by Corey Desormeaux , Managing Editor, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Alexei Emelin (Photo by: Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)
Alexei Emelin (Photo by: Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)

OTTAWA, ON – Alexei Emelin has received a lot of flak from fans of the Montreal Canadiens. Quite honestly, he’s probably received a life’s worth of flak from me alone. Sometimes it’s warranted and sometimes not.

Before this season got underway, I made a promise with myself. I promised to start the season with a clean slate. Honest. I left all prior judgments of Habs players at the door. It was only fair to the current players, including Alexei.

I must admit that it was nice for a little while, especially after the hot start the Habs had to the season. I mean, we were all flying high, weren’t we? I was even praising Emelin to friends and fans. I wrote a public apology in an article!

All of this prior to him missing time due to injury.

Unfortunately, since his return I’ve reverted back to my pessimistic ways regarding Emelin. Over the last little stretch of hockey, Emelin has looked slow, hesitant and out of play, which has lead to him finishing last or second last amongst defenceman in Corsi differential in four of his last five games. Over this span, Alexei has averaged nearly 20 minutes of ice-time and is a minus-3. Now, this isn’t a piece to advocate for Emelin coming out of the lineup (as I’ve done in the past), but it is one that will advocate for him to have a reduced role.

Most known for his ability to throw his body, Emelin is by far the teams best at throwing hits; no one can rival him there. The closest the team has is Greg Pateryn.

I won’t even go as far to say that Emelin is the team’s worst choice on defence. He may be the better choice to Gilbert or Tinordi, but we don’t know that because Tinordi is yet to suit up for the Habs this season and Gilbert is playing a very sheltered bottom pairing role. What I do know is I can no longer support Emelin’s usage the way it is now.

Any knowledgeable hockey fan knows that offence is generated through a team’s defence. The Canadiens are built perfectly for this type of hockey. They have a number of puck moving defenceman that can lead the rush, jump into a rush, make a great first pass, and are solid at both ends of the ice. The forward crop is full of speed, which helps create open space on the rush and a relentless fore-check that can establish a cycle.

Alexei Emelin’s style of play doesn’t fit into this mold. Having a player inserted into the lineup to be physical is one thing, but giving that player a prominent role is another.

Emelin eats up a lot of ice-time. Averaging about 20 minutes per game, he is only behind Subban, Markov and Petry for the most on the team.

Emelin can’t be playing because of his skill set when he has the puck. One can only assume he is on the ice for what he does away from the puck. So, what is he doing well away from it?

Emelin is of course leading the team in hits with 75. That is a substantial amount more than any other player on the team. Problem with this is I don’t have a metric that measures how many times the Habs retrieve possession after each hit or whether the hit takes Emelin out of position.  Alexei only has 20 blocked shots in 24 games, that’s less than Galchenyuk, Plekanec, Pacioretty and Fleischmann to name a few. Albeit, I should add that he has played seven less games.

According to War on Ice, Emelin has registered two takeaways (albeit, the most inconsistent stat, rink to rink) which ties him with Bud Holloway.

Maybe he makes everyone else around him better? Let’s see…

Thanks to Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com I was able to pick a few players that Emelin spends a lot of time with on the ice.

With Emelin Away From Emelin
GF 60 GA 60 CF 60 CA 60 GF 60 GA 60 CF 60 CA 60
Jeff Petry 1.92 1.68 55.17 47.97 1.99* 1.42* 63.53* 47*
Max Pacioretty 1.23 1.83* 66.84 50.89* 2.82* 2.17 67.31* 51.46
Alex Galchenyuk 2.47 2.47 51.02 46.08* 2.89* 1.20* 65.19* 49.31
Devante Smith-Pelly 0.84 2.53 55.64* 51.43* 2.86* 2.29* 45.47 54.62
Tom Gilbert 0.88 0.88* 64.94* 48.27* 1.94* 1.06 48.78 53.71

*represents better statistical outcome

Through the chart above you can see that each player is on the ice for more goals away from Emelin than they are with Emelin. Furthermore, most of the players are on the ice for fewer goals against when away from him.

What’s most interesting to me here is Gilbert’s superior numbers with Emelin as opposed to away with him. In fact, it begs the question as to why Emelin and Gilbert don’t round out the bottom pairing together.

Further to this point, Petry and Beaulieu have looked very comfortable with one another. After the game against the Washington Capitals last week, Beaulieu had a CF% of 49 when playing with Gilbert and a CF% of 64 when playing with Petry.  Petry on the other hand had a CF% of 55 away from Beaulieu and a CF% of 64 with him.

Personally, I’d like to see Emelin play on the bottom pairing. The Habs need to continue to play a fast, puck moving game and I don’t think Emelin is cut-out for it. That said, Emelin serves a purpose, he’s a hitting machine and kills penalties. Question is whether his cap hit of $4.1 million is worth putting on the bottom pairing? In my eyes, far too often is this player awarded for little to no contribution.

Where do you think Emelin should be playing in the lineup?