All Habs Mailbag: Eller, Desharnais, Grabovski, Beaulieu, Faceoffs, Subban, Trades


By Robert Rice, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

TORONTO, ON — The All Habs Mailbag is as popular as ever! This is the place to send in your questions about all things Montreal Canadiens.

Then check every Thursday to read the answers to the most popular or poignant questions about the Habs. Keep in mind that we will discuss the entire Canadiens organization so questions about prospects and roster players are equally welcome!

Submissions can be mailed directly to [email protected]

Three Guidelines for Submissions:

  • This is not for hate mail or complaints. If you have an issue with what you read on these pages, this is not the place to bring it up. The mailbag is for questions about the Montreal Canadiens organization and the NHL.
  • As long-time readers of All Habs know, we do not publish rumours.  Therefore I will not engage in discussion of the validity of rumours — frankly I consider them a waste of time anyway.  For every rumour that was close to accurate, there have been about a thousand duds.
  • Nothing of essay-length please. There will be other people who will have questions and it is a bit unfair if I have to dedicate the Mailbag to answering one very large question or someone who’s asking five questions at once.
So, let’s open the All Habs mailbag!


All Habs Mailbag (week ending February 14th, 2013)


Daniel A

When will Lars Eller get consistent line mates that he can grow with? He’s good on the penalty-kill and is only 23 so I see a lot of upside. What’s your take?

Lars Eller is unfortunately trapped until Michel Therrien decides that David Desharnais is underperforming at such a rate that he chooses to scratch him or change his position from centre to wing. Eller has the potential at the least to be a good 3rd-line centre in an NHL setting that will add good defensive value and some scoring. It’s arguable he could have a Plekanec-type growth where in his mid to late 20s he emerges as a true Top-6 and could stand as a solid No. 2 centre for the team as Plekanec may be leaving his prime years around the time that Eller steps up to such a role. Whether the team will show the patience with Eller, and respect him enough to give him a chance remains to be seen. Therrien will have to give Eller a chance over Desharnais at some point, one would hope anyway.



What should Montreal do with David Desharnais? Do you think there is a market for him?

David Desharnais coming off the magic of his 60-point season is a concern for Montreal as his trade value has plummeted from where it was just a few months ago. I would think at present, Montreal needs to find a way to get him away from defensive situations and ease his responsibilities. The issue at hand is that Michel Therrien has earmarked Galchenyuk and Gallagher to take the easier matchups and favourable offensive zone starts, as well he should to ease the rookies in. It’s also inadvisable to slip Desharnais in with the two as it would create a size disadvantage for the line.

My thought for the last couple of weeks has to been to give Desharnais’s centre position to Eller in the Top-6 and move Desharnais to the wing. Given Desharnais’s lack of size and no elite speed, it is exceptionally difficult for him to maintain puck possession when pressured when compared to Eller’s superior possession abilities. Desharnais shifted to the wing would ease the pressure of him having to be the lead puck carrier on his line and allow him to move into more opportune areas to receive passes and set up plays. His future in the NHL may be improved by moving to a position of less responsibility, as teams seem to be keying to his vulnerabilities  more this year and not giving him any space when he enters the offensive zone.

In my view, Desharnais does not fit in the long-term plans of the Canadiens down the middle but they could create value for him by placing him in a better position to succeed. In terms of long-term planning, Desharnais can’t supplant Tomas Plekanec as it is being made obvious and a Top-6 centre spot must be kept available for Galchenyuk as he matures. With Desharnais’s lack of a defensive game an issue on a nightly basis of late, one can not imagine him centering the 3rd line either. The best option for Montreal is to find a way to boost his points production and flip him for assets to help the team down the road.



Hi. What’s your take on the non-suspension of Mikhail Grabovski for his biting Max Pacioretty?

Given the league’s rubber-legged nature about player discipline, this isn’t a surprise. The league has in the past generally required a smoking gun to suspend a player for even large infractions. Without conclusive evidence on the video that Mikhail Grabovski bit Max Pacioretty’s arm, there isn’t much the league can do other than give a non-official warning that if such an incident comes up again, he may not slide on it. There have been more egregious moves by various players this year and last that went without punishment so this is to be expected.



I’ve heard a couple of people state that Nathan Beaulieu is a bit lazy and unfocused, especially in comparison to Jarred Tinordi. True?

Nathan Beaulieu is knocked at present as he tends to have mental lapses about his defensive zone coverage, he will sometimes forget to pick up an assignment or show lax passing judgement, sending pucks to nowhere or an opposing player. The issue with comparing him to Jarred Tinordi is they are the polar opposites, Tinordi is a shutdown  player while Beaulieu thinks of offence-first when he plays, Tinordi’s simpler games makes him look more responsible, while Beaulieu is trying to flesh out balancing offence and defence to be able to play in a pro setting.

One could consider that part of Beaulieu’s development regarding defence is that it was something he didn’t have to work that hard at it in major junior. During Beaulieu’s last 3 seasons of junior hockey, his team the Saint John Sea Dogs finished 1st in the Quebec Major Junior league three times in a row, won two league championships and a Memorial Cup. On a team that dominant, strict defensive awareness is not a heavy prerequisite for it’s defencemen. Some defencemen also just take longer to round out their game and as of late, Beaulieu has been credited with improving defensive coverage in his responsibilities with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Longer development paths are not that uncommon consideration with offensive defencemen though, not everyone’s defensive game grows as well as P.K. Subban’s in such a short period. Beaulieu is still much too young to be worried about failing as a prospect, he didn’t even turn 20 until December and defencemen generally take a longer path to mature into regular NHL players compared to forwards.




How do Habs fix their biggest weakness (in my opinion), faceoffs? Internally? Is there a trade you’d like to see? (Ryan O’Reilly)

Probably some internal coaching will help but it seems that faceoffs are a bit like any other skill in the NHL, some people have the knack for it and some do not. The team would likely benefit from younger players like Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk developing a talent for the circle, but they are likely not going to get there overnight. Ryan White has so far been the only centre to take faceoffs and not be under 50 percent, but with his 63.6 percent efficiency coming on 44 total faceoffs, one might imagine he’s flying above what is realistic for him, or anyone. While it’s an acknowledged risk after some earlier trouble by White this season with bad penalties, him being potentially capable of winning faceoffs may resolve some issues in key defensive situations. The other option would be to dress Petteri Nokelainen if he ever comes off the injured reserve listing as he did rate for 53.4 percent in the circle last season, granted he likely doesn’t fit Therrien’s ideal of a 4th-line player either.

Speaking towards Ryan O’Reilly, it is likely he could help the Canadiens in the circle but the issue would be the assets involved to acquire him and the contract that Marc Bergevin would immediately have to negotiate. The cost could be significant in a bidding war and the dialogue at present is that O’Reilly is not interested in doing a bridge contract similar to the deal that Bergevin held very firm on with a franchise face in P.K. Subban. Given that, it is hard to imagine Bergevin suddenly bending to a player with no history in the organization and giving him special consideration in a contract negotiation. In terms of other targets, Montreal could make a move for a player liked Jerrod Smithson, Boyd Gordon or Eric Belanger if they felt truly compelled to address the faceoff situation, all over 55 percent in the faceoff circle to start the year.



When does Michel Therrien start playing P.K. Subban as a top defenseman, instead of 3rd pairing?

It seems to be an unknown when Michel Therrien will promote P.K. Subban to Top-4 ice time. Through six games PK Subban is averaging 19:26 in time-on-ice per game, this contrasts against 22:16 when he was a rookie in 2010-11 and when he led the team in TOI with 24:16 last season. Through 6 games, PK has scored 3 goals and 3 assists and significantly improved the team’s ability to move the puck up the ice from the back end to create offence. Given that Subban is a superior talent to Raphael Diaz in essentially all things, one would have expected by now that he would reunite with Josh Gorges to recreate the top defensive pairing the Canadiens had last season.

Debate rages from whether Therrien is being cautious with Subban to start the season or is set on whipping Subban’s exuberant attitude into a ‘team-oriented’ one, or a mix of the two. The concern is that the longer this situation of playing Subban less minutes than as a rookie or as a sophomore is that he won’t be able to help the team more and that could cost the team games as the season goes on. There is not much room for a team to skid right now and still make the playoffs so it seems almost illogical to not play your best players as much as you reasonably can. I suspect Therrien’s hand will be forced sooner or later on the matter, he can not be serious about having the best possible season and holding back a player like P.K. Subban.



Can you see the Habs trading away roster players at deadline regardless of playoff contention why? and for what?

As always a team must consider offers, and see what is available when they believe they can make themselves better via return of draft picks or players. If the Canadiens feel they can make a deal with a team that improves them by dealing off their roster, it is Marc Bergevin’s job to make the move. With the team always looking to improve, a deal might be made to move veterans out for younger players that will be better in the long term for Montreal, while a team adds welcome veteran presence to their lineup for a Cup run. It might cost the team the chance at a playoff spot, but improve their fortunes for future seasons.

I would think Bergevin would be more reserved about dealing major assets if the Canadiens were sitting in a playoff position, but a swap where teams exchange to fill out areas of weakness could occur.





  1. Would you look into hiring or bringing in a guy like Yanic Perrault to help the team on face offs?
    He was one of the best during his time in the NHL.

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