Habs’ Roster Starting To Take Shape

By JD Lagrange – With 74 players invited to the main training camp, there was a clutter of dead wood in there. Not only were there a bunch of players who stood absolutely no chance to start the season in Montreal, there were also a bunch of invited players who would be hard-pressed to push for a spot on the Laval Rocket. But after the most recent cuts, we are starting to see what the coaching staff has in mind.

Ottawa game

Last night, the Canadiens were visiting the Senators in Ottawa. Martin St-Louis and his assistants had what could be the team’s fourth line by placing Rem Pitlick and Joel Armia together, with Jake Evans centring them. That turned out to be the Canadiens’ best line in that game. The test of having Jonathan Drouin and Mike Hoffman with rookie sensation Owen Beck, while showing flashes at times, was an overall failure… and that wasn’t necessarily the rookie’s doing.

Jake Evans

On defense, two defensemen stood out: Justin Barron is starting to show why Kent Hughes insisted on getting him in the trade which saw Artturi Lehkonen head to Colorado. The other one comes at a bit of a surprise to many, as Otto Leskinen had his best game since the start of training camp. Mike Matheson was not as effective as he was in his last game. Kaiden Guhle, while not as dominant as he’s shown, was solid nonetheless and did enough not to lose any grounds in the race for a spot in Montreal.

Much like in his last game, Cayden Primeau was solid up until the final few minutes, allowing the tying goal and the overtime goal while his team was short-handed. He made some good saves, but didn’t steal the game at the end. The lineup against the Sens was considered Team B.

Team A

Where it’s starting to be clearer is when we look at Team A and the line combinations. Take a look at this:

Cole Caufield – Nick Suzuki – Josh Anderson
Juraj Slafkovsky – Sean Monahan – Brendan Gallagher
Evgenii Dadonov – Kirby Dach – Emil Heineman
Xavier Simoneau – Christian Dvorak – Alex Belzile

Corey Schueneman – David Savard
Mattias NorlinderMadison Bowey
Arber XhejajLogan Mailloux

Jake Allen – Samuel Montembeault

The odds of seeing Xavier Simoneau, Alex Belzile and Logan Mailloux in Montreal to start the season are slim to none. Juraj Slafkovsky, Jesse Ylönen and Emil Heineman have a legitimate shot at forcing management to make room for them at forward. All three are very close to being NHL-ready.

Corey Schueneman, Arber Xhekaj and, to a lesser point, Madison Bowey and Mattias Norlinder also have a shot at playing with the big club due to the team’s lack of established NHL players at the defense position. And in net, the backup job is Montembeault’s to lose, but don’t count out Primeau just yet.

Lines

Prior to the acquisition of Sean Monahan, going on the assumption that Mike Hoffman would start the season in Montreal, I had created what I thought could be the Canadiens’ lines on October 12th against Toronto.

So far from looking at Team A and Team B, there are a few combinations that are spot on. Martin St-Louis has Josh Anderson with Suzuki and Caufield to start. Dadonov and Dach are together, as are Slafkovsky and Gallagher, while Evans and Armia are on the fourth line.

Who is ahead?

At forward, even though there is literally no room, Juraj Slafkovsky, Jesse Ylönen Emil Heineman have a legitimate shot at forcing management into trading away some dead wood to make some room.

On defense, there are three regular spots available, and potentially one temporary spot depending if Joel Edmundson is ready or not to return by the 12th. If I had to put them in order of those with the best odds so far (that can change based on performances), it would look something like this:

  1. Kaiden Guhle
  2. Justin Barron
  3. Jordan Harris
  4. Arber Xhekaj
  5. Otto Leskinen

Madison Bowey was injured and is just now resuming practice with a full contact jersey. Like Schueneman, he’s a young veteran who is on the fringe between the AHL and the NHL, but he’s also right-handed. We’ll have to see how he fits into St-Louis’ system before ranking him, or gauging his odds of helping out, at least temporarily.

Camp is far from over and the battles are fluid and certainly not set in concrete. But there is something else to keep an eye on. Other teams are also holding their own training camps and some of those teams will have to cut their roster. As the final cuts are fast approaching, some of them will try sneaking players through waivers and we know that up until the end of October, the Canadiens have first dib…

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What The Allen Extension Means

By JD Lagrange – Well there you have it. A couple of weeks ago, it had been rumoured that both the Montreal Canadiens and goaltender Jake Allen wanted a deal done, and both sides were working on a contract extension. They have now concluded a deal as Allen put his name at the bottom of a new two-year contract.

Even with the uncertainty surrounding the health and future of Carey Price, even with two totally unproven goaltenders in Samuel Montembeault and Cayden Primeau, they were many who wanted to see the Canadiens trade Allen as the demand was apparently high around the NHL for him. Even with knowing that Price wasn’t starting the season and may not play all season, they still wanted the Habs to trade the veteran goaltender… in order to “tank”!

Jake Allen

What they fail to see is that “tanking” is a fan’s way of looking at a very real situation. You see, Geoff Molson and his brothers didn’t get to where they are by trying to “tank”. They thrive on success. Jeff Gorton didn’t make it in hockey operations by trying to lose. Kent Hughes worked his butt off to build a reputable business as a players’ agent, by trying to “win” top notch clients and now, he’s trying to built a new career as a good GM. Martin St-Louis went through too much adversity to want to lose. He’s a winner. Winning is in the coaching staff’s DNA. Finally, the players didn’t get to where they are by accepting to lose. Everyone in the organization wants to win. That’s in them. “Tanking”, it’s a fans’ wet dream.

Allen’s extension

So Allen signed a two-year extension worth $7.7 million ($3.85 million cap hit) which will kick in after the upcoming season. The 32 year old’s contract comes with a limited no-trade clause for both seasons, and represents a raise of about a million dollar over what he’s currently making annually.

But here what Allen’s signature truly means:

  1. Marc Bergevin wasn’t too bad at negotiating. Allen was making $4.35 million when the Canadiens acquired him. Bergevin convinced him to accept a two-year, $2.875 million per season contract back when the player was younger and more in his prime.
  2. He is liked and appreciated, by management and in the dressing room. If he was an issue, they wouldn’t bring him back.
  3. He likes playing in Montreal. The Fredericton, NB native didn’t have to sign his extension on such a poor team. He could have simply been traded at trade deadline for a chance to win a Cup, rode into the sunset and tested the UFA market next summer.
  4. There is little to no confidence within the organization that neither Samuel Montembeault or Cayden Primeau can take over as the team’s number one goaltender in the short term. Had they felt confident in them, they would have simply played Allen this year and got another cheaper backup next summer.

The 6-foot 2-inches, 195 lbs netminder played 35 games with the Canadiens last season, registering a 9-20-4 record, a 3.30 GAA and a .905 save percentage. Considering how the rest of the team performed, that’s not bad at all.

So now Habs’ fans, do everyone a favour and please get that “tanking” mentality out of your head. Yes, it’s logical but only from a fans’ point of view. It’s not reality. When it comes to “tanking”, be less of a fan and at least try to see things from the eyes of those who do make the decisions. They are NOT tanking or trying to lose on purpose, and they won’t take steps to do that. Period.

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