MONTREAL, QC. — Can you believe that Travis Moen will be entering his sixth season with the blue-blanc-et-rouge?
Moen arrived in Montreal as a free agent signing in the summer of 2009 with an impressive resume, having previously won a Stanley Cup championship with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. He was part of the Canadiens’ dressing room upheaval that saw familiar faces like Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev leave town, with former general manager Bob Gainey welcoming newcomers such as Moen, Brian Gionta, Hall Gill and Mike Cammalleri to the fold. Moen is the sole free agent signing from that off-season to still be wearing the Habs crest today, in large part to the grit that he brings on a nightly basis.
Moen is a proven grinder who isn’t afraid to drop the gloves in defense of his teammates. The Canadiens currently don’t have many players with that kind of grit, with the exception of Brandon Prust and Dale Weise. Having let George Parros, a player who embraced the role of the fighter, and pesky forward Ryan White leave as free agents, Moen’s toughness could be considered an integral element in head coach Michel Therrien’s game plan.
While Gainey’s successor, Pierre Gauthier, managed to clear Gill and Cammalleri’s contracts from the team’s payroll, current Habs GM Marc Bergevin has begun his own culture change by not renewing the contract of former captain Gionta. Instead, Bergevin is stressing the importance of the team’s young core to emerge from Gionta’s shadow and lead as a group. With Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban willing and eager to be Montreal’s leaders, Moen won’t be a part of Bergevin’s long term strategy.
At thirty-two years of age and having already played 680 games in the National Hockey League with the Habs, Blackhawks, Ducks, and Sharks, it’s fair to say that Moen is beginning to show signs of slowing down. While a hard knocks, heart and soul player like Moen won’t admit to it, his play has shown signs of the wear and tear of consistent physical play. Moen is likely also feeling the pressure of being an expendable piece to the Canadiens’ opening roster puzzle with several rookies vying for NHL jobs at this year’s training camp.
Michel Therrien seems to be a coach who favours seasoned veterans over unproven youngsters, which may bode well for Moen. Then again, Marc Bergevin has the last word on the roster and the GM isn’t afraid to make space for rookies, though how his coach utilizes them is another matter.
An example of Moen’s unheralded two-way play can be seen in the memorable 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at the Bell Centre on January 11th, 2014. Moen played alongside former captain Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec as the team’s top line, frustrating Chicago’s star players Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa every shift.
Moen logged 16:37 in total time on ice, 44 seconds of which were spent on special teams. He played an excellent game and truly embraced his role as a grinding two-way forward. Although the line was responsible for Hossa’s goal that tied the game at 9:22 of the third period, the trio looked sharp against one of the league’s most feared lines and was impressive in keeping their opponents in check. Of the prospects who are knocking on the Habs’ dressing room door, however, the player who could replace Moen’s grit and defensive awareness this season may be Jacob de la Rose.
At 6-foot-2-inches and 190 pounds, de la Rose is similar in size to Moen (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) but could use some bulking up. Conversely, the Canadiens could see Michael Bournival as an ideal replacement for Moen and still have room for the likes of de la Rose and Jiri Sekac on their 23-man roster, although both played overseas last season and may require some time to adapt to the North American rink. It’s fair to say that the Canadiens have options amongst their bottom-six group of forwards which means Moen is skating on thin ice.
Moen, who put up two goals and 12 points last season, is coming off his fourth lowest scoring production of his career and has only improved his point total from the 2012-2013 campaign by six. He will enter the 2015 season carrying an annual cap hit of $1.85 million with one more year remaining on his contract. Considering the Canadiens would have close to $4.5 million in cap space should they part with Moen, the veteran must prove this year why he deserves to be a Hab. Moen’s job is threatened by the emergence of several forward prospects with bigger aspirations, including the likes of Jiri Sekac, Sven Andrighetto and mini-camp standout Jacob de la Rose.
Therrien has a slow, methodical process when it comes to implementing youth to his lineup. Having a solid core of veterans at his disposal, Therrien is able to play his rookies when the opposition’s top players aren’t on the ice, thus allowing their talents to blossom. Alex Galchenyk and Brendan Gallagher are examples of quality prospects who, through their work ethic and scoring production have since earned bigger roles with the team. Both players will be entering their third NHL season and already are among the team’s top-six forwards. With some prospects, however, Therrien has been more patient in rushing them to the NHL. Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu have played in some NHL games, though the defensemen are looking to earn their place with the Habs this year, among others. If Therrien and his coaching staff see any young prospects that are ready for the professional spotlight, the decision will be made swiftly and more than likely Moen will be the first casualty.
Whether seen this season or next, the writing appears to be on the wall for Travis Moen. He has been an excellent grinder for the Canadiens over the years, but soon will move on for the team’s sake. The Habs brass must debate whether or not a fresh wave of rookies along with a maturing core of young veterans is the best route to a successful 2015 season. If not, Moen will likely be used as a spare part for perhaps this year and next should the prospect pool need more time developing. The Habs’ front office may consider another move to shed salary, which will result in Moen facing a similar fate to that of Josh Gorges. If Moen’s contract is moved, the estimated $4.5 million dollar cap space entering the season should be a very tempting thought for the Canadiens. The team’s cap space will grow throughout the season as they pay their player’s salaries, potentially allowing the team to acquire several reinforcements as they progress towards another playoff run.
In coming weeks, once the dust has settled on training camp, the Habs will make their roster decisions but whether or not Moen stays remains to be seen. While the Canadiens may still see some value in Moen, his days with the Habs are numbered.
The coaching staff like Moen for his grinding style, but Bergevin expects the thirty-two year old to prove that he can score points and more. Forward Dale Weise, who is a younger player with a similar playing style to Moen, has proven that grinders who can create offense are an invaluable scoring threat. Moen is not likely to score in bunches, as his career high in points is 21, but more shots on goal should at least improve his chances. Moen had 56 shots in 65 games this past season, but scored 19 points and 107 shots on goal in his first season with the Habs, having played in all 82 games in the 2010 season.
Moen must to prove to Bergevin and Therrien that he can still contribute with a willingness to generate more offense if he has any chance of remaining in Montreal. Fans should pay close attention to training camp in the next few weeks, as it may be their last memory of Travis Moen wearing a Canadiens sweater.