under Rönnberg for a year or two. This would not be unlike the career path of the up-and-coming Ottawa Senators prospect Jakob Silfverberg, who spent 3 seasons in Sweden after being drafted and is now on the Senators roster this season.
If I were to project when Collberg were to contend for a Canadiens roster spot, I would say he will make serious noise by the 2015-16 NHL season.
I’d like to know your thoughts about what is the Habs weakest point right now?
I would say it sits on centre depth, while we are certainly enjoying the promise of Alexander Galchenyuk, we should consider the depth chart. There is no centre in Hamilton, the CHL, the NCAA or Europe for the Canadiens that has a good probability to be a Top-6 centre in the NHL. Michaël Bournival, Brady Vail are probably the best projectable centres at present for an NHL role but they are just not reading as NHL centres with a potential of scoring 50 or more points a year. While we do have the services of the excellent 2-way forward Tomas Plekanec, we have an issue with potential sucessors if the unimaginable were to happen and one of Plekanec or Galchenyuk were to suffer a career-threatening injury that permanently hampers their abilities.
David Desharnais captured the spotlight last season with a 60 point campaign that had a lot of people talking about him being a permanent fixture in the Top-6, but he has his drawbacks. Desharnais lacks the elite speed of a Brian Gionta or Martin St Louis that allows him to separate himself from opposing forwards and defence on a consistent basis to create offence. Desharnais’s size (reportedly 5’7” but closer to 5’5” in reality) harms him often and he lacks strong defensive value. He’s a pure-offence forward that has generated 82 points over 124 NHL games in a season and a half with Montreal but arguably doesn’t quite have enough tools to make the most of it. He isn’t good enough to be a 1st-line centre and with Galchenyuk projecting to be that player in the future, it’s hard to say Desharnais should stay over Tomas Plekanec, who is far more versatile. With Desharnais lacking defensive value and his turning 27 in September it becomes a harder case to project a long-term future in Montreal, as forwards typically have almost all their best scoring campaigns before the age of 30. Lacking elite speed will bite him even more as his ages as well. Desharnais is a specialist with great playmaking talent, but he likely should try his hand at the wing, as it would take focus off of him as the lead puck carrier and allow others to do the work of moving the puck up the middle of the ice.
In the case of Lars Eller, we are looking at a different kind of player. To date, Eller has scored 45 points with Montreal through 156 games in his last two seasons. That does not paint an encouraging picture of a budding scoring centre. Eller has received more praise as a possible two-way centre and could follow a route more similar to Tomas Plekanec, albeit likely with less scoring in his game. The issue stands that Eller so far has not shown he is capable of being a good scoring forward, albeit he’s also lacked linemates capable of creating, or finishing a scoring chance. Eller scored just as more goals than Desharnais did last season with less than a fifth of the power play time. Eller could be waiting to make a breakout, but he could also be a 3rd-line centre with a good, but not great shot and moderate playmaking that can add some goals, but not step up to the top 6 outside of relief efforts. Eller does have the advantage of being 3 years younger than Desharnais and 7 years younger than Plekanec so he has more room to grow, but it is possible he never breaks above a 3rd-line centre position on a strong team.
With this in mind, the Canadiens are vulnerable at centre. Plekanec as a two-way player will be able to age well even as his scoring declines, but Desharanis may find that a tougher road. Eller may never match the scoring of Plekanec or Eller and that leaves a lot of expectations on Alex Galchenyuk. Best Player Available is always a maxim for the draft but the Canadiens could certainly not hurt themselves by acquiring some potential scoring centres in the draft.
Do you think players who played in Europe/Russia during lockout will last 48 games over 3-4 months?
It is difficult to say, there is something to be said for the benefit of being in “Game Shape” for when a season starts. Some players have returned from Europe with a definite jump in their game compared to those who cooled their heels waiting for a resolution to the lockout. but as these players get into the flow of things, the pendulum could shift to those who are more rested and hit their form 10 to 20 games in and have an advantage of energy and conditioning compared to those playing in Europe. At the same time, the extra playing experience of being in Europe could give the advantage as some players may never quite get up to speed in time against their colleagues who played overseas and lag behind them.
It is a coin flip scenarios in the end, it will help some and hurt others, likely the older players will feel it more as compressed schedules can grind out the greybeards in the league with injuries or general fatigue.
Who will be the 13th forward?
With a current lineup of Plekanec, Gionta, Bourque, Desharnais, Cole, Pacioretty, Galchenyuk, Gallagher, Prust, White, Armstrong and Moen, I have to think soon, Eller comes off the bench which means one of White, Armstrong or Moen will take a seat as Eller has enough scoring potential to help the team win some games. We may not see a permanent 13th forward this season as Therrien may tinker for certain games as well or when a player struggles. I am of the opinion Nokelainen will be put on waivers or dealt when he is healthy as the team doesn’t really have a need for him in my view. He is not good enough with faceoffs to warrant staying and doesn’t really add anything else. In my view Armstrong and/or White should rotate out of the lineup so Eller can hold a spot as he is too valuable to keep off the ice.
Should Desharnais be moved to LW or traded (eventually) to give Galchenyuk and Eller more playing time at centre?
I would certainly try Desharnais out at the wing, it relieves him of being a line’s leading puck carrier so less checking pressure will be on him and it would free him to create more in the offensive zone in my view. The Canadiens would also benefit from trying out the concept of ‘sell high’ for the first time in years, Desharnais is a bit of a hot property for generating offence, despite his size and could attract a few bidders. He is still an RFA for another year and could fit into another team’s Top-6 provided they have size to surround him with, allowing him to play his game and that team can reap the benefits.
With Galchenyuk more or less cited as the team’s future elite centre by the organization, it makes sense to make room for him, and the other Top-6 C spot in the lineup is Tomas Plekanec’s until he does not want it anymore or a team comes knocking with a trade too good to pass up for him. As per Eller, it’s a bit harder to tell what the plans might be with him as Michel Therrien does not seem that high on him, but his 2-way capacity and youth I believe demands he be given a better chance than he’s previously had with the team to play with offensively talented linemates.