All Habs Mailbag: Leblanc, Subban, Markov, Kaberle, Lockout, Kings


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  •  As long-time readers of All Habs know, we do not publish rumours.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.
I’m on vacation next week, so I’ve extended this week’s entries. For next week, please send your questions to [email protected] and members of the All Habs crew will answer!
So, let’s open the All Habs mailbag!


Will any young talent (Leblanc, Geoffrion) make the team this season after the free agent signings?

I would give the best possible odds to Louis Leblanc to start with the team. He has previous NHL experience and as the team stands at present, if you exclude Scott Gomez (as I do) then the Canadiens have in my opinion, 11 useful NHL forwards.

This list is Brian Gionta, Erik Cole, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, Rene Bourque, Ryan White, Brandon Prust, Travis Moen, Lars Eller, and Colby Armstrong. I personally don’t know why this team brought Petteri Nokelainen back after last season’s performance — I don’t consider him a viable 82-game player.

With that in mind, Leblanc could slip into a top-nine role to provide the team some youthful scoring ability. Blake Geoffrion strikes me more as a skater to call up after someone like Prust, Armstrong or White is injured. We could also see Brendan Gallagher have an audition thanks to the prodigious scoring touch he’s displayed in his last three WHL seasons.



What do you anticipate that the Habs will do with P.K. Subban…what will be his contract term and cap hit?

It’s my belief Habs GM Marc Bergevin wishes to lock up P.K. Subban like he has with Max Pacioretty and Carey Price, on a six-year extension so the team’s core is secure.  That will allow Bergevin to focus on expanding that core.

As for cap hit, I’d imagine that is the gulf at present. With noted RFA defencemen John Carlson, Michael Del Zotto and Dmitri Kulikov all presently negotiating new contracts as well, it could be all their agents are waiting for someone to sign and use that contract as their comparable. We’ve heard both sides, an early report saying Bergevin offering $2.75M per season, the other that Subban is asking for $6M.

What I believe will occur is a deal between $4.25 to 5.5 million. To some the top end may sound like a lot but Subban has essentially ascended to the No. 1 defencemen position in the organization over the past year. Subban plays the most minutes, in all situations and is producing points despite last season, with the coaching staff playing him on the wrong side of the power play.

It should also be noted while the figure may seem high, Subban’s agent, Don Meehan is one of the most notorious sharks in the NHL and consistently negotiates top-end contracts for his clients. Given the rising salary cap, the highest taxation of all 30 hockey markets I don’t think it is inconceivable the average value of Subban’s contract could end in the $5M+ range.



 the Habs horrible defence improved?

The defence is largely an X-factor. I fully anticipate P.K. Subban progressing steadily as a defencemen and Josh Gorges remaining steady, but there are question marks hanging over Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, Tomas Kaberle, Rafael Diaz and Yannick Weber. Markov is of course the man who could most turn the season on its head if he plays at close to his old level — the team is desperate for defencemen who can reliably play 20 minutes or more per game.

The next factor is the adaptation of Emelin and Diaz, who will be playing their second seasons in the NHL and have a far better understanding of how to play in the environment. If Emelin or Diaz can show they are able to step into a reliable No. 4 role it would go a long way to bringing stability to the back end.

The most concerning area is the status of Kaberle and Weber. Kaberle was a considerable disappointment last season and while he’s admitted since he hadn’t trained well in preparation for the season, that’s cold comfort given how often we are given the “I am now in the best shape of my life” speech from athletes. Weber is a concern as he’s failed to take the step forward we keep expecting, after posting excellent numbers in both the OHL and AHL. It could be it has taken him a little longer to adapt to the NHL, but time seems to be ticking for a player who is quite similar to Diaz, but is currently behind him in utility and development.



Can the Kings repeat next season?

Given that we are marching dangerously close to the dreaded lockout scenario, the Kings odds actually go up in my view. I severely doubt we will see another lost season and the work stoppage will end as the Winter Classic and All-Star Game are simply too important for the NHL to drop considering the lucrative money and publicity involved.

A half-season lockout in my view is ceding a large advantage to the Kings. Any Championship team, or team that plays in the Finals has the unenviable position of being about two to three months behind the majority of the league in training and recovery. The Stanley Cup is won in mid-June and by September, the players are back in training camp. That’s not much time for battered bodies to rebuild physically and heal from their injuries from non-stop training and hockey over a nine-month span, so while a Cup Champion is still an incredibly skilled team most of the time, they’re outmatched in a recovery and training perspective and often struggle to repeat the same successes.

If the Kings were to have from June to December to rest, recover and train for a title defence, they would find themselves on close to equal footing with their opposition. Their skilled core is still intact as well without any notable losses to free agency, they are essentially the same team that won the Cup as well.



Which player will break out this season? Which player will underachieve?

I would expect to see P.K. Subban post at least 45 points and perhaps even flirt with 50+ if he is utilized properly. Subban will be the go-to trigger man on the power play and taking the most minutes so it shouldn’t be hard for the evolving defencemen to start stacking points. I’d also expect to see more from Lars Eller, provided the team can spot him at least one skilled linemate so he has some offensive talent to play with.

For underachievers, I hate to go into a season pessimistic about anyone but my largest concerns are Rene Bourque and Tomas Kaberle. Following Bourque’s inglorious term in Montreal last season and the bright lights of the Bell Centre continuing to be the inhospitable environment it is for those who are arguably career underachievers. Kaberle I feel will continue to be a burden, but too expensive as a player to lose or easily bury and will present the coaching staff a challenge as they try to design match-ups to cover his limitations.



Aside from the untouchables, who do you see as the Habs’ most tradeable assets right now?

Given contract, utility and age while excluding No-Trade clauses, I’d place Tomas Plekanec, Josh Gorges, Erik Cole, David Desharnais and Lars Eller on the list.

Plekanec would be a boon to any team that has a notable gap in their centre depth. If he were to slot in behind an elite centre, or form a 1A/1B group with a similar player to himself it would grant a large advantage to his new team. As the team’s best centre he would be extremely hard to give up but if a team is willing to cede an overly generous package, the team must look at it carefully. Plekanec is likely too valuable to lose to anything short of obscene payment though due to the value of his being the team’s only veteran centre and likely a needed future mentor for Alex Galchenyuk.

Gorges is a very hard player to part with, but with his exceptional talents as a shutdown defencemen, one must be open to potentially lucrative offers. The team’s defensive core has grown quite a bit in terms of prospect strength and with the Habs being years from a Cup contending roster so it makes the loss a bit more palatable compared to a couple years ago. Gorges could be worth a lot to some bidders as the need for reliable defencemen who can crunch 20+ minutes a game are a rare commodity and always desperately needed for long playoff runs. His status as a veteran leader and player on the back end likely leaves the team hesitant to move him though since the health of Markov is still under debate.

Cole is coming off a career year in goal scoring and with teams always looking for power bodies with good hands, he’d be of value for any team in need of such an asset for a Cup run. You can’t get power forwards readily and if a team was desperate enough for the talent he brings, it’s a deal Montreal has to look at. At his age his value drops a little but teams who feel they are ‘one player away’ are often tempted into overpayment. The issue with dealing Cole is the team would have to work hard to get a prospect in his style of play back to cover up the gap that losing him would create in the system.

Desharnais makes the list as he offers pure offensive ability down the middle and teams carrying larger wingers could find a way to recreate a similar format to the Pacioretty-Desharnais-Cole line. He’s a little easier to give up now that Montreal has Galchenyuk in the pipeline and I still believe Eller has a lot more to show in offensive upside. The downside is his size would work against him in trades as teams are still hesitant about such undersized players.

As for Eller, he’s a player I like but as I’ve stated before, a centre is easier to part with as Montreal’s added blue-chipper Galchenyuk to the system. Eller is a growing two-way centre who at times flashes impressive offensive skill, although not often enough to get that excited. A team that wants to solidify centre depth could find itself quite attracted to Eller as he is at the very least a defensively responsible No. 3 C with a potential No. 2 upside. His value would be lower compared to others as he’s yet to truly break out and establish himself.



Do you see a benefit for the Habs if the season is cancelled? Would Markov get a contract in the KHL?

Any benefits in my view would far be outweighed by the costs. There’s no benefit to keeping the young players like Carey Price, P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Lars Eller and others away from the game when they need to be developing their skills in the best hockey environment in the world. The only possible upside one can speculate on is that there may still be amnesty buyout period brought in to allow teams to buy out a contract or two without it being counted against their salary cap spending, allowing Montreal to shed an inconvenient contract or two.

As to where Andrei Markov, or others might play, it depends on others. Its likely Markov and Alexei Emelin could secure deals in the KHL to play out a cancelled NHL season, others on the team might try their hands there, or in Finland, or Switzerland. The Swedish Elitserien has already stated they won’t interrupt their season by allowing players to hop on mid-stream though.



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