Carey Price, Shea Weber (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)

by Trege Wilson, Guest Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

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.

 

  • Fred Arshoff

    If I am not mistaken Jerabek has a clause in his contract that says if sent to Laval he can return to the KHL, So he either spends the season with the HABS or I would beleive he will return to the KHL instead of going to Laval and havig to takle the long bus rides teams have in the AHL

  • Bay_Bye

    Markov will be greatly missed as they can not replace his offense & especially his leadership, he already has 5 assists in 3 games in the KHL. According to Hockey News when they rated the worst contracts in all 31 teams in their history, Azner was Montreal’s.he like Shaw was overtermed and overpaid for what he brings to the team. Druoin was suppose to complement Radulov not to try to replace him. He still has to prove that 1 good year does a superstar make.He can be a Lefleur or a Alexander Daigle …the pressure may crush him and his bad attitude could float to the top.we hope not but MB still needs PMD, #1 C and #2 D…major holes he did not address

    • billybt

      Drouin bad attitude ????Sounds kinda like you carry a Negative Attitude. Lighten up Francis !!!

      • Bay_Bye

        well he had a bad attitude in Halifax and went thru a bevy of hosts and took temper tantrums here and also remember he was suspended by TB for failing to show up for games in the AHL where he was sent for conditioning and only after he apologized was he let back..if that is not an attitude problem I don’t know what is.

        • billybt

          Kinda like Radulov….And how did that work out…Believe half what you read !

          • Bay_Bye

            don’t have to believe I am from Halifax and his tantrums were well known from throwing sticks , he could not last even 1 season with a host family as they could not put up with his I am great so I expect more attitude…he figured that with MacKinnon gone he should be treated special and was upset that he was sent back. and the incidents in TB are well documented Radulov and Markov are both gone because of a shitty GM

          • billybt

            Didn’t answer about Radulov and all the negativity that was spewed about his attitude.30 GMs and Teamowners know how good a GM Bergevin is but Apparently you think you are smarter than him .Did Drouin not give you an autograph at a Junior game for you to be so down on him ? Hope you enjoy eating Crow cause you are going to see Drouin lead the Team in points this year.Enjoy the season cause I know I will !
            ?

          • Bay_Bye

            nope never got any autograph from him and I am not down on him. all I am say is don’t expect the next great Hab..give him time to adjust and hopefully he pans out..if he is the top scorer i will be as happy as all..I am just saying be cautious as everyone is expecting the next Lefleur,that could happen, which we all hope for just be prepared if he is the next Daigle as the press may eat him up.He is too young for the pressure that is being put on him and he does have a rep of when things don’t go right of getting an attitude.and I don’t think all 30 GMs think MB is great but they sure are fleecing Montreal of its young potential stars that will shine elsewhere

          • billybt

            No one is fleecing Montreal .You seem to feel!
            Ike you more than Bergevin ,Dudley and the rest.Not sure any GM would agree with you.Not expecting Lafleur.Just a real solid
            Offensive player who might have a long successful career in Montreal like Lemaire or Shutt,…Enjoy .

          • Not at all like Radulov, Billy. I know that you don’t follow hockey much but after an initial mis-step (a curfew violation) Alexander Radulov had eight solid seasons in the KHL to demonstrate his production, maturity and leadership. Jonathan Drouin’s behaviour issues were more serious, have appeared in junior hockey and the NHL and happened far more recently.

  • billybt

    Forget the Offense.Defense wins games…The guy they will miss is Emelin !

    • PieRates

      you are hilarious