Sunday, June 25, 2017

What a Wild Year

        It's far too long since the Lions in Winter have roared, both on the ice and on the web; I shall attempt to remedy at least one of those.  I stopped writing for LiW for silly superstitious reasons.  The Habs got off to one of their best starts in franchise history in 2015. I caught the winning fever along with the rest of the Canadiens and started writing for LiW only to see them plummet immediately into the worst slump I've ever seen in any sport ever (outside of the Washington Generals).  So last season I stayed away, as much as I wanted to chime in about the Subban trade.  We saw them off to another amazing start only to begin choking again in the new year.  Were it not for the Heimlich hiring of Claude Julien (not soon enough if you ask me) the Canadiens might not have made the playoffs and certainly weren't sharp once there.  So it wasn't me or my writing after all.  So what was it?  Coaching?  Lord, I hope so.  If that's the case, problem solved, but as abysmal as Therrien was (and he was truly awful) he can't take all the blame.  Terrible giveaways in the defensive zone were not uncommon and were it not for Carey Price being... well, Carey Price you would see how truly awful our backline are for hanging their goaltender out to dry.  Lack of scoring.  Despite the fact that Max Pacioretty can score 30 goals at will in the regular season, nothing to snub your nose at, he's never really shone in the playoffs.  Outside of Radulov's heroics, who as of right now is not on the 2017-18 roster, and a former 30 goalscorer who has lost his way, not entirely innocent from coaching ineptitude, the 2016-17 Canadiens weren't real creative up front.

        But don't panic.  Galchenyuk is only 23 and he's got a 20 goal and a 30 goal season (one of each) under his belt.  He'll mature to be a solid goal scorer (he would have had at least 20 again this season were it not for his injury - 17 in 65 games).  We can wait and add some pieces to the puzzle.  Take our time, add a few more pieces here and there for the right price and be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in a couple of years.  After all, Price has got more than a few solid years left in him (barring injury of course).  At least, that's what we could have said before Subban was traded for Weber.

        Que the eye roll.  Shea Weber is 31 and just a tad slower than he used to be.  Sure, he's the big brute needed to clear out in front of Carey Price and he's tough enough (and then some) to make forwards crashing the net pay a toll for doing so, and P.K. was not.  Simple as that.  All of the eggs were in the Price basket when Halak was traded and the scares of Kreider crashing into Price (on purpose, I don't care what anyone says) and the extended injury that ended his 2015-16 season forced management to either trade him or protect him.  I love Subban.  He has plenty of upside, but he is not a player capable of instilling genuine fear into his opponents.  I know Price still gets run and the instigator rule still allows for it to happen, but at least one player on the Rangers paid dearly for it (albeit in vein.)  No matter whether the trade was a hockey trade or a personality clash (certainly part of the reason in my opinion) it took away 4 years the Canadiens have to build a championship team.  No longer can Bergevin sit back and pick deals here and there to add to his team.  He must now make improvements with conviction as time is of the essence.

        Jonathan Droiun, the much coveted local star from Ste-Agathe, QC (potentially superstar), is a player the Habs very nearly sold the farm for last year; but a 22 year old scoring 20 goals in a season (21 for most of the season) is nothing to snub your nose at.  The Canadiens have added a very talented winger to their roster.  Now you don't get something for nothing and Sergachev was a top prospect for defense.  It's sad to see another blueliner leave, but with the dealing of Subban, Sergachev would not be a major contributor in the closing window Bergevin has created for himself.  Considering the circumstances I'd consider this a win.  It's unfortunate the perceived gap is at centre and Droiun is a winger, a versatile winger but a winger none the less, but the Habs are sitting pretty good.  They're going for it all.  They've lost Subban but they've got Weber, who is, right now, a better defenseman than Subban, and now there's Droiun who, right now, is a better forward than Sergachev is a defenseman.  So far, moving in the right direction right?

     Then they traded Nathan Beaulieu for a 3rd round pick.  Beaulieu didn't have a great year last year.  Neither did Galchenyuk or Gallagher or Shaw, or... Suffice to say he was in good company.  We have seen what he can do.  He is a solid skater who can move the puck with a bit of sandpaper to boot.  Only 24 (he'll be 25 this year) he actually finished with a +8 on the third defensive pairing.  To give up on a former first round draft pick before his 25th birthday after one sub par season is not a win now attitude.  It's a baffling move when you think about it.  Sure, he might have went in the expansion draft for nothing but we lost Emelin in the draft for nothing. Now we've lost 2 defencemen for a 3rd round pick (next to nothing).  Cue the slow clap.  Huge loss on this trade for Bergevin.  No doubt a year with a coach who knows how to win would have done the young defenseman good.  The fact he had any offensive upside under Therrien is remarkable,  I hope we're not kicking ourselves in the butt in a few years ala Ryan McDonagh.

        Then there's Galchenyuk and the rumours surrounding him.  Again, a year with a coach not completely inept when it comes to developing offensive talent will do the boy wonders.  Having coached the likes of Krejci and Bergeron I think the man can share a point or two with Chucky.  Certainly worth another year to give it a try.  At just 23 he's scored 89 goals in the NHL.  That's 0.26 goals/game (Droiun's rate is just under 0.17 and may have benefited from some shifts with Stamkos).  The fans and media (if you consider RDS media) can scream for trades all they want.  It's Bergevin's job to have enough hockey sense not to be influenced by such things when developing a championship team.  I'm just not real confident that he does.  Alex Galchenyuk was flying again last year until his injury.  When he came back he found out his spot had been given to Philip Daneault.  I'm at a loss why.  Daneault played well but he'll have a hard time scoring 20 goals in the NHL and you can forget 30.  Same physical statistics, Daneault might be a better two way player (so teach him to be a solid checking centre) but not nearly the offensive talent as Galchenyuk.  It's those players with the ability to score 30 goals in the NHL that are worth gold.  There's a reason half the league is interested in trading for the man.

        Bergevin traded away Subban for Weber; partly for hockey reasons (bigger, meaner, tougher and currently better) but partly for a personality clash with a sub par coach who is no longer with the team.  He's acquired Shaw who is a lesser version of Gallagher, in my opinion, and takes away minutes from Brendan while taking untimely penalties far too often.  He's acquired the coveted Drouin for a promising defense prospect who probably wouldn't peak in time to help this team, but then lost two of our top 6 defensemen from last year when only one needed to go.  Now he's contemplating trying to trade one of our top offensive players last year (and Galchenyuk 100% was that) and can't sign another one.  By trying to get rid of Galchenyuk he is not fixing his goal scoring problems and now he's got a serious personnel issue on the blue line.

        As it stands right now, our team is not better than it was last year and it wasn't a serious Stanley Cup contender last year.  It is a team that won't defend it's blue line as well (Emelin led the Canadiens in hits last year and was 9th in the league), it no longer has a Subbanesgue puck moving defenseman in Beaulieu, hasn't signed Radulov yet (and I wouldn't bet that they will) and seemingly wants to trade Galchenyuk for Drouin (a lateral trade at best).  I wonder if Mr. Molson is paying attention to how his GM has traded away assets (and continues to do so) for marginal gains (at best).


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