As the off-season draws to a close, Habs fans all over the world are anticipating the start of the 2017-’18 season. Most are hoping Les Canadiens improve on their 103-point season and are able to move further in the playoffs than their first round exit last season.
General manager, Marc Bergevin, made a number of trades and signings in the off season. The majority of these moves were an almost complete revamp of the defence which started at the trade deadline last season. Many fans are torn on whether the team improved the defence, or have declined. the following article will outline my thoughts.
It seemed to all start on June 29,2016 when Bergevin stirred a controversy by trading fan favourite, and Norris Trophy winning defenseman, P.K. Subban, for two time Canadian Olympic Gold medalist, Shea Weber. Weber provided Montreal with the steady, two-way, defenceman they wanted, and allowed Nashville to acquire the puck-moving, flashy defenseman they craved. In my opinion, both teams should be happy.
At the beginning of the 2016-’17 season, the Canadiens roster included Weber, Andrei Markov, Jeff Petry, Nathan Beaulieu, Alexei Emelin, Greg Pateryn, Mark Barberio, Joe Hanley, Zach Redman, Ryan Johnston, Brett Lernout, and Mikhail Sergachev.
Hanley, Redman, Johnston, and Lernout spent all but a handful of games in the AHL with the St. John’s Ice Caps. Sergachev was returned to junior hockey where he would go on to win a Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires. Barberio split time between the Canadiens (26 games) and the IceCaps (20 games) before being plucked from waivers by Colorado when Bergevin traded for Nikita Nesterov.
The top six were a solid defensive core. Weber and Markov led the way and provided the team with excellent two-way play. Petry and Beaulieu moved the puck well, and although seemed lost at times in their own end, provided the team with some nice offensive talent, while Emelin and Pateryn were stay at home d-men who laid out the big hits.
Nesterov was acquired from Tampa Bay for Yves Racine just before the All-Star break. Close to the trade deadline, Pateryn was traded to Dallas for defenceman Jordie Benn and David Desharnais was traded to Edmonton for defenceman Brandon Davidson.
At season’s end, the Habs were bounced from the playoffs early mainly due to a lack of scoring. To fill this need, Bergevin made another huge off-season move by trading elite prospect Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin, a highly-touted, young forward.
After a difficult season, Beaulieu was traded to Buffalo for a third round draft pick. Then, Montreal lost Emelin to the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft. To no one’s surprise Nesterov was not re-signed. With Bergevin holding back an offer until the beginning of the season, Markov decided to make his way to the KHL.
These moves left huge holes in Les Boys defense, and they were filled with free agents, Karl Alzner, Mark Streit, Joe Morrow, Jacob Jerabek, and Matt Taormina.
Alzner was a steady, stay-at-home defensemen in Washington. Streit returns to Montreal to play, what will probably be, his last season in the NHL. Morrow was the odd man out in Boston. Jerabek came over from the KHL. Taormina played for the Syracuse Crunch, the AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he tallied 60 points in 70 games.
Last season, the Canadiens defense combined to score 168 points, including 41 goals. With the departures of Markov and company, the Habs have lost 89 points, more than half of their total from last year.
The new additions this season scored a combined total of 59 points and 11 goals last year in the NHL. Keep in mind that Jerabek (KHL) and Taormina (AHL) are not included in those totals.
In my opinion, the Canadiens did not improve offensively at all on the back end. It appears that they will have to rely on Weber and Petry to provide the majority of the offense.
Defensively, however, I think they improved greatly. Schlemko and Alzner, along with Benn, are big improvements in the defensive zone over Pateryn, Beaulieu, and Emelin. This team looks to be very steady in their own end and should help cut down the quality shots on Carey Price.
Will this improved defense make up for the lack of scoring? The struggle will be moving the puck out of their own zone. Weber is a great first pass defenseman, but isn’t considered a puck-mover. Petry can move the puck, but creates turnovers about as often as he is successful in my estimation.
Beyond those two, I don’t see any defenseman on the roster who can consistently move the puck. Hopefully, the forwards can pick up the slack in this department.
It’s anyone’s guess whether Jerabek can succeed in the NHL. If he can score like he did in KHL (34 points in 59 games), I believe that his acquisition will be considered a success. But don’t be surprised if he takes a drive to Laval.
Taormina is also a wildcard and could be a surprise for Montreal. Could the 30-year-old take the next step after scoring 60 points for Syracuse last season or is he a career AHL’er?
So did the Canadiens improve their defense overall? Sadly, I would have to conclude that they did not. For a team desperately in need of scoring, they will be hard-pressed to generate offense from the back end. Once again, the Habs seem to be relying on Carey Price to improve on the 103 points achieved last season.