by Christopher Nardella, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine
MONTREAL, QC. — In the face of the Montreal Canadiens’ first round loss at the hands of the New York Rangers, it’s even more obvious that the team has holes. These holes might not be ones that are easily plugged. For the Canadiens to take that next step, a tough decision might have to be taken so that roster has players capable of consistently producing offence in the post-season.
The Canadiens’ top line ended the season with Philip Danault between Max Pacioretty and Alex Radulov. The other three lines were composed of players who could be used should Marc Bergevin want to make a move to acquire a top-six forward.
The only hole that is available is the first line centre spot of Danault, as they are most likely set down the middle for the upcoming season with Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk. On the wing is where the toughest decisions must come, as there is a log jam of players who shouldn’t be occupying the team’s primary offensive positions.
Other than Pacioretty and Radulov as the first line wingers, the Canadiens are chock-full of mediocre talent along the boards. There is Brendan Gallagher, but he doesn’t provide the sort of offensive production to warrant him being the primary offensive producer on his line. Aside from these three, the team’s talent is lacking.
Paul Byron‘s season in which he scored 22 goals may have been an anomaly. The output was good enough for second on the team, but it isn’t something the Canadiens can rely on. That’s not to say that Byron can’t become a consistent 15-goal scorer, but with the lack of scoring depth on this team the team, the Habs would be better off with a more productive player in his place.
If one spot on the team were to be changed, it would most likely to be replacing Byron on the second line. However, to make such a change, the former Calgary Flame would have to be demoted to the third line. Doing so would also push down a fellow left winger.
Relegating Byron to a spot where he would be better suited to help the Canadiens would also mean moving down Artturi Lehkonen. He was one of few Habs players to show up offensively in the post season. The soon-to-be 22-year-old scored 18 goals during the regular season. Lehkonen was second on the team in points in the playoffs, and was tied for the team lead in goals with a pair.
Considering the progress Lehkonen demonstrated in the playoffs and his first season of hockey in North America, it would be difficult to see the team moving him to the fourth line. Moving to the fourth line would mean playing fewer minutes alongside players with relatively trivial offensive output.
This leaves a tough decision for Marc Bergevin to make. Should he wish to improve his wings, the cost could come in moving Andrew Shaw.
Shaw signed a six-year deal with an average annual salary of $3.9 million this past off-season when Marc Bergevin acquired him from Chicago for a pair of high second round picks. The winger is the team’s fourth-highest paid forward, and is signed through the 2021-22 season.
This past season, Shaw recorded 29 points in 68 games, with a concussion derailing him for parts of the middle of the year. Unfortunately, for the Canadiens to become an upper-level team, his time in Montreal can’t be for the full length of his contract.
Lehkonen, who played on Shaw’s off-wing for a time this season, could fill his spot on the third line right wing in this hypothetical move. Moving Shaw’s salary would be to clear up crucial cap space with a couple of very large contracts coming down the pipe. This is compared to the relatively small salary of Byron, who clocks in at just $1.1 million over the next two seasons.
It’s clear that the Montreal Canadiens need another top-six forward to become a team with the potential to win a Stanley Cup, even with their terrific goaltender. However, to go about making the team a team of that caliber, the team must move Andrew Shaw and his sizeable contract. Doing so would clear up cap space, and space on the roster. Bergevin could set his sights on a offensively productive winger.
Edited by Donna Sim