A Review of the Montreal Canadiens Transitional Summer
Having made the playoffs again last year, the Montreal Canadiens have now reached the post season eight times in the last decade’s worth of seasons. That may seem impressive, but ask any one of the players who has donned the bleu, blanc, et rouge over the last ten years; they will tell you that there is only one reason that they play(ed) the game, and simply making the playoffs is not that reason. It has been 22 years since the City of Montreal has seen their old pal Stanley, and its inhabitants are growing restless.
Last year, the Montreal Canadiens made a seemingly convincing run, barreling through the Tampa Bay Lightning, prevailing through a dramatic series against the Boston Bruins, and falling just short of the Stanley Cup Finals by two wins to the New York Rangers. It was the right mix of youth and leadership that allowed the Canadiens to excite fans around the world; however General Manager Marc Bergevin clearly felt as though this was not yet the team that would bring the City of Montreal what it needs most.
After what many would consider a successful year, Marc Bergevin completely overhauled his leadership core, paving the way for his “young veterans” to become leaders of their own. His overhaul saw the dismissal of veterans such as their ex-captain Brian Gionta, heart-and-soul defenceman Josh Gorges, and playoff performer Daniel Briere. These controversial moves now place the high pressure of being a leader in Montreal on a group of young veterans who he believes are ready for the task.
Deciding to pass the torch of leadership was not the only move Marc Bergevin made while on “vacation”; a handful of players were traded for and signed by the sophomore General Manager, making this a significant transitional summer for the Montreal Canadiens. Let’s take a look at the off-season additions Marc Bergevin has made, and where they might fit with the Canadiens.
Tom Gilbert (D)
The analytical community agrees that Tom Gilbert’s job hunt at the beginning of last season is not an accurate representation of his worth to an NHL team. Although his point stats are far from spectacular, Gilbert has great possession numbers enhancing his team’s offensive abilities at even strength. For example, the Florida Panther’s scored 49% of even strength goals against opponents while Gilbert was on the ice last year.
Gilbert is known as a puck moving defenceman. This, paired with the fact that he is right-handed shot makes him ideal for the Canadiens second power-play unit which proved to be the club’s Achilles heel last season. Hopefully the addition of Tom Gilbert, paired with a developing Nathan Beaulieu, will mean Montreal’s second power-play defensive pairing won’t also be their first… (Subban averaged 5:46 minutes of power-play time per game last season, while Alexei Emelin, who often played on the second power-play defensive pairing averaged a mere 0:51 minutes of power-play ice time per game)
This might be enough for Tom Gilbert to earn a full-time position with the Montreal Canadiens, even considering the re-signing of Mike Weaver, and prospects such as Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, and Greg Pateryn showcasing their development at training camp.
Jiri Sekac (F)
Jiri Sekac is 22-year old Czech forward who was signed by Marc Bergevin as a free agent. Both Sekac and Bergevin admitted that many teams were in pursuit of the six-foot-two, 190-pound winger. The decision to sign with Montreal was one that Sekac made with “his gut”.
“I think there were about 10 teams that were interested in me, but I had this feeling in my gut that the Canadiens were right team for me” – Jiri Sekac
Sekac hasn’t played in a North American league since 2011, but his success as a young player in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) over the past three seasons have many believing he is ready to make the jump straight to the NHL.
If Sekac were to make the Montreal Canadiens as a regularly played forward, he would have to outperform a long list of prospects and veterans competing for the bottom six forward positions. This sort of depth is troublesome for many players such as Sekac looking to make an impression at Habs camp.
Manny Malholtra (F)
This pick-up for the Montreal Canadiens makes perfect sense. After trading away Daniel Briere and letting Ryan White test his luck with free agency, the Canadiens were left without a fourth-line type centreman. The low risk signing of Malholtra to a one year deal with a cap hit of only $850,000 addresses this issue to near-perfection. Good on you Bergevin.
After a very serious eye injury which threatened his career, Malholtra was able to return to the game and prove that he still belonged. Scoring 13 points in 69 games last season, Malholtra validated that he is still a very responsible two-way forward that brings a considerable amount of leadership to the Montreal Canadiens core.
Look for Malholtra to have success with the Canadiens spending most, if not all of his time, on the fourth-line flanked by wingers such as Brandon Prust, Dale Weise, Travis Moen, or Micheal Bournival. His responsible play and solid face-off success should also earn him some time on the penalty kill.
The trade consisting of Daniel Briere to Colorado for Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and a fifth-round pick is probably the best thing that could have happened for either player. Spending most of the season in their respective coach’s doghouse, both Briere and Parenteau desperately needed a change of scenery in order to reclaim their career numbers.
Claiming that he is“a pretty solid top-six forward in the NHL”, P.A. Parenteau will no doubt get a shot at playing on one of the top two lines, as did Briere. It will be his success during the early stretch of the season which will dictate where he spends the majority of his 2014/2015 campaign. Both Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien have stated that players decide which line they play on, and what type of minutes they receive through their success on the ice. P.A. will be no exception.
If Parenteau is able to find chemistry with a top-six forward such as Max Pacioretty or Alex Galchenyuk, he could spend the majority of the season on a top line, however do not be surprised to see Therrien juggle him up and down all four lines if his production begins to decline.
Marc Bergevin has given his team a completely new look this summer. With the clever additions of the aforementioned players, the Canadiens now seem to have some depth at every position. With young prospects such as Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Bealieu, Jiri Sekac, Jacob De La Rose, Greg Pateryn, and Sven Andrighetto all fighting to earn a spot with the big club, it should be interesting to see what the starting roster will look like for the Montreal Canadiens this season.
Can this new roster contest the success of last year? Will some of the young prospects force Bergevin to make room for them on the team? Will the leadership role be successfully transitioned to the team’s young veterans? Although there are plenty of questions surrounding the now captain-less Canadiens heading into this season, their newly acquired depth through trades, free agency, and prospect development have fans of the Montreal Canadiens more excited than ever for the 2014/2015 campaign.
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