Greetings Habs Addicts!
Much has been said about the lack of scoring by the Canadiens this season. While we are sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference by a point – with two and three games at hand over the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning, respectively – is it safe to say that the play of Carey Price is the sole reason we are in this position?
Carey Price has been outstanding. He has been outstanding since Michel Therrien took over and implemented his often-maligned system. He began to finally turn the corner after Jaroslav Halak was dealt and the franchise committed themselves to the former 5th-overall NHL draft pick. Carey was handed the reigns, matured and has not looked back. He is now among the elite of NHL goaltending. As it stands now, it is a two-horse battle for the Vezina Trophy between Price and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. The only difference is, Nashville can score goals for Rinne. Aside from Max Pacioretty, Montreal cannot. The Predators have scored 181 goals heading into Tuesday, good enough for 7th best in the NHL. The Canadiens have scored 157 goals. Good enough for 11th. In their own conference. Overall, that is 23rd best in the NHL. Big difference in support on a nightly basis.
|Photo Credit: ESPN NHL Standings|
With a record of 38-16-5, the Canadiens are amongst the elite teams in the NHL. But heading into the playoffs, is it largely smoke and mirrors based on our elite goaltending? Aside from Max Pacioretty, where would our other top-six forwards play on contending teams?
Would Brendan Gallagher be a top-six forward for Nashville or Chicago?
Would David Desharnais get top-six minutes in St. Louis or Anaheim?
Would Dale Weise be playing on the top line for either New York team?
In a gritty best-of-seven series would the Canadiens be able to match the fire-power needed to make a run to the Stanley Cup? Would they even make the Eastern Finals again this year? Are we setting ourselves up for heartbreak by believing they can?
The line-up this year is largely the same as last season minus Thomas Vanek. Danny Briere was swapped for P.A. Parenteau and the contribution is largely the same as last year – next to nil. The kids have been called up to provide some energy, but will Jacob De La Rose and Christian Thomas be able to provide the secondary scoring required for a long playoff run? Can Lars Eller flip the switch again this year? Possible? Will Devante Smith-Pelly (acquired in a trade announced earlier today for Jiri Sekac) be a difference maker here in Montreal during hockey’s second season?
Likely? Not very.
There is a big difference between the trade deadline this year and the trade deadline last year. There is no Thomas Vanek available.
Among the pending unrestricted free agents, the top forwards include Mike Ribeiro from Nashville, Mats Zuccarello and Martin St. Louis from the New York Rangers, Justin Williams from the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings and Antoine Vermette from the Arizona Coyotes. Of those names, only Vermette is likely to move anywhere at the trade deadline.
Los Angeles is currently on the playoff bubble and Justin Williams is the kind of player you want to have in your top-six heading in the playoffs. However, if the Kings fall out of contention, could ‘Mr. Game Seven’ be a viable target for Marc Bergevin? The 33-year-old Williams is not an elite scorer, but has an offensive game and he steps up his effort in the playoffs every year. With an expiring cap hit of $3.65 million, the right-handed shot could be the equivalent of a Thomas Vanek acquisition for the Canadiens down the stretch. Williams is not likely to be dealt and he might very well have a movement clause of some sort in his contract; however, his name is one worth remembering as Bergevin has surprised us in the past and could work some magic if the Kings decide to mail it in.
Amongst the non-free agents, the sad sack Toronto Maple Leafs are officially rebuilding. Superstar forward Phil Kessel is likely out of most-teams price range at the trade deadline, more likely to be moved during the summer. Joffrey Lupul is talented but never healthy, either. The Edmonton Oilers have names like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov forever rumoured to be available. All three of these young players would also be pricey acquisitions.
Jaromir Jagr has openly stated that he would like to be traded to a contending team; however, the New Jersey Devils still feel they are a playoff-contending team. Frankly, trading for Jagr now would be disappointing. Jagr has slowed down this year considerably, physically and statistically. This is a player who wished to join the Canadiens as a free agent to play with countryman and friend Tomas Plekanec four seasons ago. And each summer thereafter as a free agent was spurned by the Habs. Subsequently, he put up some solid numbers for the Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils, including 24 goals and 67 points last year for the Devils at age 42. During that stretch and the Habs have had Danny Briere and P.A. Parenteau acquired to provide next to nothing positive at similar cap hits. Bringing in Jagr now, as age has started to take an increased toll on his overall numbers (11 goals, 29 points, -9 in 56 games this season) would be almost too-little, too-late. What better mentor for young players than a future first-ballot Hall of Fame player who has a work ethic second to none and a willingness to mentor younger players. Not signing Jagr originally – tremendous resume, skill set as well as size – was a serious miss by management in this author’s opinion.
So what does Marc Bergevin have up his sleeve for the trade deadline? With the injuries to Alexei Emelin and Sergei Gonchar, added depth on the blue line is likely coming and has been mentioned at length already. But where are the goals coming from this time? Thomas Vanek provided a huge spark last year as the team made a huge push into the playoffs. He fell off big time during the playoffs and essentially had the entire city sour on him by the end of the season. Vanek ended up signing in his adopted hometown of Minnesota as the entire league expected he would, but at a fraction of the price expected. His playoff effort was duly noted by the Wild brass for sure. There is no Thomas Vanek available at the trade deadline this season, either.
In the playoffs, you need to score goals and you need balanced scoring. Games get tighter-checking, and goals start coming at a premium. The defensive effort has been strong again and the Canadiens received the balanced scoring last year against Tampa and Boston as they advanced past those two teams. For the most part, goals have been provided by a committee this season too. But to expect us to go deep into the playoffs as a favorite this year with nary a point-per-game player in the lineup is asking for a lot. Something has to be done. If some added scoring punch is not found by the trade deadline, Carey Price better continue to stand on his head because if he slips even a little bit, this season could end a lot earlier than we all hope. Or expect.