How Free Agent Acquisitions Improve Habs Offense

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Written by Habsterix, Senior Writer, AllHabs.net

Just like with the NHL trade deadline, many hockey fans make sure to have July 1 circled on their calendar each year. Networks like TSN, Sportsnet and RDS hold TV marathons, with their panel of insiders keeping a constant eye on their smart phones.  Everyone’s Twitter timeline is flying at a pace which makes it hard to keep up with. As some fans describe it, the opening of the NHL free agency market is like Christmas to most hardcore hockey fans.

PENTICTON, BC. — There is no denying that Habs’ fans are a passionate bunch and that generally speaking, they do know their hockey. However, reading Twitter and following the reactions to the moves made by Habs’ General Manager Marc Bergevin on July 1 was a very painful experience at times. From questioning the players signed to judging the length or amounts being given to some of the players, armchair GMs seem to think they know what the market is, what it dictates and what is being discussed behind closed doors. But rather than focussing on the fans and their reactions, I propose taking a different angle, keep an open mind and look at what the July 1 signatures really mean for the Canadiens in terms of debt and the on-ice effects they will have on the team.

You may recall that back in December 2011, we touched a delicate topic when I suggested that the Habs needed more offense from Tomas Plekanec. I strongly encourage you to revisit this article, seven months later, and look at the comparatives brought forth way back then, as that article will go a long way in understanding the concept and will be the supporting blocks for what we’re about to discuss here.

Many fans have been wanting more toughness in the line-up, more grit and character and it felt refreshing listening to Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien address those topics when both men were hired. It looks like they are putting their money where their mouth is! On July 1, the Canadiens became a lot tougher to play against. By re-signing Ryan White and Travis Moen, and then adding Colby Armstrong, Francis Bouillon and Brendan Prust, they have allowed the rest of the team to grow a couple of inches. Further, by signing those players, the Habs are an improved offensive team! “Are you nuts,” I can hear some of you say? Hear me out, and then you can decide for yourself.

Thanks to a surge at the end of the season, the Canadiens finished the 2011-2012 season with 212 goals scored, good for 19th in the National Hockey League. Granted that this number would have likely been better had it not been for an anemic powerplay, the injuries to key offensive players, the smothering system instituted by Jacques Martin and by trading away the team’s best natural goals’ scorer in Mike Cammalleri for a disinterested Rene Bourque. However, there is a lot more to it, at least in my opinion.

(Photo: Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

I was listening to the live stream on RDS on July 1 as I was curious to hear what former head coach Guy Carbonneau would have to say about the new direction taken by the Canadiens. As we recall, Carbonneau was quoted as saying that instead of having tough players, the Habs should focus on making the other teams pay by scoring on the powerplay. In a bit surprising change of heart, not only was Carbo happy with all three signings, but he brought up the very topic from my article of last December.

You see, Moen, White, Armstrong and Prust not only bring some much needed toughness to a Habs’ line-up, but they are all excellent penalty killers! “Yeah, but how do they improve the offense,” will you ask? Simply by taking defensive minutes from the team’s top offensive players! Have a look at the comparison with Henrik Sedin and Pavel Datsyuk in the above mentioned article of December 11th and do the correlation with Tomas Plekanec, with Brian Gionta.

The bottom line is that by having Plekanec and Gionta on the bench during a penalty kill not only allows them to have something left in the tank for a long 82 games season, but it gives them more quality offensive ice time against weaker opposition. This quality ice time will allow them to focus more on offense and hopefully, save them from injuries while in a defensive role.

What Marc Bergevin did on July 1 is quite remarkable. Yes, he helped his skilled players by insuring that someone will have their backs when other teams take liberties against them. Yes, he did add some much needed depth to the organization, even with the addition of Cedrick Desjardins in goal. Last but not least, he has improved the Habs’ offense by giving coach Therrien the tools to make the Habs a more effective offensive team. As Carbonneau correctly pointed out, it’s hard to rest guys like Plekanec and Gionta when they are also your best penalty killers and you have no one else who can do the job!

Having said all of that, Rome wasn’t built in a day folks. Let’s hope that Andrei Markov returns to the line-up and contributes the way he is capable of. Let’s hope that the injury bug doesn’t hit the team has hard as it did last year, including the case of Captain Gionta who had scored more goals than anyone in the two seasons prior to last. And let’s hope that coach Therrien makes better use of his assets and allows the team, with a proper system, to generate more offense.

But something tells me that Bergevin isn’t done, as July 1 is the first stepping stone in bringing this franchise back to the glory days, where it should be.

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J.D. Lagrange
J.D. is a Senior writer for All Habs as well as Associate-Editor for the French version Le Magazine All Habs, while one of three Administrators of the fan forum Les Fantômes du Forum. He has created the handle Habsterix as a fictional character for the sole purpose of the internet. It is based on the cartoon Asterix of Gaule and his magic potion is his passion for the Montreal Canadiens. How old is he? His close friends will tell you that he’s so old, his back goes out more than he does! He was born when Béliveau lifted the Cup and remembers the days when seeing the Habs winning was not a wish, it was an expectation. For him, writing is a hobby, not a profession. Having moved to beautiful British Columbia in 1992 from his home town of Sherbrooke, Quebec, he started writing mostly in French to keep up his grammar, until non-bilingual BC friends pushed him into starting his own English Blog. His wife will say that he can be stubborn, but she will be the first to recognise that he has great sense of humour. He is always happy to share with you readers his point of views on different topics, and while it is expected that people won’t always agree, respect of opinions and of others is his mission statement. || J.D. est Rédacteur-Adjoint sur Le Magazine All Habs et il est un Rédacteur Principal sur le site anglophone All Habs, tout en étant un des trois Administrateurs du forum de discussion Les Fantômes du Forum. Il a créé le pseudonyme Habstérix comme caractère fictif pour l’internet. Celui-ci est basé sur Astérix de Gaule et sa potion magique est sa passion pour les Canadiens de Montréal. Lorsqu’il est né, Jean Béliveau soulevait la Coupe Stanley et il se rappelle des jours où gagner n’était pas un espoir, mais une attente. Pour lui, écrire est un passe-temps, pas une profession. Ayant déménagé dans la superbe Colombie-Britannique en 1992 en provenance de sa ville natale de Sherbrooke, Québec, il a commencé à écrire en français pour garder sa grammaire, jusqu’à ce que ses amis anglophones ne réussissent à le convaincre d’avoir son blog en anglais. Son épouse vous dira qu’il est têtu, mais elle sera la première à reconnaître son grand sens de l’humour. Il est toujours fier de partager avec vous, lecteurs et lectrices, ses points de vue sur différents sujets, et quoi que les gens ne s’entendent pas toujours sur ceux-ci, le respect des opinions et des autres est son énoncé de mission.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Come on, give us a break. Armstrong was a scrub when he was younger and healthier. Bouillon was a scrub three years ago when the Habs dumped him. Prust can probably be counted on to play about 40 games a season. Trying to make those signings seem inspired is ridiculous. They are what they are, and in a year or two they will be gone and best forgotten.

    • Tell us how you really feel, Robert. :)

      I would have preferred Bryan Allan or Sheldon Brookbank on defense, but seeing the amount and mostly the length of the contracts they signed, I understand (and appreciate) why Bergevin didn’t go for it. The same goes for Parenteau.

      The way I look at it, with the short term deals for Bouillon and Armstrong, it buys one year to the younger players in the organisation to play a regular shift in Hamilton and be ready when those contracts are up. I like that.

      While overpaid, Prust is 28, so a four year deal is certainly not a stretch, especially with what he brings to the table. You may disagree and I can appreciate that, but in my opinion, taking into account what I’ve discussed in the article, I kind of like what Bergevin has done.

      Cheers!

      • I’m glad they didn’t sign Parenteau as well, he seems one dimensional and overrated. Prust should be useful, but like you admitted, the contract was excessive. There were some signings that were reasonable, and players I think are superior to Armstrong and Bouillon. Particularly from an offensive perspective. That may be due to issues beyond the team’s control, such as taxes, politics, etc. but what has been accomplished so far in free agency seems like rearranging the chairs on the lower deck or something.

  2. I agree with you in principal, the problem with your logic however is that in reality, there’s no one to take Plekanec’s ice time. Eller? Nokelainen? White?.. None of those guys match Plek’s defensive ability and apart from Nokia, which I’m hoping is destined for the pressbox, none win faceoffs.. So it might be good for Gionta and potentially a guy like Cole or even Bourque, but Pleky’s gonna keep killing penalties.

    It’s a stretch, but maybe they should just make him the 3rd line center and give Eller more of an offensive role?

    • Unfortunately, the Habs have not had a great faceoffs center since… Yannick Perreault (if my memory serves me right). That’s something that Guy Carbonneau and Doug Jarvis were both trying to teach the centerman with mix success.

      In the mean time, I am not suggesting removing Plekanec from all PK duties, but rather to cut his time killing penalties, since they now have other players able to do the job. What they’re loosing in Plekanec’s efficiency on the PK, they will more than regain on offense and energy. At least, that’s my theory. So if they have to put Pleks in for a faceoff because they don’t have anyone else to do it, by all means they can do that.

  3. I had thought the same thing, when they said Prust is a good PK guy.
    Which would give the Habs; Moan, Eller, Prust and White as good PK forwards and allow Tomas to have some extra rest.

    With Bouillon signing, pushing Diaz/Weber to being 7th and 8th d-men; i assume Bergevin is not quite done and now will be going the trade route with “spare” d-men.
    Nash/St Denis/Diaz or Weber might form part of some package deal?

    But still very pleased to date with reshaping of team.

    • Thanks for the comment Don. I fully agree with you that Bergevin is working on something. Will he be able to pull the trigger on something? Time will tell. It’s an old cliché but it’s true: it takes two to tango.

      On a side note, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Bergevin got his feet wet on the trade market by opting for familiarity, which means that he would deal with Stan Bowman and the Hawks. Let’s wait and see…

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