All Habs Mailbag: Emelin, Kristo, Eller, Pacioretty, Bulldogs, CRTC


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  •  As long-time readers of All Habs know, we do not publish rumours.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



The next hockey game will be on CJAD or TSN990?

After a brief turn on TSN, Bell’s plan, pending the outcome of the current CRTC hearings, is to move the home of the Canadiens games in English to CJAD. With the seemingly inevitable conversion of TSN690 Montreal to a French All-Sports station being in the works for some time, I imagine it was the only true option in order to retain English broadcasts of Habs games on Montreal radio.



Is Alexei Emelin ready for top-4 minutes? Can he be a penalty-kill specialist? Does he have enough upside to be on the 2nd power-play with Tomas Kaberle?

After a good rookie season that tailed off as Alexei Emelin hit the wall common for players who aren’t accustomed to the long grind of the NHL season, his status is largely debatable. Emelin averaged about 17 minutes per game last season, I would expect he’ll get a little more than that, but defencemen ice time is rewarded on performance and it can sometimes be very noticeable when a defencemen is out of his depth against superior players. Emelin will need to do more than just hit next season to raise his ranking in the organization.

Any serious allocation of power play time is probably not available at present as his point production was quite anemic with only a few isolated displays of having some of the offensive flair that raised his profile in his last two KHL seasons before signing with Montreal. Its likely Emelin can at the least, become an effective member of the penalty kill, but he’ll have to prove he’s capable of better offence first before joining the team’s power play.


What is the Canadiens biggest weakness going in to this season?

Defence. The team lacks capable defenders who can reliably play top-4 minutes has been a bit of trouble for the team both in 2011-12 and in 2010-11 due to Andrei Markov’s questionable health. If he’s back and can play an effective 20 minutes per game, the team can take a breath of relief and be more competitive. The lack of veteran puck-movers who can handle top-4 minutes is a bit of an anchor on the Canadiens at present. Any issue with Markov’s return and the Habs find themselves with only Josh Gorges and PK. Subban as reliable top-4 defencemen for the coming season.



If we are locked out for a year, does that year count against Max’s contract?

That depends on the final agreement that is reached in the CBA. The league and players can either agree to let a year be ‘burned’ of existing contracts or to consider the year a non-event as far as impact for the contracts and play on, all contracts to be honoured as if it was still the previous season. How that goes is debatable, but I think with the amount of young talent in the league, the NHL will favour not burning a year to preserve entry-level deals, while the players will likely want all their contract dollars guaranteed.



What future do you think Kristo has with the Habs, knowing the organizations low tolerance for off-ice antics?

In regards to the latest reported incident (Link) it doesn’t look good for the much-vaunted ‘character’ questions, but we should also note it’s an entirely new Hockey Operations group. The team has hired player development personnel in Martin Lapointe and Patrice Brisebois and it has been since reported Lapointe considers the incident dealt with already. While the past administration seemed to have a lower tolerance for players to ‘shape up’ as it were, it’s worth keeping in mind it is a new management group with a new philosophy, one that presently seems very focused on developing the youth core. Given the considerable turnover in the team staff, I doubt the team will be rushing to snap judgments as they get to know their prospect base and work with them more closely than the last administration.

When it comes down to it, Danny Kristo is still one of the most skilled forward prospects in an organization that despite recent boons in their drafting, could still be feeling the pinch for skilled scoring forwards. Kristo hasn’t put any truly notable warnings yet that say he is incapable of being a professional hockey player. There will always be some immature players in the NHL and they can still be productive members of the team. The perception you need 20 ‘character guys’ on a hockey roster is very flawed in my view, sometimes, you just need the guy who can score a goal.



 Lars Eller has clearly shown the ability to play tough defensive minutes. Do you foresee him overtaking Plekanec within a couple of seasons, thus leading to possibly trading #14 for other organization needs?

 That is probably a premature opinion until we see Lars Eller have a larger offensive breakthrough than we have previously seen. While he’s establishing his worth as a very good two-way centre, we shouldn’t forget Tomas Plekanec has averaged 59 points a season in his last five years and Eller is yet to collect even 50 career points. Until Eller can demonstrate he can play effective shutdown minutes against top matchups while being a 50+ point producer, he’s likely going to hang back further in the lineup. It’s possible in about 3-5 seasons this becomes a possible scenario, but presently one should expect Eller to work from the 3rd line for the next couple of seasons and quite likely, be overshadowed by the rise of top prospect Alex Galchenyuk.



With the players assigned to their affiliates, do you believe that attendance numbers in the AHL will significantly increase and once the lockout ends, do you think people will continue to attend AHL games or go back to not really caring as much?

I would imagine there will be a good bump in markets that receive a decent talent infusion, but the AHL has never been a remarkably well-attended league outside of the cities where the teams have developed a strong following. AHL teams may also have to aggressively market all the new talent they feature, as people may not be aware of how good the local team may be for the coming season and will be in ignorance of multiple NHL-quality players or prospects on the local ice.

I do think the talent exodus will likely match a reduction in attendance though; quality of the AHL product is often what it hurts the teams in ticket sales and once the quality returns to its typical level one would see a marked reduction in attendance. The AHL could see quite a few more tickets sold with all of the young talent reassigned to NHL team affiliates, but their attendance bump is likely going to last just as long as the lockout.



Who do you see as the leading scorer for the Bulldogs this year?

I’d give the nod to Aaron Palushaj, as he’s the veteran of the squad among scorers and will be playing on the 1st line from the start of the year. His direct challenger could be Louis Leblanc, who had 22 points in 31 AHL games last season and is the closest among the prospects to being an NHL contributor. Leblanc having a complete off-season for strength and conditioning will have him much better prepared to deal with the rigors of pro competition compared to last season when he was coming off of shoulder surgery. Either of the two could lead the Bulldogs, albeit one shouldn’t forget as a potential dark horse, Brendan Gallagher who spent the last three seasons terrorizing WHL goaltenders.