Chasing the Draft – January 17th Edition

By Bob Trask – The NHL season has now passed the half-way point and the All Star break is the next big event on the calendar. That break will provide NHL general managers an opportunity to get together to discuss a variety of topics including potential trades. This is important because it will lay the groundwork for any player movement prior to the trade deadline and trades will affect the fortunes of teams as the season moves forward. Therefore, looking at past performance to project final standings needs to be taken with a grain of salt as the rosters of some teams will strengthen and others will weaken. But it is all we have.

Habs (Mis)Fortunes

Mike Matheson

It has been another year where injuries have taken key players out of the Habs lineup. At various times Joel Edmundson, Mike Matheson, Kaiden Guhle, Sean Monahan, Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, Mike Hoffman and Jake Allen have been unavailable for duty. We can now add Jake Evans and Juraj Slafkovsky to that list. With three of their top four defenseman and second line center out for extended periods, it is no wonder that an already thin lineup is down in the standings. The silver lining is the draft position the team now finds themselves in.

Adding to that was the unfortunate schedule which saw a young and probably somewhat fragile team embark on a road trip that lasted from mid-December to early January. I hate to say it, but that smells like the Habs have become 2nd class tenants of Centre Bell. Maybe it has to be that way but the scheduling needs to be tweaked to avoid that kind of catastrophe again. As with the injury situation, the silver lining to the road trip and the losing streak that came with it is an improved draft position. The danger is that a “we can’t win” mentality begins to set it. Marty St Louis is to be applauded for continuing to focus on the positives in an effort to avoid that mindset.

Going Forward

The road ahead for the Canadiens will not be easy. Tankathon rates the Canadiens as having the toughest schedule over the balance of the season with 3 games remaining against Boston and 3 games remaining against Toronto.

The roster is also going to change. As players come off the injury list and trade opportunities present themselves, it is a foregone conclusion that there will be some player movement – we just don’t know who it will be at this point. We can speculate that a defenseman, a center and one other player on an expiring contract will be dealt, but that’s all it is – speculation.

What is almost a certainty is that any trade by the Habs would weaken the team in the short term with a goal of strengthening it in the long term. If that assumption is accurate, the performance of the team over the remainder of the season could be somewhat poorer than the first half performance. That is one of the reasons that first half performance is not a great indicator of second half performance. General Manager Kent Hughes will not overtly pursue a “tanking approach” but he is likely not averse to slightly weakening the team in the short term in order to achieve longer term goals.

In the West, both the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are in wildcard playoff spots with Colorado breathing down their necks. They are two teams to keep an eye on as trade rumours continue to circulate.

Taken together, these factors point to the Canadiens remaining about where they are in draft order or maybe even moving up a notch or two. However, other teams will have similar long term goals in mind and will be focusing on the future and trying to acquire top draft picks.

The Outlook

At the moment my draft model has the Canadiens at #6 overall with their own pick and #11 overall with Florida’s pick. The Panthers have slowly been improving their position in the standings but face the Leafs tonight. It will be a good test of how much the Panthers have rebounded and it will be one of the rare occasions where I will be cheering for the Leafs which means they will undoubtedly let me down. The Canadiens face the Jets who have 8 wins and 2 losses in their last 10 games. To say it will be a challenge for the depleted Habs is an understatement.

With half of the teams in action tonight, there will likely be more movement in the standings and in the projected draft order.

My conclusion is that the Habs don’t need to take any special steps to weaken the team in an effort to land a top pick. Circumstances have already taken care of most of that and a trade or two could also help them with both their short term goals and their long term goals. If you look at Seattle and New Jersey, turnarounds can be quicker than expected and I don’t anticipate a 3-4 year wait before the Canadiens are in the thick of a playoff race.

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Habsitivity Through Hard Times

By JD Lagrange – While the Montreal Canadiens aren’t doing as well as they were in the first couple of months of the season, there are some positive aspects on which fans can focus on. Felling that I’ve written a couple of not-so-positive articles lately, I thought about returning to my glass half-full mindset and highlight some of the positive points – or Habsitivity – happening around the team that we adore.

Sam Montembeault

After a strong start of the season, where the coaching staff was sheltering him a bit, Monty fell hard in December, much like the rest of the team. But in his last three starts, he has bounced back recently, taking full advantage of Jake Allen’s injury. In his last four starts, Montembeault is 2-2-0 with a 2.28 goals against average and a .943 saves percentage.

DATETEAMGASASvsSv%
Jan.15NYR13938.974
Jan.14NYI23836.947
Jan.12NSH34239.929
Jan. 9SEA34037.925
9159150.943

No, the Canadiens are NOT going to trade Allen based on (x number of games by Monty) games. But he might be earning some consideration to get more starts when Jake the Snake returns.

cole caufield

Let’s face it, with 26 goals in 44 games, Caufield has been a model of consistency for most of the season, and I’d venture to say even more so than his good friend Nick Suzuki. But he did go through a stretch of four games in late December without a point, and his play had gone down substantially during that stretch.

Since December 31st however, we are fortunate enough to see him heating up again. Since then, he has eight points (7 goals) in eight games. At the time of writing this, he is tied with none other than Leon Draisaitl for 9th in goals in the entire NHL… five ahead of Rocket Richard Trophy winner Auston Matthews.

Josh Anderson

Josh Anderson

While I know full well that some disagree, the fact remains that Anderson is having one of his best seasons in a Canadiens’ uniform. They will look at the fact that he’s been held off the scoresheet in his last four games to say that he’s not playing well. Yet, it cannot be further from the truth. He is on pace for yet another 20-plus goals season but more than that, he is more consistent, even when he does’t score.

While he will never be nominated for a Selke Trophy, he has greatly improved defensively, to the point where Martin St-Louis utilizes him to kill penalties! He also carries the puck a lot more and a lot better, and the coaching staff asks him to be the swingman to gain zone entry on the power play on the second unit (Suzuki does it on the first unit). 

All in all, we are noticing Anderson every game now, and for the right reasons. Does he still need some polishing? Yes. Does he have things to work on? Absolutely. But if one cannot recognize the improvement and what he brings to this team, we can certainly question the reasons behind this inability to acknowledge it.

KIRBY DACH

Let’s face it, Dach is a pleasant surprise and the gamble taken by Kent Hughes trading for him seems to be paying off. The 6-foot 4-inches, 212 forward has been excellent defensively and he is becoming more physical, following in the footsteps of Anderson it seems.

Dach has four points in his last four games, three of which being goals. He now has a career-high 27 points in only 44 games. His previous high was 26 points in Chicago, but in 70 games. Unless disaster strikes, this could very well be his breakthrough season in the NHL.

Jesse Ylönen

After a slow start to the season in Laval, Ylönen has been one of the Rocket’s best players in recent weeks and as we’ve noticed in our feature “In the system”, he has been on a steady climb for the past couple of months now. He has fully earned his call-up and in both games that he’s played, he has looked very good. In three games so far, he has one assist but beyond the points, he has been reliable defensively and he’s a threat on offense.

Good skater, the Finnish winger benefits of an above-average hockey IQ. He has good hands, a good shot and he plays a 200-foot game. Some fans are worried about the fact that he’s not overly heavy, a legitimate point. But thus far, he is showing that it’s not an issue. 

Jonathan Drouin

Jonathan Drouin

Since returning from injury, Drouin is a changed player. He has been a lot more intense, more involved at both ends of the ice and the coaching staff has trusted him at the center position. Known as a pass-first type of player, the Ste-Agathe native has been taking more shots on goal too, something he hasn’t always been doing throughout his career.

His hard work and better dedication playing a solid 200-foot game is paying off on the scoresheet too, as he has been piling up the points lately.

On December 28th, Drouin had five points in 19 games. Since then, he is second on the Canadiens with seven points in nine games, trailing only Caufield by one point. He also seems to be making better decisions from the point on the power play. 

Joel Armia

Ever since he scored his first goal of the season (and a few games before), we can see the Joel Armia that we are accustomed to seeing. Much like Joel Edmundson, missing training camp really put him behind and with the team playing so well at the beginning, it was difficult for him to catch up.

GPGAPTS+/-
by Jan. 426033-7
since Jan. 563140

Always reliable defensively, he is getting his scoring chances in just about every game. He still has some work to do, but there is finally room for optimism now.

JAKE Evans

It’s been a very disappointing season for Evans this year. But the timing of his injury is very unfortunate as he had been a lot more implicated in the play and, with his linemates, he was starting to created more scoring opportunities. 

By January 3rd, had seven points in 38 games all season and he wasn’t playing particularly well. But prior to being injured by Brock Nelson falling onto his leg against the Islanders, he was riding a hot streak in which he had four points in four games. He was also a key player on the penalty kills.

EVGENII Dadonov

In the past few games, Dadonov is showing that he actually has a pulse. Still far from the type of player that I like because he is often letting the opponent get the puck to avoid contact, he has been generating a bit more offense and has put up a few points on the board lately. 

GPGAPTS+/-
by Dec. 119112-9
since Dec. 216178+1

Admittedly, I’m not a fan of Dadonov but force is to admit that he has been playing better in the past six weeks or so. He has been held off the scoresheet in his last four games so here’s hoping that it’s not a sign of him packing it up… again.

Now, let’s see if Mike Hoffman can do the same when given the opportunity. No one thought that the Habs could trade them by trade deadline, let alone getting something in return. If they keep this up, Hughes might be able to entice someone to take them, without having to give up another asset to make it happen… even if the return is minimal.

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