All Habs Faceoff: Galchenyuk, Bourque, Bulldogs, Center Block, Defensive System

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Faceoff is a regular feature featuring All Habs writers going head-to-head sharing their opinions on a variety of issues.  This week, seeing as not much news is coming out from both the Habs and the NHL, with CBA talks going apparently nowhere, Chantal and Steve have decided to discuss different ways in which they feel the Habs could improve upon for whenever the next season begins.

Do they agree? Do you agree with Chantal or Steve? Read, enjoy and don’t forget to leave your comments.

by Chantal, Managing Editor, and Steve Farnham, Associate Editor, All Habs Hockey Magazine

LONGUEUIL, QC — This past Friday, a few of us from the All Habs team headed over to the Bell Centre to watch the Hamilton Bulldogs host the Syracuse Crunch for a regular season American Hockey League (AHL) game, and we were all hoping to experience an exciting night watching Montreal Canadiens’ prospects demonstrate their abilities on the Bell Centre ice.

It was a small consolation prize for a bunch of writers who are frustrated with the NHL and NHLPA who are still unable to come to an agreement in their current CBA negotiations. Nonetheless, we were hoping for a good game but were unfortunately treated to quite the opposite.

On the plus side for me, I got to see Robert Mayer in what was probably one of his best performances since becoming a pro. Left to himself for most of the night, he multiplied save after save, often in cases where it seemed every other player on the ice had given up on the play.

Even though the Bulldogs were heavily outshot, Mayer kept them in the game until the end, and only then did the Crunch pull away with their third and fourth goals to eventually seal the game 4-to-1, in a game where they outshot the Bulldogs 31-to-14.

For the Crunch, netminder Dustin Tokarski was hardly tested all night and although listed at 6’0″ on the AHL website, he appeared minuscule in his net. Although I never judge a goaltender on one game alone, Tokarski didn’t demonstrate anything that showed me he could potentially be a regular goalie in the NHL.

The unfortunate incident that night as everyone knows by now happened when J.P. Côté of the Crunch absolutely levelled Blake Geoffrion of the Bulldogs. Geoffrion left the game on his own power with a depressed skull fracture, one that required immediate surgery.  He is scheduled to leave the hospital on Wednesday. We wish him well.

With so little news coming out of the NHL, this week, Chantal and I decided that we would look at ways in which the Montreal Canadiens need to improve upon, in order to become a competitive playoff team. Marc Bergevin has made a few moves since being hired as Montreal Canadiens General Manager, and we’ve yet to see what kind of impact these moves will have on the team, but what else needs to be done to improve the team?

1.  The Canadiens need to get bigger up the middle.

Steve: Since forever, Habs’ fans have been hearing that the Canadiens need to get bigger down the middle yet for the longest time, we’ve seen nothing but smurf-like players at the center position.

Saku Koivu was the team’s number one center for many years and quarterback of the powerplay. In the current edition, we have a mix of Tomas Plekanec, Scott Gomez and David Desharnais, and neither one is tall enough to enter the Monster ride at the La Ronde theme park.

There is hope however, with the Montreal Canadiens having drafted Alex Galchenyuk, a big strong 6’2″, 205 lbs centerman out of the Sarnia Sting, who currently leads his team in Sarnia with 32 points in 20 games (13 goals, 19 assists) and is tied for third in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in points.

Now to enter the “theoretically speaking” arena. “IF” the NHL were to resume in December, would it be considerable to have Alex Galchenyuk start what would definitely be a shortened season with the Canadiens?

Last season, the Canadiens played a total of 57 regular season games from December first onwards. The Sting are set to play 41 regular season games as of that same date this season, therefore 16 less than at least what I would assume the Canadiens would stand to play should the NHL resume.

I understand the fatigue factor from the fact he would end up playing more games in the NHL, games that would be tougher and more demanding. I also understand that he only played a little more than a handful of games last season, but wouldn’t it make sense to bring him up now and start molding him into that franchise player we are all hoping he can become?

If the team is in a transition phase, wouldn’t you want him to participate in that transition?

After only 20 games in the OHL this season, he appears to be demonstrating to everyone that he has nothing left to learn at that level.


Chantal: My position on this issue hasn’t changed. I still want to see Galchenyuk play in the OHL this season. For starters, he’s been playing wing this year. After missing almost a complete season last year, he’s lighting up the league and to quote GM Marc Bergevin, “He’s carrying the team on his back.” They need him. It’s good for his development, his confidence, and getting his body used to a heavy schedule again.

You also have to consider what kind of role he could have with the Habs this year. We haven’t seen the Michel Therrien Habs yet, haven’t seen his lineup, his system. Habs needing to get bigger down the middle is, as you pointed out, something we’ve been hearing for years. Will they become a cup contender by adding one big centerman? No. That notion is overrated in my books. Plekanec is a fine centerman, a complete player. Lars Eller needs to be given his shot at center over a longer period of time. And, like it or not, Scott Gomez is still one of the best puck carriers out there. As for Desharnais, he’ll be fine as long as he’s flanked by Pacioretty and Cole.

Leave Galchenyuk in the juniors, let him be a superstar there. Habs will be in a transition year with new personnel and an average roster, this isn’t the best time to bring in a kid labelled as a “saviour”.

[Stevo Note: Without debating your response, people really need to stop labelling him that way.] [Chantal Note: A first round draft pick in the Mecca will never live it down.] [Editor’s Note: Too many notes.]

2.   Not another defensive-minded system?

Chantal: I’ve heard a few Bulldogs players this week mention that the coaching staff is implementing the same system the Habs will be playing in order to ease their transition should they be called up. This concerns me because I don’t like what I’ve been seeing. Granted, the Habs farm team is very young this year, they may not have “merged” yet, or they might be having trouble executing said system.

But what if what we’ve seen out there is actually Therrien’s system? Oh Sweet Mother God Help Us All. I’m having Jacques Martin Habs Hockey ZzzZZzz flashbacks, and remembering why I started a hot and heavy affair with the L.A Kings a few years back, just for the distraction.

Everyone involved with a team will tell you that they’re in the business of winning hockey games. It doesn’t matter how you do it, it’s how many. I understand that part. But the fan in me wants to be entertained. I’m selfish that way. Being trapped in your zone for four and a half minutes, dumping the puck to get a line change and being bumped off the puck all the time isn’t exactly my idea of a good time. Run and gun hockey is pretty much dead in this league, but I still yearn for it. Habs won’t be contenders for a few years still, might as well at least make it fun to watch.


Steve: I don’t even know where to begin.

I wasn’t aware that Sylvain Lefebvre and the Bulldogs were employing the same system that Michel Therrien intends to use in Montreal, and if that’s the case, the Montreal Canadiens risk making this lockout look exciting when they’re back on the ice.

On Friday, what I saw all night from Hamilton was all five players constantly collapsing on their own goalie. This very passive and defensive system forces opposing teams to remain on the outside of this cluster of players and take shots from the perimeter, but it can also cause a team to be slow to break out of their own zone when regaining possession, with all players being so deep in their zone. A non-aggressive defensive system is something most are used to in Montreal, that’s what Jacques Martin was employing.

On the offensive side of the puck, I rarely saw any attempts to setup the puck in the offensive zone. More often than not, the Bulldogs would enter the offensive zone with all three forwards in a straight line, with the puck-carrying winger shooting the puck to the net in hopes for a rebound. (Works great with NHL13, Bulldogs not so much.)

I criticized the Bulldogs for this on Twitter Friday night, and many came to their defence. “They’re young”, “They have injuries”, “They are playing the league champs”. It still doesn’t change the fact that I’m not a fan of the system I was seeing on the ice. It’s just plain boring to watch.

All of this said, I still prefer to have a cautious approach with what has been reported. Without any actual hockey to analyse and evaluate, I find it difficult to criticize a system that hasn’t been put into place yet. I must say though, what I saw Friday night was in no way exciting to watch so I’m hoping I won’t see the same from the Canadiens.

3.  Figure out what to do with the traffic jam at center.

Steve: At center, the Canadiens currently have the following players under contract (whatever that means in the current CBA negotiations) and I’ve indicated the number of years left in their respective contracts:

  • Scott Gomez (2 years)
  • Tomas Plekanec (4 years)
  • David Desharnais (1 year)
  • Lars Eller (2 years)
  • Petteri Nokelainen (1 year)

On the prospect side, knocking at the door we also have:

  • Louis Leblanc (2 years EL)
  • Alex Galchenyuk (3 years EL)

At the center position, I like to think that the Habs will be at their most dangerous when Plekanec, Galchenyuk and Eller end up centering the first three lines. If Bergevin feels the same way, this means that players like Gomez (obviously) and Desharnais don’t have that much time left in Montreal.

A player like Nokelainen falls into the “easily replaceable” category however for what he costs, can be kept as a fourth line center or can be easily moved onto the wing.

As for Louis Leblanc, if still in the Canadiens’ plans at that point, he’s also a player that can easily be moved onto the wing.

Everyone knows that it’s only a matter of time before Gomez is gone therefore for me, it all comes down to Desharnais having to go to make room for Eller. (Sorry DD fans, I like him too.)


Chantal: Excuse me a minute while I regain my composure. I had completely, completely, forgotten about Nokelainen. I remember, not so long ago, when everyone was pointing out the fact that Montreal had NO depth down the middle.

I’m a big Plekanec fan, I agree with you there, he’s a given. I’m also a big Eller fan. I think he still has untapped potential. The way things have been going, I believe Habs want to mold him into a third line shutdown centerman, with an offensive upside, a Jordan Staal type player.

Now, as for what the future holds… Gomez will be a goner. I still have trouble seeing what everybody else sees in Leblanc. In my mind, he’s more of a winger. And he’s already injury prone. I just don’t get the hype. I can see Galchenyuk coming in next season and bumping Desharnais (cue french media hysteria). Desharnais is a fine hockey player, a hard worker, and has been good for Habs. Like any player, he also has his shortcomings (no pun intended) and given the choice, I would gladly give that roster spot to Galchenyuk next year.

As for Nokelainen, huh?

4.  No more Mister Nice Hab

Chantal: In the last few years, a recurring complaint from Habs fans has been: We have no toughness. Habs are too small, they don’t fight, they’re not intimidating, they don’t hit, and so on. I’m not a huge fan of the fighting, but I agree that for the most part, visiting teams aren’t too nervous about playing a game at the Bell Center. It doesn’t hurt.

This needs to change.

A few steps have been taken. Brandon Prust has been inked to a contract. Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon too, if we have hockey this year. Are they the answer? They’re at least part of it. The emergence of Alexei Emelin contributes too. The other part will come from coach Michel Therrien. It’s all about attitude. He needs to convince this roster that they are tough, they can inflict pain, they got each other’s back, and the players need to buy into this.

They always say that 90 per cent of this game is mental. I hope that when hockey resumes, the guys will stand up and say “This is our barn, keep your head up, no more Mister Nice Hab.”


Steve: This one was difficult because I both agree and disagree with different parts of what you’ve said, however for argument’s sake, we’ll say that I disagree.

Although I don’t hate to see a guy like Brandon Prust come into the Habs lineup for the toughness that he can bring, I would ultimately prefer more Emelins on the team, and by more Emelins, I simply mean more guys that can strike the fear of god in you for the devastating checks they can deliver.

I can’t speak for all hockey players, but I have more fear in a hockey player coming across the ice to hit me while i’m not looking than I do of getting a few punches on the nose. Both can be just as devastating in worst case scenarios, but if the subject is fear, I fear the hitters much more than the punchers.

I do agree that it’s all about attitude, but I also believe that much of it is individual to each person. In other words, I don’t think Michel Therrien can have much influence on whether a player will go defend one of his teammates if hit from behind (for example), but I do believe that if you compose your team with many of those types of players, they can have a far greater influence on the other players than the coach can.

The new additions might help a little, but ultimately for me, it’s those top-six forwards that I’d like to see bigger.  

5. Rene Bourque, all-in or fold?

Steve: Much has been said about the way Rene Bourque has played with the Montreal Canadiens since being acquired from the Calgary Flames, in a trade that saw Michael Cammalleri get sent back to his former team. If I had to summarize Bourque’s play with one word, I would choose, “uninspired”.

I defended this trade at the time, probably influenced by the fact I couldn’t stand the sight of Cammalleri anymore, but in hindsight, it was a terrible move.

You can easily get lost in the numbers, as I had done at the time basing myself too much on goal and point totals of the previous two seasons, the only two times in Bourque’s career that he had obtained 50 points or more. In comparison to Cammalleri’s previous two seasons, it appeared better, and it was, but if you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, you have a career 0.76 PPG player in Cammalleri vs. a career 0.53 PPG player in Bourque. That’s about a 20 point difference over the course of a full season.

This being said, the question is not who got the best out of that trade, but can Rene Bourque help the Montreal Canadiens going forward?

Bourque has size, skill, and can be an impact player when he turns the switch to “on”, however it seems this switch is often stuck in the “off” position, and his nonchalantness makes him appear exactly as he’s been tagged his entire career, lazy and heartless.

I don’t see why Marc Bergevin, who has made it clear he wants a team of hard working players, would see Bourque as a player he wants to keep in his lineup.


Chantal: First off, since you brought up numbers, Bourque’s cap hit is a little over $3.3 M annually until his contract expires in 2015-16, whereas Cammalleri’s cap hit is $6 M, with a $7 M annual salary. There’s your 20 points per season difference.

I believe Bourque has been a victim of circumstances. He landed in Montreal in a trade that was handled and executed very poorly by previous management. He was traded for a fan favorite (or so they tell me) and he was brought into a complete mess of a team.

Bourque is a player I very much liked in Calgary. He has a nose for the net, has size, and we know he can score goals. I think that once he has fully recovered from his off-season surgery, with a new coach at the helm to breathe life back into him, he could be the Bourque he once was. Consistency has always been an issue with him, but many players produce in stride.

Unless you want a carousel of Moens and whatnot in the top six again, I wouldn’t write off Bourque just yet.


Faceoff: Chantal vs. Steve

 Chantal

@habsgirl4life

60%

40% 

 Steve

@stevofarnham


Previous Faceoffs

All Habs Faceoff: Bettman, Beaulieu, 50/50, Schedule

All Habs Faceoff: Galchenyuk, KHL, Lockout Issues are Debated

12 COMMENTS

  1. I would leave him in junior for full year, but is moot, NHL aint starting till next fall and Habs aint a contender, so we wont miss much anyways.
    Let the kid develop and “practice” vs his own age group.
    Those complaining about the Bulldogs, seem to be suffering from kooky expectations 10 games into a season with brand new roster/coach and rookies everywhere. I loved the booing at the Bell centre, classy! and i missed it so much. Give me a break.

    Desharnais will do fine at wing, he is simply a smart player who would likey do fine on the wing, but Eller is likely destined for top 2 centre down the road (or not if Galchenyuk is slotted there) and Bournival is likely headed for 3rd line centre role.

    Soft back-end is a big big weakness, Markov, Gorges, Subban, Diaz, Kaberle are not crease clearers nor put anyone on their ass if Price is harassed. But will take time for Tinordi-Thrower-Ellis-Dietz-Pateryn, who are physical to be a factor.
    Still love the Bourque trade for softest player in league in Squid! Holland is one of best looking forwards in Hamilton and Timmins is likely drooling to have 4 picks in top 60 for next draft, which is looked nice and deep for skilled forwards.
    Still cant figure what Calgary was thinking?

    • Hey Don.

      I’m not a big fan of Desharnais at wing, he’s too easy to bump off the puck.

      As for the D, I’m not bothered by it, for now. Carey is so relaxed out there, it takes a lot to get him off his game, no matter how much he’s “harassed”.

      I like Holland a lot too, and I have no clue what Feaster was thinking.. looking for goals would be my guess. He also seems to appreciate Cammalleri, for whatever reason.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. That was a great discussion Chantal and Steve! The type of analysis that makes me long for hockey again. I do however think you are discounting DD too easily. Despite his height, his is a very adaptable player who keeps improving every professional season. We don’t know where he’ll peak, but luckily we won’t really have to make a decision on center until Galch is ready, which in my opinion will be the 2013-14 season.

  3. Poor Desharnais ! He literally saved the offensive season last year, and still you take him out of the team as easily as you would have taken out Mark Streit a few years ago. What’s the obsession with big / tall bodies and first round choices ? In 3 years, my guess is that HABS alignment will go like this :

    Galyenchuk,
    Desharnais,
    Pleky,
    Bournival

    And Eller / Leblanc will find room at the wings on the 2 or 3e lines.

    • With all due respect to Desharnais, much of his success last year can be attributed to his wingers.

      In the context of this Faceoff, we examine what could happen once Desharnais’ contract is expired. I wouldn’t renew it, given what Habs have coming up in the pipeline, but that’s not my call.

      I wouldn’t mind seeing Plekanec get rewarded with good wingers, finally. He’s been piloting the helicopter line long enough.

      It’s my understanding that Habs have already decided to use Leblanc on wing on a permanent basis. As for Eller, we’ll have to wait and see.

      Thanks for your comment Daniel.

  4. Lunacy….DD stays with paccioretty and cole. Period.

    Galchenyuk, WHEN he’s ready get to center line “1-a” that you build around him…(collberg-kristo?) leblanc-gallager?) qualier? vail?

    then 3rd line is centered by pleks or eller…(I say trade pleks.. he’s deminishing returns and offers the most bang for the buck in return AND he allows us to save cap.

    • Plekanec’s value is much greater than his cap space. He has been saddled with questionable wingers, has logged a lot of minutes at even strenght, on the power play, and on the penalty kill. He’s the Habs most complete player, the one you can trust in any given situation and has been constant.

      As a bonus, he was ranked fourth in the league last season in short handed goals. Michel Therrien has been speaking very highly of him since being hired, and I don’t see his role diminishing under the new coach.

      Oh, and he also has a no trade clause. Trade him? Lunacy!

      Thanks Jon.

  5. I understand to some extent the fond feelings that Canadiens’ fans have for David Desharnais. It’s natural to root for an underdog. But it’s time for a dose of reality to counter those emotional bonds.

    Desharnais was vaulted from a marginal NHL’er into first line duty by necessity. He had limited success but only because he was insulated by Cole and Pacioretty. Unfortunately this meant that the coaching staff’s hands were tied restricting their ability to move one of the power forwards to Plekanec’s line. The Canadiens were a one-line team.

    Surprisingly Eller notched the same number of goals (16) as Desharnais despite Lars being burdened with a constantly rotating carousel of slug linemates, a lack of icetime, and virtually no power-play time.

    Desharnais was ill-matched to play the power-play scoring only 3 goals. Interestingly with a minuscule amount of PP time, Eller had 2.

    Desharnais is an average skater at best, is too easily knocked off the puck and has no physical game. He is not capable of playing a wing position at the NHL-level.

    DD has filled in adequately waiting for the young talent to develop. We can be grateful for his service but now it’s time to part ways.

  6. Sorry, got to disagree 100% with turfin DD Rick!

    Check his stats, he lit up the Q for 3 years, but not good enough for AHL (“Too Small”) so as a rookie in the ECHL, over 100 points. Had easily over 1 PPG in AHL and increased production all 3 years.

    Then in his first full NHL season DD had 60 points on the most inept offensive team in the NHL, with 1 scoring line to shut down.

    He is been getting better every year at every level, with many different players.
    So, as i said, he is a very smart player with high “IQ” and at centre or wing, as long as he has a couple OK offensive players, he will make them better and get his points as a playmaker.
    He just turned 26, right in middle of prime age and you think he will regress? Dosent seem to make sense?
    Stick him on Eller’s line with Leblanc and he will do fine, or on Plekanec’s with Bourque and i bet same thing.
    I could be wrong, but he has been underestimated for a long time and seems still is.

    • Well aware of his stats Don, so that means I will have to quibble slightly with yours. Desharnais barely achieved a point per game in the AHL scoring 184 points in 183 games.

      To be frank, I don’t understand what is proven by citing his ECHL and AHL stats. I agree with you that it is a level of hockey where he can thrive.

      Let’s discard the notion that DD can play wing. He has no board game. None. He had fewer hits than Brian Gionta (a player of similar size) even though Gio played 50 fewer games last season.

      Skating is often the great equalizer for smaller players, but not for DD. He doesn’t have speed nor agility necessary to break away from defenders so is easily overcome, especially given his size.

      Desharnais is weak over his skates and far too easy to knock off the puck. He was only able to survive at his position given two wingers with size who both play very physical. His line had some success, but obviously not enough — the Canadiens finished 28th in the league with DD as the No. 1 centre.

      I did not contend that DD will regress. His skill and potential will not change. Move him off the top line and we will have a much clearer assessment of his value, which, given the talent of those waiting in the wings, is quite limited.

  7. As for Desharnais vs. Eller, they are different type of players. Eller has skills and character, but lack the vision and the collective creativity of a first or second center. Unlike Desharnais. Eller is more like a “russian” type of players, selfish and good at it, but best fit for the wing.

    As for Desharnais being totally dependant on his big wingers, I don’t think it’s true. Cole had its most successfull season WITH Desharnais (and not Staal). Same for Pacio. One would have to underestimate the bound between these 3 to assert that Pleky would have done the same job (and better) at the place of DD.

    And DD will come cheap. Signing him for 5 years at 4M per year would come handy, whatever we keep him or trade him for a first round.

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