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.
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- 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.
Think Gallagher has a shot at the big club to begin the season? Has he been playing well at Hamilton?
Given the troubles of the Hamilton Bulldogs season, Brendan Gallagher has done about as well one can expect. He’s scored 10 goals and 10 assists over 35 games and trails only 3rd-year veteran Gabriel Dumont in team scoring by one point. Gallagher will likely be on the radar as the Canadiens are a bit short of a scoring touch at present, but it will likely be injury rather than play that dictates his skating with the Canadiens.
Gallagher is a natural right wing and with Erik Cole, Brian Gionta as the bonafide Top-6 wingers of the team his remaining shot is at 3rd line, where Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust hold down one-way contracts at present to hold position. The 4th line is hardly the ideal place for a scoring winger, even one with two-way ability like Gallagher. Until an injury occurs, I would expect he remains in Hamilton.
Give us some potential line combos to watch for.
Michel Therrien has stated in advance that he would like to keep the Pacioretty-Desharnais-Cole line together, but I have a feeling he will be forced by circumstances to disband it at some point to even out the scoring situation.
One could project groupings of Pacioretty-Plekanec-Gionta and Bourque-Desharnais-Cole. This gives the advantage of shifting Pacioretty a power body presence, while giving Bourque the advantage of softer lineups do to his limitations. After that, one could look at checking lines of Moen-Eller-Armstrong, than White-Gomez-Prust. I give the nod to Armstrong on the 3rd line here due to his better career scoring numbers over Prust. Alternatively, one might see Alex Galchenyuk start with the Habs and play on the Desharnais line, it’s a softer assignment for the rookie to break in on and playing with Erik Cole would be good insulation for him. In that scenario, players will get bumped down the chart, landing Bourque with Eller, putting Moen on the 4th and leaving Ryan White a healthy a scratch.
At defence, it’s going to be hard to chart. It’s easy to project that Gorges and Subban reunite to give the team its top offensive pairing, than it becomes more interesting. Andrei Markov is back, but his partner is up in the air. One ideally likes to pair left-handed shots with right-handed, but the limitations of that mean it is either sophomore Raphael Diaz or the up-and-down Yannick Weber and that would also leave the 2nd pair a notably flimsy line in physical confrontations. Alexei Emelin and Francis Boullion are the physical options for the line, but Boullion is in his twilight and Emelin hasn’t had much success at the right side since coming to Montreal. The remaining choice is of course Tomas Kaberle, but he would likely fare no better on the right and offers no physical dimension. The 2nd and 3rd pairs in my view, are a complete mystery for final configurations that would prove effective in the long term. We may see Emelin-Diaz paired again though, they had some success before injuries and the toll of the 82-game season hit them. At the same time, one could always test the viability of Markov-Emelin and than skate say Boullion-Diaz to start the year, or Kaberle-Diaz.
Regarding Galchenyuk, do you think “Don’t want to burn a year of ELC” is a fair reason to send him down? Seeing if that was the only argument. Like he doesn’t seem out of place and the staff deem him to be ready. Also, if he makes the team, who do you think is the best possible line mates for him? I’m assuming Plekanec.
Given that the Canadiens are not in a good position to contend for the Stanley Cup this year and Alex Galchenyuk is their best prospect, it’s not unreasonable to preserve the value of his entry-level contract and keep him off the team this year. At the same time, if Galchenyuk is proving himself to be simply too good for the OHL at this point, it is arguable getting him adjusted to the NHL this year is better for his long-term development. Also to consider is that the Canadiens have 13 active forwards on 1-way contracts in Plekanec, Desharnais, Gionta, Cole, Pacioretty, Bourque, Eller, Prust, Moen, Armstrong, White, Nokelainen and Gomez. Nokelainen is out with a back problem at present, but that still leaves 12 healthy bodies.
Given that Galchenyuk would be in a scoring role, this bumps someone down the depth chart to add him, likely at the left wing position. Of course if Galchenyuk makes the team better and it is better for his development, it makes sense to scratch a lesser player and put the player Galchenyuk is pushing out of a scoring role into the vacated spot.
The salary issue does come up though, as the Canadiens are close to 64 million in spent cap dollars, with no new contract for P.K. Subban and Alex Galchenyuk’s bonus-laden Entry-Level contract worth a notable 3.25 million against the salary cap. It may just not be possible for the Habs to add Galchenyuk to the roster without moving an established player. The announcement of their only being a 5-game window for rookies to play before the first year of their Entry-Level contract is activated is a tiny frame for Galchenyuk to display his talents and give cause to clear cap space for him.
As per whom I would line Galchenyuk up with? The answer is David Desharnais, he would replace Max Pacioretty on his left wing while Erik Cole anchors the right as the veteran and physical power of the lineup. This allows Max Pacioretty to shift to the top line of Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, bringing his own physical power to the line while giving Plekanec a very worthy left wing. Plekanec would continue to handle top match-ups against opposition, but with a far superior supporting cast compared to last season while Galchenyuk eases into the team’s second line, designed to exploit softer matchups.
Which team(s) do you think will benefit most from the shortened season?
I think this lockout has really been in favour of the Los Angeles Kings. While Anze Kopitar is going to miss some time, they are quite literally unchanged from last season in terms of roster and available talent. They’ve managed to skip over the short recovery period of the standard Stanley Cup champions that usually sinks a championship club of late-season stamina or had to strip their roster of key players to stay under the salary cap. With that in mind, the Kings still stand as the most complete team in the Western Conference with excellent depth down the middle, good scoring talent, a good defensive unit and a Top-3 NHL goaltender in Jonathan Quick. The Kings I think have the best shot at defending their championship than any team in several years.
How many games out of the 48 should Budaj start?
I’m a believer that a team’s starting goaltender should take around 80-85% of the regular season, in order for them to keep a solid reserve for the post-season. With that in mind, I’d pencil Peter Budaj in for 8 starts this season. You can’t expect Carey Price to play every game for Montreal and he has to get some rest. Strategic starts against lower-tier conference opponents are the way to go with him to minimize risk naturally.
Thoughts regarding Commodore linked to Habs camp?
With the Habs already holding Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Yannick Weber, Raphael Diaz, Tomas Kaberle, Alexei Emelin under contract and PK Subban pending, it’s hard to see Mike Commodore don the CH in any capacity. It would take a notable rash of injuries for Commodore to have an honest shot at having anything to do with the Montreal Canadiens roster this season.
What should be the length and price of Subban’s contract considering the new CBA?
As usual, the first issue dealing with any contract involving the Montreal Canadiens is the “Montreal raise” that typically comes with the deal. Players in Montreal pay the highest income taxes of any pro athlete in North America, so they tend to expect a certain raise above what might be considered market value in other NHL venues. If it were up to me, I would go for a term similar to Price or Pacioretty, offering 5.5-6M over a 6-year term. It’s arguably premature to offer Subban such cash given his two pro seasons thus far, but I am convinced by year 3 of this deal, it’s considering a bargain for where he is headed as a player.