Whitby - Oct. 22, 2011 - The litmus test that is the Toronto Maple Leafs will happen on Saturday night at the Bell Centre. Should the Montreal Canadiens once again come out with a lack of excitement, urgency and offence and lose to the hands of the Buds - heads definitely need to roll.
The emotionless Jacques Martin fails to bench his veteran players for their lack of focus and commitment. He would rather try juggling an umpteen number of line combinations in order to improve the Canadiens’ offensive output. How has this worked for you so far Mr. Martin?
I will tell you how well. The Habs’ power play is toothless. The team owns the league’s fifth worst power play percentage. They currently sit with a paltry eight percent success rate.
Eight percent are you kidding me? There is no reason the Habs shouldn’t be more dangerous on the power play with the likes of Michael Cammalleri (he just returned to the lineup after missing three games), Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec and P.K. Subban to name but a few of Montreal’s more offensive-threat-skaters.
How do the Montreal Canadiens go about righting the ship and turn their ‘woes’ around? From the cheap seats here in Whitby, I believe the Canadiens need to address consistent problems in three key areas: a winning faceoff centreman, a scoring forward (or two) and more experience on the blue line.
Centerman (A winning one, that is)
Wouldn’t David Steckel have looked good in the bleu-blanc-rouge? He’s got size to go with an above success rate in the faceoff department. Oh well, no use wishing on things that will never happen. The Canadiens’ current crop of centreman, apart from perhaps Tomas Plekanec, have been underwhelming to say the least. The Habs’ own the sixth worst winning faceoff percentage with a 47.4% success rate.
John Madden was one of the top defensive centremen over the past decade. Yes, he is 38-years-old, but over 12 NHL seasons, Madden has been a 51% winning faceoff centreman. Montreal has already admitted they needed help at the centre spot when they acquired Blair Betts, only to see Betts being returned to Philadelphia because he couldn’t pass a physical. Since this debauchal happened, Habs’ management has not done anything to bring in another strong defensive centreman. I say take a chance on a one-year contract. Could Madden be any worse of a choice than Andreas Engqvist?
JOHN MADDEN, 38-YEARS-OLD, FA
I cannot believe I am admitting the Habs need another scoring forward. You would think with the players on the Canadiens’ current active roster, they would have enough offensive flair to keep the franchise competitive. At the start of the 2011-12 NHL regular season, on paper, I felt Les Bleu-Blanc-Rouge had a more offensive squad than what we saw in the 2010-11 NHL season.
However, offense to date for the Canadiens’ has been more miss than hit. There are a few names being mentioned around the NHL that the Habs should make a move for via a trade. Blake Comeau in Long Island who has been benched as of late and Wojtek Wolski in New York who was just ridiculed by Coach John Tortorella could both be possible candidates.
I know, you’re asking right now, “who do we trade away”? The Habs have plenty of ‘fringe’ players, but I personally can’t see a trade like the Matt Stajan deal to Calgary last season, happening for Montreal. Can you name one team in the NHL that would want the likes of a Scott Gomez, Travis Moen (UFA 2012) or a Mathieu Darche (UFA 2012)?
The Habs are also sitting between a rock and a hard place. The franchise is approximately $750,000 from the cap ceiling. In order to bring on a skater with a large salary, invariably the trading team would need to also be willing to accept some large salary in return.
TUOMU RUUTU, 28-YEAR-OLD, RW, CAROLINA HURRICANES
The Canadiens need toughness and they need scoring. Yes, Max Pacioretty looks like he’s going to be the real deal in terms of being a power forward, but the team is currently in a funk to score goals.
Tuomu Ruutu’s name has been mentioned quite a bit over the past couple of weeks via Twitter and other forms of social media.
Ruutu’s physical style of play combined with a knack for potting goals, makes him a very intriguing possibility. Ruutu will become a free agent next summer. He has a $3.8 million price tag, so once again, Montreal would need to dangle one or more prospects or draft picks in addition to a comparably priced skater.
It’s no secret, the Canadiens have been mired with a number of injured defensemen so far in this young NHL regular season. The Habs’ blueline corps apart from Hal Gill is small in comparison. Yes, the team of P.K. Subban, Yannick Weber and perhaps even Rafael Diaz can in time, give Montreal some offence from the back end.
Josh Gorges continues to be a rock on the point from a defensive standpoint. It is still to early to make a snap judgment on the defensive capabilities of rookie Russian defenseman, Alexei Emelin, but he hasn’t hurt the Canadiens on the scoresheet to date. Emelin has also delivered some intimidating body checks to his opponents.
Top four defensemen are extremely hard to come by these days. There are a few defensemen names that have been bandied about around the NHL that Montreal would be fortunate enough to trade for.
Nashville’s Ryan Suter and Joni Pitkanen in Carolina have been some of these names. I don’t think Montreal has enough fire power to garner interest from Nashville in a trade. Should the Canadiens offer up names like Kostitsyn and Weber plus draft picks to acquire Ryan Suter?
Once again, it comes down to dollars and cents taking the salary cap into consideration. Suter is looking for a massive payday and Montreal just can’t afford this quality top-two defenseman.
Pitkanen has his pros and cons. The Habs already have Subban and it’s only a matter of time until Andrei Markov returns to the lineup. I believe the Canadiens should look for available defensemen with experience and defensive acumen to bring into the Habitant family.
A possible trading partner could be tonight’s visitor, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs have a surplus of talent on the backend. Perhaps it’s time for the return of Mike Komisarek - you have to admit, he was excellent in Montreal when he played for the Habs, but has not lived up to expectations with the Leafs.
JOHNNY BOYCHUK, 27-YEAR-OLD, 6’2, 225LBS, D BOSTON BRUINS
The Boston Bruins acquired a few assets this past summer and their defense is a veteran-laden one. Depending on what Montreal could offer in terms of veteran leadership, say an Erik Cole or a Hal Gill, perhaps the Bruins could be persuaded to move this young stud.
Johnny Boychuk, an original second round draft choice by the Colorado Avalanche, has a wicked slapshot, is experienced in the playoff department and has a great combination of offensive and defensive capabilities.
Take it for what it is, but if Montreal falls to Toronto on Saturday night, one or more of these identified skaters needs to be seriously considered by Canadiens’ management.
If you don’t agree with any of the aforementioned, the Habs could always show Coach Martin to the door and begin a new chapter in the world of Canadiens’ head coaches. TSN Analyst Marc Crawford is looking better every game the Canadiens play. He’s a proven winner, plus he’s bilingual.
Until the next time, play each game as if it is your last…