When the Montreal Canadiens punted Brian Gionta and Josh Georges the team not only dumped their most recent captain but two thirds of their most visible leaders. On and off the ice in good seasons, bad stretches of team play, and when coaching came complete with three rings, a master of ceremonies and a big top, these two were a constant part of the equation on the positive side.

When Gionta inked his deal with the Buffalo Sabres, one of the most scrutinized captaincies in the NHL in one of the most intense media markets in the world. The question of who can replace him is a separate one than who should replace him. This isn’t a franchise at the bottom of the well that needs all the publicity it can get. There’s no freshly drafted future of the franchise who has oodles of talent and no bad history to trot out before the media.

Many will point to the flashiest player on the roster in situations like this and say yep that’s the guy!. In which case you’re looking at two or three players, P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchenyuk lead that race. Probably in that order. An argument can be made for David Desharnais, who likely lands the francophone vote as well.

Taking a look at each of those candidates many list Subban as the front runner, he’s dynamic, he’s fast, strong, he can score almost at will, he’s young, he seemingly adores the media. On the negative side he’s still got holes in his defensive game, is prone to blowing his top on the ice, and is about the living definition of lightening rod.

Max Pacioretty has been the goal scorer in Montreal for the past few seasons, he’s a bigger body, has a blistering shot and elevates his game against rivals, and at 25 he has years and years ahead of him on the ice. On the negative side not only is he not a local franophone he’s yet another American, has failed in every season of his career to play a full slate of games, and a lot of the penalties he takes can be construed as the “selfish” variety.

Brendan Gallagher is young, smooth skating, possesses a quick shot, willingness to go anywhere for the puck and plays much bigger than his size. From the other perspective, he’s developing a reputation much akin to that of Alex Burrows and Steve Ott, and putting the C on that type of player says things about your franchise. There’s also the notable divisions that have been evident on this team in the last three or four years including the one along age lines.

Alex Galchenyuk has oodles of skill, is a solid powerplay contributor, and may turn into an elite forward. On the negative side you’ve got everything that can be said against Pacioretty and much of what can be said against Gallagher in addition to having the ill grace to have a Russian father.

Skill wise, no one could really fault a choice to honor any of these men. But in a market like Montreal, or any of the other original six markets, it isn’t just about skill. That’s why if I were passing the C along to its next guardian, I’d also consider what their on ice temperament is like, how well respected they are by players around the NHL, and of course looking carefully at where I think the teams window is.

For that reason the obvious choice is none of the above. While giving the captaincy to at least two of those named above would not be a mistake, that doesn’t mean a better choice can’t and shouldn’t be made. That better choice is Tom Plekanec.

It’s not a secret that I despise diving. I’ve written the odd piece on the subject, once or twice (ok so its actually an enormous bugaboo that I prattle on about pretty often ) and I’m pretty happy with the NHL finally taking steps to control the dippy soccer like behavior of some players and franchises.

Here’s the rule chance directly from NHL.com

DivingThe fact that coaches will now be fined is now more than ok with me.

So which players are most likely to deserve a fine this season?

  • Jeff Skinner, on the rare occasions the former figure skating star is on the ice he’s clearly auditioning for a post-hockey career in soap operas.
  • Alexandre Burrows, with Tortorella still at the helm Burrows might be kept in check, Willie Desjardins is an unknown, unlike the duly esteemed Alexandre Burrow.
  • Dustin Brown, he does many, many things right and is most regards a model player, on the other hand it certainly appears to the impartial observer that his skates come complete with a great deal of helium.
  • Sidney Crosby, while he tends to be more subtle about it than some players on this list, there’s no doubt “The Next One” has embellished more than his share of slashes, trips, and the rest.
  • Brad Marchand, while he’s pound for pound one of the stronger players in the game, you can tell when the other team gets in his head because he starts falling down a lot.
  • Martin Brodeur, legend he may be but if he were as weak as he appears every time an opposing player makes contact or near contact with him he’d never be able to scramble like he does.
  • Mike Ribiero, (this space left intentionally blank.)
  • Henrik & Daniel Sedin, the Swedish Swan-divers are almost as good at falling down and finding each other on the ice.
  • Carl Hagelin, has the speed to avoid pretty much any player in the NHL, but can’t seem to avoid sticks and other impediments that aren’t even there.
  • P.K. Subban, a guy with all the talent in the world who has been known to take the express elevator to the ice on a pretty regular basis.

I’m sure there’s one or two I missed, who would you add?

NHL.com released a list of the top 14 defensemen in the NHL. While I’m not surprised by any names on the final list, I am a bit dismayed by one or two or at least where they placed. And I’m pleased as can be about one semi-notable exclusion. One name I’d put in, instead of one of the person who did make it without any real merit is quite often overlooked and I’m hoping that this season that comes to an end.

Debating the exact position of each player on the list is futile. Four people voted, and I think that if you had fourteen people vote, you’d get very nearly the same results. There are however three things I can’t wrap my head around.

Too High:

For all that he’s been on two cup winning teams, and for all his admitted prowess, Duncan Keith is not, and has not in the last two or three years been a top five defenseman in the NHL. You can’t be considered among the elite of the elite if you don’t play against the top of the food chain. Keith does not. He shouldn’t be any higher than seven or eight. Still an impressive player, still someone everyone wants on their roster, but not in the conversation for best defenseman in the NHL.

Too Low:

Alex Pietrangelo is far too low. When you consider how much worse the goaltending talent he’s played his career in front of is than the guys Doughty, Weber, and Chara have spent the same years in front of, things take on a different tint. No, he hasn’t won a Norris (neither have Doughty, which he probably deserves, and Weber which is an outright crime) but a measurable chunk of that is the city he plays in. He does all things well, and plays hard minutes. Part of his lack of public affection may just be how few games he’s played, only one player above him on the list has fewer NHL games and Subban plays in a much, much more scrutinized market. For well rounded play, Pietrangelo is Subban’s superior for both defensive prowess and levelheadedness.

Are You Sure About That Name:

Why Erik Karlsson makes the list at all is a mystery. There are sixty or seventy wingers in the NHL with less than 100 games played who have better defensive instincts and ability than Karlsson. I could (barely) swallow him coming in at 13 or 14, assuming their were no better choices. There are however, at least half a dozen that don’t even need a sniff test and probably six three to five more that can be made to work. One of the better choices is John Carlson who has a better differential between zone starts and finishes, a better on ice save percentage, but is actually more productive per minute of powerplay time than Karlsson.

My delight upon mature and sober consideration was unmitigated upon not seeing the name Kris Letang on the list. Having heard of his unjustly vaunted prowess for year after year, it is nice to see his exposure in the playoffs the last two years doing some good. I am surprised to Giordano so high on the list especially with only one real season the spotlight to himself, but he does deserve a spot on the list.

While correlation is not causation, it is interesting to note how many of the players who filed for arbitration are doing so as part of teams that have rather small amounts of cap space per player left and the need to fill multiple spots.

The NHLPA put out this list of men who filed to have their contract value determined by a third party.

Starting at the top is Brandon McMillian of the Arizona Coyotes, drafted 85th and having spent a post draft year back in the WHL he’s piled up enough points to be 37th in scoring in his draft class with 6 of his 32 points coming in the 22 games he’s spent in a Coyotes uniform where he averaged about 12:35 a night including  about 0:45 short handed. It’s unlikely he gets more than $850,000 and closer to $775,000 is more likely.

Matt Bartkowski of the Boston Bruins is also a 2008 draft pick, and has been in and out of the NHL lineup since being acquired, but in that four years he’s racked up just 84 NHL regular season games. However, last season he played more than a bit part in 64 games averaging more than 19 minutes a night. He has 20 points all assists in 84 regular season games, and 3points including 1 goal in 15 post season games. Ben Lovejoy is a good comparable (if older) he had the same number of points and was only one worse in +/-, Lovejoy made $1.1million, Jeff Petry likewise had similar numbers and is the same age, he made $1.8 million. Given the Boston Bruins depth at the position, and how Bartkowski has been passed over in the depth chart more than once, if he’s awarded anything north of $1.5m I expect the Bruins to walk. An arbitrator could pin the number anywhere from $1million to $1.8, but I lean toward the lower end.

Joe Colborne is a 6’5 center for the Calgary Flames, he played just a touch over 14 minutes a night and put up a line of 10-1828 -17. Last year’s 80 NHL games are the vast majority of his 96 NHL games. His qualifying offer would have been $660,000. with so little NHL experience, and the other changes in the Flames roster, somewhere between the QO and $725,000 is what he can expect.

Antoine Roussell of the Dallas Stars is possibly the most interesting case this year. A break down of his 209 penalty minutes shows he may be the most disciplined guy to break that mark in years. Very few of the minutes were lazy penalties like hooking and their wasn’t a single high sticking call. 139 of 209 PIMS were one form of major or another. If you had only that to go by, you’d be comparing him to players like Shawn Thornton or Tom Sestito. Add in a 1:40 a night killing penalties, and a line of 14-15-29, and you have a very interesting player. In goals he was tied with players like Matt Stajan ($2.5m)  and Kyle Palmieri ($1.35) . Honestly depending on what the arbitrator decides to set as his biggest contribution, he could end up anywhere from the $650,000 which is just over his QO, to $2.5 a reasonable guess is the $1.1 to $1.4m.

Cameron Gaunce, not entirely sure why he filed for arbitration unless he’s trying to get released and go to Europe or become an RFA. He played just 9 games all of last season, and has a total of 20 NHL games and 1 point. A six foot one defenseman isn’t exactly rare in the NHL, one wonders if the arbitrator will spend longer writing out the decision or proof reading it.

Jimmy Hayes of the Florida Panthers made the most of his 11 minutes a night picking up 18 points with 11 of them goals after being shipped from Chicago to Sunrise. Six and a half feet tall and more than 220lbs the right shot, right wing is a veteran of the NAHL, USHL. and Hockey East before going pro, he has also been traded three times since 2008. He finished with 2 fewer points than Bartkowski with about half the minutes, I wouldn’t expect much more than league minimum.

Dwight King is a homegrown bottom six forward who has now been part of two Stanley Cup wins. His 30 points last year put him ahead of team captain Dustin Brown, 3 of his 15 goals came on special teams, he played well both home and away, and left him 7th on the team in scoring. Of comparable production are Rich Peverley ($3.25m), Tobias Enstrom ($5.75m), last year King made $775k. A $2.25M payday isn’t out of the question, but expect something a bit closer to $1.8m.

Justin Fontaine is another really interesting case. Last year he was true rookie for the Minnesota Wild playing 66 regular season games and 9 playoff games. The Bonnyville Alberta native was 4th on the team in goals with 13 and did it in a spare 12:15 a night. His pre-NHL career could indicate there’s  solid chance this numbers climb.

Lars Eller has to be one of the most frustrating players for fans and management to watch. He shows flashes that make you think he’s got the juice to be a 20+ team 2nd line center, and then wallows about the ice making you wonder why anyone gives him more than fourth line minutes for interminable stretches. Of his 58 minor PIMS last 48 could be called lazy or careless penalties. Another two or three years at his current salary would bring him to UFA status, and give him a chance to decide who he is as a player.$1.75 to 2.1 isn’t outside possibility but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Montraal Canadiens say thanks but no thanks at anything over $1.8.

P.K. Subban, he’s arguably the best defenseman in the NHL under 27, he’s won a Norris, he was nearly a point per game player in the playoffs last season and three of his four NHL season, including the lockout shortened one, had double digit goal totals. At 25 if the Habs can sign him for 6+ years they should. The 6.25price range for similar aged and quality defensemen is $6.25-$7.5, and that is about where he should sign.

Part two coming soon.

 

We’re four games into the latest battle in a playoff war that stretches back to before the grandparents of several players on either side were born. We’ve seen one goaltender continue a career year, one defensemen further etch his name into league history, a call up redefine the series with a single shot, and a man who waited half a decade to make his NHL debut outshine his entire team. And someone still needs to win two games.

For the Montreal Canadiens, they came into the series and odd form of underdog. Yes the finished a distant third in the division, a long way down from the President’s Trophy Winning Boston Bruins. But they also won the season series between the teams and most of the last double handful of regular season games.

What’s gotten them this far:

  • Carey Price has been spectacular. He’s got three games in this series with a sv% of .929 or better, and seems to be stopping everything.
  • Offensively, P.K. Subban has been top notch. He’s gotten timely goals on the powerplay and at even strength and has piled up six points in four games which is more than a little good.

What they need to do to win the series:

  • Find a way to smother the third line. Carl Soderberg has been the most consistent Bruins forward this series, he’s been 1/4th of an inch from scoring or assisting on a goal a dozen times and they can’t get allowing that.
  • Keep Price’s lines of sight clear, when there have been any amount of bodies in front, goals are going in.
  • Spend more time in the offensive zone, the amount of shot, and shot attempts they’ve given up makes it shocking they are even in the series.

The Boston Bruins entered the post season prohibitive favorites. They were expected to run the board and have time to take a 3 day cruise to the Bahamas between rounds. After a gaffe against the Red Wings (who also won the season series against the Bruins) the Kings of Causeway laid rubber from Boston to Motown and back.

What’s gotten them this far:

  • Patrice Bergeron (four points), Zdeno Chara (+5), Brad Marchand (5pts +6) have been the stars they’re billed as.
  • Depth and balance, despite Krejci’s wasted minutes, others have been around to fill the void; Smith, Fraser, Paille have taken his ignored burden and spread it on their own shoulders.
  • Better coaching, Claude Julien, Doug Houda and company have outmaneuvered their opposite number.

What they need to do to win the series:

  • Get Lucic and Iginla some help, it doesn’t matter if they locate Krejci’s drive and hockey sense or put someone else between them, the number of times these two, one 240 or so and the the other a soon to be 37 year old have made it to the net or corners while Krejci is almost in the zone or just entering is staggering.
  • Prop up Rask’s confidence any way they can. He’s got exactly one game this series with a sv% over .894. No one expects him to be stellar all the time, but average isn’t something he should be looking up at.
  • Communicate better from the bench to the penalty box, they’ve had brain farts in front of the net, at the offensive blueline, and everywhere else.

There is no extreme advantage in this series. Head to head the Canadiens have produced better results, but against the league at large the Bruins are handily better. The Bruins have won a Stanley Cup more recently, but there is a lot of playoff experience on the Montreal roster as well.

With each first round series begun, it is time to take our first serious look at who might be carrying around the extra hardware this summer.

Before we get to the men still playing there are some honorable mentions that had individually stellar first rounds. Out west that list is headed by pending UFA Paul Stastny who contributed not just a lot of points, but timely ones. In the east no one deserves more respect than Steve Mason who came into the second season behind a pretty porous defense and put up a more than respectable .939 Sv%.

West:

  • Ryan Suter, 29:14 a night is more minutes a night than any one else still playing. His 14 hits and 15 blocked shots blocked piled up in 8 games.
  • Anze Kopitar, the Selke finalist leads all players in post season points with 13 through 8 games, 51.6% on the faceoff dot, and is a +5 to go with it.
  • Ryan Getzlaf, seven games, 9 points, 3 power play points, a shorthanded point, and a +3 say he’s doing the job in all three zones and all situations over almost 22 minutes a night is quite the workout for a forward.
  • Jonathan Toews, three game winning goals in seven games, 23:16 a night in TOI, and 62.5% in the faceoff circle are a step or three above good.

East:

  • P.K. Subban, 6 games, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, leads the Canadiens in scoring.
  • Torey Krug over the regular season his ice time has increased 2:30, his on ice save percentage has climbed, he’s a point per game in the most defensive minded system left in the playoffs.
  • Henrik Lundqvist, through eight games he’s allowed 2 or less goals in six games. His sv% is up over the regular season, and of all the goalies left, he’s the only one not playing behind someone in the top 15 in post season scoring.
  • Paul Martin 7 games, 8 points, three powerplay points, 2 shorthanded points, +7, 27:29 of TOI, 20 blocked shots, arguably.

Honorable mentions still playing, Evgani Malkin, Tuukka Rask, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Lars Eller, Corey Crawford, Drew Doughty, Zach Parise, Marian Gaborik, Matt Niskanen, Marc Staal.

 

It is a truism in sports; football, and hockey most of all that defense wins championships. We’ve seen it year after year. This year it seems to be adding a wrinkle to itself. Powerplays are costing teams games. Not by failing to produce, but by favoring offense so heavily, they aren’t prepared to play responsibly.

The Dallas Stars in game two of their series with the Anaheim Ducks were down two to one in the third. They were on the powerplay. On the ice are Valeri Nichushkin, Sergei Gonchar, Colton Scevoir, Cody Eakin, and Trevor Daley. Gonchar at age 40 is not in any way the skater he was ten or fifteen years ago. Nichushkin is rookie who is not only in his first NHL season, but his first season playing hockey in North America. Facing them were Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf, Cam Fowler, and Ben Lovejoy. Either Getzlaf or Fowler deserve watching, and if you fall asleep at the switch with both of them on the ice, you deserve what happens next. The Stars did.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had a lead last night, they went on a powerplay, and lost it. All the momentum they had, and it was notable, the disorder of the Blue Jackets was equally notable. But the Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, the same man who was in charge of a very mushy team USA roster not long ago, puts out a PP of Malkin, Crosby, Niskanen, Kunitz an Neal against a team that had nine short handed goals in the regular season. The most defensively capable of that group is probably the 34 year old Chris Kunitz. As you know, the BlueJackets scored, the Penguins did not and the scramble began. Momentum was reversed, an the game ended ugly for Penguins fans.

In the first game of their series, the Tampa Bay Lightning faced the Montreal Canadiens.  The Bolts are up 2-1 on home ice, a raucous crowd is making the building shake. P.K. Subban is in the box for slashing.  Onto the ice storm Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, they are joined by Ondrej Palat, Ryan Callahan and completing the unit is Valeri Filppula. We can argue about who the best defender in that group is, its probably Callahan, but it doesn’t matter. They got cute, and got beat by Brian Gionta setting up Lars Eller. To highlight how little offense the pair produced only seven more points than rookie Ondrej Palat, and neither actually surpassed Stamkos who was limited to 37 games and 40 points, while Gionta and Eller played 81 an 77 respectively. While the teams went back and forth scoring on a game that went to overtime, the Lightning never led again, and lost the game.

At multiple points this season a matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens was unthinkable. Carey Price was injured, Steven Stamkos was injured, and the teams downfalls were predicted at those points and others. Yet here we are, the oldest club in the NHL is facing off with a team that while significantly less steeped in history has etched their names on Lord Stanley’s Cup more recently.

Atlantic Division

To date this has hardly been the NHL’s fiecest rivalry, by virtue of geography, history, and games played against each other the two teams can probably count at least five or six teams with whom they have developed a higher level of passion about. The two teams enter the series very evenly matched. The Lightning finished with 101 points in the regular season and 38 regulation or overtime wins. The Habs take the second season stage having finished the year with 100 points and 40 ROW’s.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Bolts finished 2nd to the Boston Bruins in the division despite losing Stamkos for an extended period and an irreparable rift between General Manager Steve Yzerman and then captain Marty Saint Louis. This years team is not the old style “We’ll win 6-4″ rendition that many fans were familiar with. Cooper’s team finished the regular season 9th in goals for and 11th in goals against.

Best players:

Steven Stamkos is hands down the biggest name in the series, but Eric Brewer must hit household name status for the Tampa Bay Lightning to make a deep run. He’s a key cog defensively, and the road doesn’t get easier if they make it past the Canadiens.

X-Factor:

A lot of how well the Bolts do in the post-season this year will rest on the shoulders of Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. The two rookies have played remarkably well this year but neither has played a single NHL playoff game and they will be facing a team who knows how to get under peoples skin.

Montreal Canadiens

Finishing third in the division this season has to be at least a little bit of a disappointment after winning the division in the lockout shortened season last year. Given the injury to Price, and the need to further reinforce their offense at the deadline by acquiring Tomas Vanek, it is actually something of an accomplishment. As they enter the playoffs, the Habs are a bit oddly constructed. Of they guys who spent all season in the “CH”, two of the top four scorers are defenseman (Subban & Markov), and only two players finished the year with 20 goals or more, Pacioretty and the woefully under appreciated Tomas Plekanec.

Best Players:

Carey Price has finally emerged as the type of goalie that Montreal expects every netminder who pulls on their jersey to be. 59 games played and a career high .927sv% coming as part of a matched set with a career low 2.32 GAA. Subban needs to continue to show that unlike some other recent Norris winners he can get it done in the part of the ice his position was named for.

X-Factor:

Secondary scoring, secondary scoring, secondary scoring. It is a given that the Tampa Bay defense is going to be all over Pacioretty and Vanek, what the other players due to generate goals will determine if the team ends the year with gnarly playoff beards or assertive stubble.

The Montreal Canadiens are only lacking one thing to keep them from being a top team in the NHL.

They have a goaltender in Carey Price who is more than doing his part. A .929 sv% is more than many teams can hope for from their starter. Doing it in 15 of 18 games, which is on pace for a 69 game season, is a level of play well above satisfactory. The fifth overall pick int he 2005 draft class is playing like you would expect such a high pick.

The vastly under-appreciated Josh Gorges and Rapheal Diaz are the top rearguards for a penalty kill that is near the top of the NHL. Up front are Brandon Prust who while he has a very lengthy fight history is more than just a puncher, and Tom Plekanec should be on everyone’s Selke short list. The four are key portions of one of the better short handed units in the NHL.

Did you know the Montreal Canadiens have the 2nd ranked power-play in the NHL? Well, they do. Who leads them in goals on the man advantage? Some guy named Tom Plekanec, three goals, seven points. Norris winner P.K. Subban leads the team with nine total points.

With a team that has a top penalty kill, a killer powerplay, and a goalie playing stellar hockey you have to look closer to find the problems. They are getting scoring from a number of sources, even if more than one of their top players is not at the top of their game. If the issue isn’t the on ice talent, and the team categories seem to say they are not, one must look further.

The team’s leadership is not openly incompetent, but that doesn’t mean they are the right mix to produce top results. When you look at the fact that the Canadiens are a top five team in fighting majors, and built around a stout, (mostly) mobile defense, and playing with a touch of snarl you have to wonder what Michel Therrien is doing behind the bench of this roster configuration. A certain vocal, and perhaps belligerent segment of the fan-base believes the team should have a Francophone as its head coach, winning cures all ills.

As a coach Therrian could have a higher ceiling than many believe. The Pittsburgh Penguins for example exiled him before pulling things together and charging full tilt towards the promised land. He was also fired by the Canadiens in the past. Despite trips to the finals in both the AHL and NHL he’s never won. This might have something to do with the way he deploys top assets, like P.K. Subban. It almost certainly has something to do with a lack of follow through, this is after all the coach who promised savage retribution after the famous Kyle MacLaren hit on Richard Zednik, and then produced nothing.


While coaches aren’t the only ones who can inject consistency into a team, they have the most sway. And consistency is that one thing the Canadiens need to be a successful team both before and after the middle of April this year.