The Situation at Center

By Bob Trask – The center ice position has been a bone of contention for the Montreal Canadiens for as long as most of us can remember. There have been some solid individual players like Saku Koivu and Tomas Plekanec but not much depth and never a superstar.

Marc Bergevin tried to address the situation through trades (Jonathan Drouin) and the draft (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) but came up short. After the season mercifully ended for the Canadiens, Kent Hughes took his first swing at improving the center ice position with the acquisition of Kirby Dach.

So how do the Canadiens look now?

Incremental Improvements

Nick Suzuki

The Canadiens don’t have a 1-2 tandem like Auston Matthews and John Tavares in Toronto but there should be some incremental improvements internally.

Nick Suzuki is still only 23 years old and should continue to improve over the next 3-4 years. Jake Evans is 26 years old and has played less than 2 full season in the NHL. He has the potential to improve as well. Christian Dvorak is also 26 years old and showed marked improvement once Martin St-Louis took over as coach.

With a lot of players not reaching their full potential until they are about 28 years old, incremental improvements from this trio shouldn’t be unexpected. And with St-Louis behind the bench the improvement from the group could be more than expected.

Dach vs Poehling

With three centers returning (at this point anyway), it is fair to compare Kirby Dach to Ryan Poehling for the remaining center position. That doesn’t mean Dach will start on the 4th line as Poehling often did but the players share similar attributes.

Both players are on the bigger side – with Dach have a 2″ height advantage – but neither are particularly physical players. Poehling and Dach have both suffered wrist injuries that may have affected their offensive performance – and Poehling has also been sidelined more than once with “upper body” injuries.

Kirby Dach

In watching highlights of both players, Dach seems to be the more skilled puck handler and statistics support this argument to some degree. However, Dach may have had the opportunity to play with skilled linemates more often than Poehling so the comparison may not be entirely fair.

Poehling also had a better shooting percentage than Dach. Some of that may be attributed to Dach’s wrist injury but Poehling might just be a better shooter. It’s hard to know at this point.

A quick comparison of the two players can be seen here:

Source: Stathead.com

I am not sure how to read the stats but it seems like Dach may have contributed more defensively base on his DPS (defensive point share) numbers.

The Wild Card

The wild card in all of this is the Pierre-Luc Dubois situation. There has been a lot of chatter about a potential trade to Montreal but until it happens, if it happens, the Canadiens have to proceed with what they have – Suzuki, Dvorak, Dach and Evans.

The Potential

Of all the current Canadiens’ centers, Kirby Dach has the potential to show the greatest improvement. A 45 point season from Dach along with incremental improvements from Suzuki, Dvorak and Evans would give Montreal the best depth at center it has had in years.

More reading…

Hughes Flinched – Who is Matheson?

By JD Lagrange – Well there you have it. The GM who said he would not give assets or accept less than fair value for Jeff Petry just a few days ago has changed his mind. Or perhaps he feels like Mike Matheson is better than Jeff Petry to the point of adding a former first round pick in Ryan Poehling? Allow me to doubt that.

The trade

Oh I’m not saying that it’s a bad trade, don’t get me wrong. In fact, if you compare to the following four trades, Hughes did very well. But to say that he didn’t flinch by giving up assets to compensate for not taking salary back would be putting our head in the sand.

To CarolinaTo Vegas
Max Pacioretty
Dylan Coghlan
“Future considerations”
To NashvilleTo Tampa Bay
Ryan McDonaghGrant Mismash
Philippe Myers
To CarolinaTo San Jose
Brent Burns
Lane Pederson
Steven Lorentz
Eetu Makiniemi
2023 conditional 3rd round pick
To ChicagoTo Toronto
Petr Mrazek
2022 1st round pick
2022 2nd round pick

So by measure of comparison, the Canadiens are at least getting a good hockey player (and a fourth round pick) for Petry, even if they had to give Ryan Poehling to make it happen. All of that to save $1.375 million and no, I’m not counting Poehling as his spot must be replaced in the line-up, assuming he would make the team.

Who’s Matheson?

Mike Matheson is a 28 year-old, left-handed defenseman. The 6-foot 2-inches, 188 lbs left-handed defenseman has all the skills needed to be a solid two-way defenseman but has yet to develop the consistency needed to thrive at the NHL level. He is very mobile with good offensive potential. However, he drives coaches crazy at times by getting caught out of position.

Matheson carries a cap hit of $4.875 million until 2025-26. This means that the Canadiens are saving $1.375 million, but he has one more year to his contract than Petry.

As one of Kent Hughes’ former clients, he knows him well and he describes him as a five-star person, the type of man a father would want their daughter to marry! In his post-trade meeting with the press, Hughes said that he talked in length to Matheson’s teammate (and also former client) Kris Letang before pulling the trigger on the trade.

Who’s better?

A few of us had an interesting discussion about the value of Matheson as a player compared to Petry. In my mind, there is no doubt that Petry is far ahead of Matheson as an overall defenseman but why just take my word for it? I have been wrong before, ask my ex-wife.

We all agree that last season was one to forget for Petry, right? I mean up until Dominique Ducharme was fired in February, the usually savvy veteran only had one single goal and a pathetic six points total in 38 games! COVID, family in the US, disagreement with the coach, perhaps even pouting… nothing was working. Still, after Martin St-Louis took over, the American defenseman returned to form, averaging 0.70 points per game! The old Petry was back! Anyway, here are last year’s comparisons between the two players, even with Petry’s poor season…

Mike MathesonJeff Petry
74GP68
11G6
20A21
31PTS27
0.42PTS/GP0.40
97HITS140
81BkS117
18:48TOI/GP22:07
0:43PP TOI/GP1:43
0:16PK TOI/GP2:19
53.6CORSI49.6
54.4FENWICK49.2

Now let’s look at the past three seasons combined, to give a bigger picture…

Mike MathesonJeff Petry
177GP194
24G29
43A80
67PTS109
0.38PTS/GP0.56
330SHOTS410
182HITS414
174BkS256
18:30TOI/GP22:51
0:36PP TOI/GP2:09
0:32PK TOI/GP2:07

It’s nowhere close. So those who think that the Habs had to give up Ryan Poehling in order to compensate for Matheson being better (yes, some think that) will have to think again. Then add the value of a rare top-4 right-handed defenseman and you’ll realize that Hughes flinched and made it happen. I don’t blame him, he had to.

Rem Pitlick

Immediately after the trade, the Canadiens announced having reached an agreement with UFA Rem Pitlick, who they had not qualified, on a new 2 years, $2.2 million contract ($1.1M cap hit).

More reading…