All Habs Mailbag: Eller, Gallagher, Leblanc, CBA, Nailers, Kristo, Gionta, Toughness


By Robert Rice, Senior Writer, 

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 Wednesday 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 Canadiens.
  •  As long-time readers of All Habs know, we do not publish rumours.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!



Who do you see taking that last top six spot? Will it be Gallagher, Leblanc or do you see a trade happening?

I’m of the opinion that the lockout is going to occur and keep the NHL closed for at least the first two months of the season, which means likely Rene Bourque will be ready to at least audition for that final spot. Alternatively, Marc Bergevin could seize upon the advantage that Andrei Kostitsyn continues to twist in the free agency wind and snap him up, adding some scoring depth to a lightly-gifted roster in that department. If the season were to start on time, I’d expect Leblanc and Gallagher to compete for the spot, Leblanc would hold the advantage with his previous pro experience but Gallagher’s gift for finding the back of the net shouldn’t be underestimated.

As per a trade, I don’t see much happening on that horizon. With the depressed value of most of the Canadiens roster and the importance of the team’s prospect core, it seems an inopportune time for Bergevin to be arranging any trades.



Will Lars Eller finally break out when the NHL resumes playing?

Eller is a developing two-way centre but most of his offensive potential will be limited due to his being slotted back in the 3rd-line centre position and the team being bereft of offensive talent. While Eller increased his goals production to 16 last season and is likely capable of moving into the 20-goal range, his ability to generate assists as a playmaker will be limited by his linemates. With only Bourque, Gionta, Cole, Pacioretty being capable 20+ goal scorers on the team, Eller will likely find himself wanting for help on the 3rd line. There could be potential if Eller is given a young scoring rookie like Louis Leblanc or Brendan Gallagher to play with, it would give him a chance to potentially be a 20G, 20A skater next season. However it could also be possible he skates with players like Prust and Armstrong, who are a bit more limited in the scoring department.



When will the lockout be over?

I’m quite confident we won’t have a lost season, but I wouldn’t be expecting the Habs to hit the Bell Centre ice until around December or January. The NHL’s need for the promotional and advertising value in the Winter Classic, not to mention the loss of profits from a cancelled season will likely have both sides sealing a deal in time for at least half a season of hockey. The players at the same time will be feeling the pinch of no NHL salary, as playing over in European leagues will be for purposes of playing competitive hockey to stay prepared, rather than earning a top wage.



Many experts have the Habs finishing near the bottom again, can you see them making the playoffs?

There are three primary factors that will impact my view. The first is that the team needs Andrei Markov to be at least 80 per cent of what he used to be, if he can be a good puck moving defencemen for the team, it eases Subban’s responsibility to be the sole defencemen capable of that at present. Markov being able to play 20 minutes or more of ice time would also benefit the team from putting too much responsibility on less experienced skaters like Emelin, Diaz or Weber or be forced to give it to the less capable in Boullion or Kaberle.

The second factor is the all-too-common parade to the team clinic that has been ongoing for about four years now. For whatever reasons, the roster, both bigger and smaller skaters have been spending a lot of time recovering from injuries and it has often limited the team’s ability to stay competitive for significant stretches of the season. If the team can see an improved fortune in their health, especially in that of their bigger players it will be a notable boon and give relief to a team that is a bit light on star power.

The third factor is likely hedging on the performance of Carey Price. While I’m a great supporter of Price, the line between a solid and superlative season can determine a team’s fortunes. Contrast the play of Ryan Miller when he was about the best goalie in the world in 2010 and the following two seasons. He’s been very good, but not as brilliant as he was in 2010. Take Lundqvist’s season this year, again, outstanding but he’s not had a season of such statistical dominance before either despite being a great goaltender.

With at least two of these factors going in the Canadiens favour, a return to the post-season can occur as the Eastern Conference is not an overly strong group.



Who is the ECHL affiliate for the Habs and are any good players there?

The Canadiens currently hold an agreement with the Wheeling Nailers, based out of Wheeling, playing out of West Virginia. As for talent, I wouldn’t expect to see anyone affiliated with the Canadiens and playing for Wheeling to make the team. Peter Delmas primarily played their last season and may start there again, but he’s a marginal goaltending prospect at best presently. As for skaters, there’s nobody of note. It should be brought to mind the ECHL is not much of a promising league and rarely do NHL quality prospects play there as they usually head straight to the AHL. There is an occasional name like Alex Burrows, David Desharnais, Jaroslav Halak or Jonathan Quick but the league is very much ‘last chance’ for players with professional hopes.



Should the Habs trade Kristo now rather then risk losing his rights?

I’m not sure where the persistent talk that Danny Kristo plans to spurn the Canadiens comes from, but I don’t subscribe to it. I’m reminded of the talk that Alexei Emelin would never commit to playing in North America and I think we can safely put that one to bed. Conversely we should consider if rumours are out there that Kristo has no interest in signing with Montreal, it would be considered by any team that is offered Kristo in a trade. Kristo may be set to make himself a free agent instead of committing to whatever team holds his rights and in that case, the team receiving him in a trade would get no benefit out of the deal.



Can Cole repeat and score 30 goals? Can we count on Gionta to hit 20? 30? Is there enough offence on the team to win games?

Cole will have to repeat his excellence on the power play to flirt with that number again I believe. 11 of his 35 goals last season came off the power play and he was the first player on the team to do that since Alex Kovalev in the 2008-2009 season. If the Canadiens can run a good power play unit, Cole should be able to use his talents to generate the number. It should be kept in mind though, players in their 30s are not often known for hitting their career highs in scoring in successive years or matching them and Cole may revert back a little as he also had a career-best shooting percentage of 14.5 per cent.

As for Brian Gionta, that will likely depend on how well he’s recovered from his bicep surgery. While he boasts seven 20-goal seasons, including his outstanding 48-goal effort in 2005-2006, he’s often found himself falling short of the 30G mark, by two goals in 2010 and one goal in 2011. With good chemistry and being injury-free on whatever line Gionta ends up playing, he could crack a 30-goal effort. However it’s much like with Cole, it’s not often we see players heading towards their mid-30s to put out some of their best scoring performances this late in their careers.

On paper, which is not always a great way to project, the team has enough scoring to put themselves into a playoff spot. If the team’s goal scorers can stay within their career norms and one or two can go over that, their odds go up favourably for consistent wins.


Are the Canadiens now a “tough team” with a healthy Ryan White, and the additions of Prust and Armstrong?

In the sense that there are more skaters on the team willing to hit and drop the gloves, the Canadiens are more well-equipped in that department. However the back end is arguably soft with only P.K. Subban and Alexei Emelin as notable hitters. I’m not expecting much from the addition of a soon to be 37-year old Francis Boullion as we shouldn’t expect too much effective physical force from him in the twilight of his career. However we should keep in mind historically, fighting doesn’t have much to do with playoff standings and winning championships. It should be kept in mind as well that there is no noted ‘heavyweight’ to ‘keep the other team honest’ but as I always say, look at the Boston Bruins. Patrice Bergeron, Marc Savard and Nathan Horton were all hit with brutal head shots and despite the reputation of the “Big Bad Bruins”, they were still hit and the perpetrators didn’t exactly get ‘justice’ done to them.