While most fans of the Montreal Canadiens are happy with the direction the team is going and the work done by the current management team since taking over, you find pockets here and there who find ways to criticize if not all, at least several of the decisions made so far. Regardless of which side of the fence you find yourself though, most will agree that some players will be playing for their right to keep on wearing this prestigious uniform.
PENTICTON, BC. – Pending a late off-season trade or an early season move by General Manager Marc Bergevin, it looks like the roster is pretty much set for the start of the upcoming training camp, with only one or two spots available at the forward position.
Having said that, the competition promises to be the toughest and the closest we’ve seen in many years in Montreal and veterans coming into camp thinking that they have it made could very well be up for a rude awakening when they hit the ice for the first time with their teammates and competitors. The fact is that the Canadiens have more depth at every position than ever, one issue that Bergevin had identified when he was first hired and addressed since then.
For example, right wing was a position of weakness and Bergevin traded for Devante Smith-Pelly last year, then traded for Zack Kassian, only to sign UFA Alexander Semin (who can play both wings but is a right-handed shot.) Add to that group beloved workaholics Dale Weise and Brendan Gallagher, and newly signed Brian Flynn and you have a log-jam on the right side, creating huge competition at training camp.
Centre might be the new position of weakness as the team has Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, Lars Eller and Torrey Mitchell penciled in to start the season at that position. That is, assuming that Alex Galchenyuk isn’t moved to centre and that Jacob De la Rose stays on the wing, both of whom have played some centre last season.
Having one or both of those young guys push for a spot at centre would then weaken the team’s depth at left-wing. But that’s where the youth is at its top depth when it comes to prospects. Nikita Scherbak (who shoots left but plays some RW), Charles Hudon, Christian Thomas, Michael Bournival, Daniel Carr all shoot left and could all cause a surprise at camp. Sven Andrighetto, Michael McCarron and Bud Holloway (centre-RW) could also mix the cards on the right side.
On defense, there are nine NHL caliber defensemen needing to clear waivers if sent down: P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Jeff Petry, Alexei Emelin, Tom Gilbert, Greg Pateryn, Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi and Mark Barberio. Add to that the fact that Darren Dietz impressed greatly at camp last year and could very well make a push this year and you have the depth needed at this key position.
In net, Carey Price is a certainty obviously but even Dustin Tokarski will have to look over his shoulder as Mike Condon had an outstanding season last year and Zachary Fucale and Hayden Hawkey will want to leave an impression on management and the coaching staff.
At the top of the list of players with many question marks when talking about their future with the organization is long serving centreman Tomas Plekanec, who is entering the final year of his contract with a cap hit of $5 million. There is no denying the usefulness of Plekanec but in a cap world, tough decisions have to be made every year and Plekanec seems to struggle to find another gear against tougher opponents and in the playoffs.
Many fans would just love to see David Desharnais being traded and while it could make some sense, he is only making $3.5 million and produces 50-60 points per season while being a rare local product speaking the language of Molière on a team in desperate need of just that. This does not (or should not) however guarantee him a spot forever. He has two years left to his contract.
Many believe that Lars Eller might be the most likely Canadiens forward playing his future with the organisation this season. With three more seasons with a $3.5 million cap hit, Eller has shown flashes of what he can do when focussing on being more aggressive, especially in the playoffs, but he has yet to put it all together and force coach Michel Therrien to give him a bigger role on the team. This has to be it for him this year, a make or break season for the 26 year old Eller.
One defenseman seems to be involved in a lot of trade rumours and that’s Alexei Emelin… but you all know my take on such rumours: if they’re not coming from the big-three (McKenzie, LeBrun or Dreger), don’t pay too much attention to them! Still though, if Tinordi shows that he’s ready to stay up, he’s the likely candidate to find himself elsewhere if he doesn’t find an extra step to his game. What could make a trade tricky is the fact that Emelin, who has three more years to his contract with a cap hit of $4.1 million, also has a no-trade clause.
Last but not least, Dustin Tokarski could very well be playing to show that he can play not only in Montreal, but in the NHL in general. There is much talk about the fact that Carey Price will have to be managed better, with more rest in between starts but in order to be able to afford doing that, you need a backup who can give you a chance to win and Tokarski didn’t provide that in the second half last season.
In any case, it is so good to see that there are some young prospects ready to make a serious push at camp this year and as Marc Bergevin has shown in the past, he is willing to make room for someone who has shown that he deserves a spot on the big club.
Go Habs Go!