Every fall, with training camp about to start, teams and their fans feel the excitement of another season coming up. Some players and teams are filled with hopes to redeem themselves from a disastrous season while for others, they hope to keep on building on a good year.
PENTICTON, BC. – Whichever position teams or players find themselves in, there is electricity in the air, a sense of anticipation and on every team, there are several question marks needing to be answered. The first set of those questions will be answered at the end of training camp, when cuts are made and the starting rosters are announced. For the Montreal Canadiens, it’s no different and we’ll have a look today at the top questions facing this team entering training camp.
Who will be named team captain and what effect will it have?
The wait is almost over as General Manager Marc Bergevin has told everyone that there would be a team captain announced by the end of training camp. The sexy choice would be P.K. Subban while the logical choice seems to go towards Max Pacioretty. But let’s not forget the surprising choice, which would be to make fire-cracker Brendan Gallagher the team captain, he who has opened many eyes since his NHL debuts, particularly in the playoffs. The surprising choice would be Tomas Plekanec as his future is very much in limbo right now. Veteran defenseman Andrei Markov would be a good choice but he has never liked the spotlight and has apparently declined the offer at least once.
Let’s face it though… no matter who wears the “C” on his jersey, this team is Carey Price’s team and as in any winning franchise, there are usually a core of leaders in a dressing room. Whoever isn’t named captain amongst the names mentioned above will have a huge role in the team’s leadership both on and off the ice. What remains to be seen though is how they react to not getting the captaincy… and that’s where we will be able to see the true character of some of those guys… particularly the ones who really want it.
What will happen with Tomas Plekanec?
With one year left on his contract with a cap hit of $5 million and the recent news that the negotiations for a new contracts have not started yet, it leaves a lot to speculation around the future of the team’s most versatile centre. Plekanec, who has played his entire career with the Canadiens, would certainly like to come back but there is something called the salary cap that handcuffs teams who spend near the cap.
While he does possess a no-trade clause, Plekanec is likely the centre with the best trade value, after Alex Galchenyuk, that is. Ironically, the later will have a lot to say about the veteran’s future with the team, or so it seems. If Galchenyuk is performing up to expectations at his new position, it could very well mean the end for Plekanec, who could then very well be packaged to address the scoring need on the wing for the Canadiens.
Who will be bumped from centre to make room for Galchenyuk?
As long as he’s with the team, Plekanec will play centre and there is no way that Galchenyuk will be placed on the fourth line, meaning that Torrey Mitchell’s spot is safe, unless Brian Flynn steals it. This only leaves two spots and David Desharnais and Lars Eller once again find themselves in the middle of a debate as to which one is more suited to stay at the centre position. We know that the fanbase is divided in this debate but management is responsible for making that decision and they’ve shown time and time again that (thankfully) they don’t listen to the fans when making hockey decisions.
While their scoring was similar last season (14 goals for Desharnais to 15 for Eller), the smaller of the two is far better offensively, with 48 points compared to Eller’s 27 points. Like him or not, Desharnais is the best passer amongst centres on the team, even amicably earning the nickname of Mini-Gomez a few years ago. He is Max Pacioretty’s best friend and the Canadiens’ sniper has always said loud and clear that he likes having him as his centreman. Eller is better defensively although some will be quick to point out Desharnais’ plus – 22 differential to Eller’s minus – 6. Eller kills penalties and usually seems to be able to raise his game in the playoffs. Tough decision ahead for sure… unless Plekanec changes addresses.
How will Alex Galchenyuk perform at centre?
The former third overall pick has had mixed success when tried at centre last year. As a matter of fact, although the Canadiens drafted him as a centre, it has been a long time since Galchenyuk has played that position on a regular basis, as he played the wing for most of his time with the Sarnia Sting in the OHL. Over his first three seasons, he has learned the defensive responsibilities and the pace of the NHL, and he has worked hard this summer in hope to have a great season. Galchenyuk has the size, the speed and the intelligence to be successful at that position and there is no doubt that coach Therrien will try to shelter him a bit, at least to start, providing him with every opportunity to succeed at that position. His lack of success on faceoffs was an issue last season and that aspect will dictate how he will be utilised, especially when starting in his own zone.
How will the Alexander Semin experiment work out?
Although they are in a minority, it is mind boggling to read some people being upset at this signing. A guy of his talent, his skillset, a guy with a flair for the net and a laser shot comparable only to Max Pacioretty on the teams’ forwards, signed for one year at the price of a fourth liner at $1.1 million. This is not a low-risk, but rather a NO-risk and potentially high-reward move. Even if Semin was to score 20 goals, it would be a bargain at this price, but I have a feeling that a motivated Semin in search for another big contract will produce much more than that. And if he doesn’t? Big deal. Send him down and call-up one of the young guys, with little impact on the cap. My biggest concern personally is the decision that will have to be made if Semin has a good season, to re-sign him or not to re-sign him. But let’s cross the bridge when we get to the river, shall we?
Can Tomas Fleischmann earn a spot on the Habs?
The news of Fleischmann getting a professional try-out with the Canadiens came as a bit of a surprise. Sure, he scored 27 goals in 2011-2012 and he followed that up with 14 goals in 48 games the following season, but he has come nowhere close to those numbers in the last two years, scoring a total of 16 goals for the Panthers and the Ducks during that span. Ironically, he was fighting for a spot with Jiri Sekac (remember him?) in Anaheim. The Canadiens are very deep on right-wing but not so much on left-wing, although youngsters Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak and Michael Bournival are all left-handed shots and Semin can also play left-wing. With his experience, and if he comes into camp hungry and it good physical condition, I definitely believe that the 31 year-old native of the Czech Republic can earn himself a contract with the Canadiens.
How will Zack Kassian adapt to Michel Therrien’s system?
Kassian is a guy whose career I’ve followed closely as I liked him when he played on Team Canada junior and I loved him when he broke into the league for the Buffalo Sabres. It was then easier for me to watch him when he was traded here, out west, to the Vancouver Canucks. As I’ve mentioned in a previous article on what to expect from him, I believe that a motivated Kassian, a healthy Kassian and a well-coached Kassian can do wonders for this team, adding some much needed size and power on the wing, creating room for his teammates. A successful season would be to remain healthy, to be able to learn to protect the puck and create separation with his big body and to contribute on the top-9 with a few goals… and I think that he can do just that.
What kind of shape will Devante Smith-Pelly come in and how will he perform?
DSP came to conclusion last year that he needed to get in better shape, perhaps shed a few pounds in order to be able to keep up to the fast skating Canadiens. He’s young, he does have a lot of upside and like Kassian, he can contribute offensively. He is also quite responsible defensively though and can kill penalties, something he’s done with the Ducks and with the Habs last year. A lot of his success will be based on his conditioning in my opinion, on how serious he takes his career. If he buys into the relentless work ethics of this team, he can be a very valuable asset.
Will this be the year Jarred Tinordi takes the next step?
We know that Habs’ fans are not known for their patience but it’s mind boggling to see how many of them have already given up on Tinordi. It is well-known that the bigger they are, the longer it takes for them to find their game for some reason. Zdeno Chara took several years to become the stud that he was at the peak of his career and the Senators preferred keeping Wade Redden over him. Victor Hedman is just starting to show why he was selected so high at the draft. Tinordi is no different, and fans will likely notice the same with big Michael McCarron. However, if we listen to his former assistant-coach Stephan Lebeau, Tinordi has completed his development in the AHL and his learning should continue in the NHL. You can put money on the fact that the towering defenseman has prepared accordingly and that he’ll be ready to leave a positive impression on the Habs’ brass at camp. Considering that he would have to clear waivers to be sent down, Tinordi should start the season in Montreal but something tells me that his play will be the reason more than waivers.
Which rookie is more likely to earn a spot in Montreal from training camp?
As usual, there will be some interesting battles at camp with rookies wanting to take the next step. Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak, Michael McCarron, Christian Thomas, Sven Andrighetto, Michael Bournival, Daniel Carr and Bud Holloway should be amongst the last forwards cut at training camp, with perhaps one (two maximum) causing a surprise and forcing management to make room for them. In my humble opinion, keep a close eye on Hudon and Scherbak. On defense, in addition to Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, Mark Barberio and Darren Dietz are two names to remember entering training camp as possibly opening the eyes of management and coaching staff alike.
With less than three weeks to go before the beginning of the season, news and surprises will come fast and furious folks as hockey is definitely back on the map!
Go Habs Go!