We’ve passed the mid-way point of this season and the Canadiens are, once again, proving the experts wrong by staying among the top teams in the Eastern Conference and that, in spite of going through a rash of injuries in the first part of the season. But what exactly is to be expected for the second half, where games become more intense as playoffs’ implications are on the line?
PENTICTON, BC. — The dilemma faced by General Manager Marc Bergevin is very similar to the one he had to face last year, which is to gauge if his team has what it takes to make a serious playoffs’ push. Only this time, he has key pieces scheduled to become free agents and he only has three defensemen from the current roster signed to contracts, with only P.K. Subban being a restricted free agent. As we have dissected in a recent article when we took A Look at the Habs Impending UFAs, Bergevin and his management team must first decide what they want to do with the team’s captain and their powerplay quarterback, as well as with a few others. Once that decision is made, they can then move on to address other needs for the team, for not only this season, but for seasons to come.
After going through a great winning streak, the team has struggled a bit more recently, playing about .500 in the last 10-12 games. With the exception of the last couple of games, the Canadiens have struggled to put the puck in the net. While the team sits in the top five in the NHL for the fewest number of goals allowed and blocks more shots than anyone else, they find themselves in the bottom third of the league in goals scored and that’s an area needing improvement.
The Canadiens only have five players in double-digits in goals, with only Max Pacioretty on pace to score more than thirty this year. Brian Gionta’s offensive contribution have gone down, Lars Eller is not living up to the expectations the team had on him offensively, Raphaël Diaz is not producing offensively has he had last season, David Desharnais did not have a good start and the Daniel Brière experience has not proven to be a good one so far. There is definitely a need for some top end talent to play on the top two lines in Montreal.
Size up front
The Canadiens are the smallest team in the NHL once again and while Marc Bergevin has recognize that it is a bit of a problem by drafting some bigger prospects at last June’s draft, it is not helping in the immediate future and that’s an area of concern heading down the stretch as games become more physical and the checking gets tighter. Although Bergevin did the right thing by not out-bidding the competition in the David Clarkson and Ryane Clowe derby, the acquisition of Daniel Briere in the off-season was a bit mind-boggling in that aspect. He did however bring in tough guys George Parros and Douglas Murray but their contribution on ice is very limited, especially now that Parros has concussion issues since the first game of the season.
Only six teams in the NHL are less physical than the Canadiens and considering that the team will be going up against the Bruins, Leafs, Senators, Flyers and Penguins (sixth most physical team), it’s not looking too promising for the smaller Habs’ players, especially up front. Considering that the offense goes through Gallagher, Desharnais, Gionta and maybe Briere, it is a situation a bit alarming for the team, considering that Plekanec isn’t known for shining when things get rough.
What are the options?
The Canadiens being in the thick of things within four points of the division leaders Boston Bruins, it would be unrealistic to expect Marc Bergevin to unload his pending free agents for picks and prospects. It would also be highly surprising to see him mortgage the future for temporary help at the trade deadline. He has stated in multiple occasions that he is building a winner for years to come and that he believes in sound drafting and strong player development so giving up a bunch of picks and/or prospects for a rental player or two would be uncharacteristic of him.
If he was to trade Gionta or Markov to a contender, it would be unlikely that he could get a player who could have an immediate impact on the team, unless that team traded from a position of strength. For example, if a team was very deep on defense and needed depth on right wing, it would be possible for them to trade a defenseman for Gionta and from Bergevin’s perspective, it could mean having one more defenseman under contract for next year. I could see that type of move. My personal feeling is that fans can forget about the big name UFAs out there, such as Tomas Vanek, Matt Moulson or Jaromir Jagr as many teams will be pursuing those guys which will raise the asking price.
I usually don’t discuss rumours as I personally find them to be a waste of time, bringing fans’ hopes to an unrealistic level only to get them angry at the organization for not making the move(s) which, in reality, contain very little (if any) truth to start with. But I’ve been asked many times, through email and on Twitter, what my thoughts were on Daniel Brière and his situation, including the rumours sending him to Buffalo.
Daniel Brière signed with the Canadiens after some convincing from both Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien. They told him what role he’d be playing on the team and that, along with playing in front of friends and family, tipped the balance in the Habs’ favour. According to Darren Dreger of TSN, Brière received several offers for two years at four million per season and he chose to come to Montreal. For whatever reason, he has not received the playing time, the linemates or the opportunities he was hoping for. Why that is I don’t know but you can bet that the player knows and it’s not all because of the coach, and that’s why he’s remained quiet about the situation.
Is there a future for him in Montreal? You bet there is but what I don’t know is how long the team will wait before doing something about it. They chose to finally sit him in the stands and rumours started swirling about him going back to Buffalo, a place where he was well liked before leaving for more cash as a UFA, as many Sabres had done before him.
There were many reasons why I thought that there were legs to that rumour. First, it wasn’t reported by rumour mongers but by the main stream media (although not by the ones I highly trust.) Then there’s the fact that Brière wasn’t playing and he may welcome a leadership role with a former team. Add to that the fact that the Sabres seem to have turned the franchise over to former players with Pat Lafontaine as President of Hockey Operations. Then they made a puzzling move in claiming Zenon Konopka on waivers from the Minnesota Wild, when they already have Steve Ott playing a similar role. As both players are scheduled to become UFAs at season’s end, it raised a bit of a flag. Those points were all pointing towards a possibility that this rumour made some sense.
Usually, when a rumour of such comes out to the media, one of two things happens: Either a trade is announced within the next few hours or the deal (if there was one to begin with) fell through for one reason or another. I’m leaning towards the later, personally so while things can change within minutes, I don’t foresee a trade announcement anytime soon between the Habs and the Sabres.
Either way, we can expect some tweaking of the line-up before the trade deadline but unless there is an offer that Bergevin feels is fair and can help his team immediately and for the future, don’t anticipate anything earth shaking like some of the rumours that we’ve read in the past few weeks. Bergevin is building this team the right way and only those with a bit of patience will recognize that today… but all will recognize it in the next few years.
Go Habs Go!!!