Dach’s Success Changes Dynamics

By JD Lagrange – It’s funny how rapidly things can change in hockey. Back in the off-season, Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager Kent Hughes gambled on not one, but two centers. First, at the NHL Draft, Hughes surprised everyone by trading away Alexander Romanov to the New York Islanders and, when the dust settled, acquiring Kirby Dach from the Chicago Blackhawks. Then on August 18th, he acquired Sean Monahan from the Calgary Flames in exchange for future considerations.

Since the start of the season, there has been a surplus of centers on the Canadiens, which created a debate on social media as to which one of Monahan or Dach should play center or wing. With the team already having Nick Suzuki, Christian Dvorak and Jake Evans down the middle, and with all of them healthy, the surplus wasn’t ideal. For a while in October, there has been a rotation between Monahan and Dach on the wing until recently, when Martin St-Louis decided to try Dach on the top line, to the right of Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki. That move immediately paid dividends.

Now what?

With the way Monahan has been performing and seeing that his hips appear to be holding up to the grind of the NHL, there was a growing number of fans who felt like re-signing him was a possibility. That list includes yours truly and my colleague Bob Trask, amongst others.

And truthfully, seeing that Dach is doing so well on the top line’s right wing, the possibility of re-signing the former Flames remains strong. Seeing how dominant Monahan (55.4%) and Dvorak (55.6%) are in the faceoffs’ dots and how effective he is in all three zones, one would be hard pressed to want him on the wing now.

Pierre-Luc Dubois

So what are the Canadiens to do now? Well, here’s the thing. I am not in the secrets of the Gods but there was a lot of smoke around the possibility of Kent Hughes trading for Pierre-Luc Dubois this off-season. Seeing that a trade was not going to happen soon enough, the Jets center/winger eventually accepted the team’s qualifying offer of one year, $6 million.

So what are the plans if you are Dubois, the Jets or the Canadiens, knowing that he wants to play in Montreal? Can the two teams agree to a trade value? If you consider that he has 10 points in 11 games so far and he is being utilized predominantly at center again this season, the asking price from the Jets is unlikely to go down. And what will be the cost of signing him long term?

I have a strong feeling that the future of Monahan in Montreal, aside obviously of his desire to stay with the Canadiens or not and agreeing to a new contract, resides directly the hopes and desire the team has in acquiring Dubois. By next season, Monahan will be 29 years old while Dubois will be 25.

Or perhaps, the Canadiens still intend in developing Dach as a centerman in spite of his success on the top line? Perhaps finding a scoring winger would be easier and cheaper than trying to pry Dubois from Winnipeg at a ransom price.

The possibilities are numerous, with a lot of moving pieces, as we can see. Good on you if you think knowing what goes through Hughes and Jeff Gorton’s mind, as I certainly cannot begin to pretend knowing anything about their true intentions. And truthfully, I doubt that they know at this point in time.

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Habs’ Players Off To a Great Start

By JD Lagrange – Championships aren’t won in October, but they are often lost at that time. Of course, the Montreal Canadiens will not be contending this season but after the season that they’ve had last year, it was important for them as a team to get off to a decent start. After going 0-6-2 in pre-season play, fans were already disgruntled and pessimistic before the puck even dropped on the regular season.

After playing their first four games in six days, the team have a couple of days off. After the game against the Penguins, Martin St-Louis’ team will be playing five games in 12 days, with three of those games being played at home. It’s a much friendlier schedule. Still, after four games, they surprised the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins, while dropping games against the Detroit Red Wings and the Washington Capitals, both on the road. The Canadiens are a surprising 2-2-0 so far this season.

The team’s success – or failure – all starts with individual players on the team. We’ve already touched on three veteran wingers who are off to a rough start, so why not revert back to our old habits and focus on some positive? As yes, there is a lot of positive to be seen so far this season. For the purpose of this article, I have divided the group into two: those who perform as most of us expected them to, and the ones performing beyond expectations, the surprises so to speak.

As expected

For some players, we expected great things, or a continuation of what they had started to build in the previous season or two. There are two names that jump to mind and both are having a great start to the season.

Nick Suzuki

Nick Suzuki

We knew what we had in Suzuki. What some feared, was the added pressure and the weight of responsibilities which comes with adding the “C” on his jersey. With five points in four games (including two goals), and playing just under 21 minutes a game, I think it’s fair to say that we can put those doubts to rest. The captain will be leading the charge.

Cole Caufield

I think that the four power play goals that he scored and the way that he played in pre-season gave us a pretty good idea that Goal Caufield was ready to continue what he has started under Martin St-Louis. As if his three goals in the first four games of this season wasn’t enough, it’s the way he drives the offense that is most impressive. He is a threat just about every time that he’s on the ice. He seems set for a great season and the talks around him are about his next contract.

Surprises

In the surprises, we’re talking about players either for whom we had low expectations, or who are simply performing beyond what we expected even if we knew how good they were. I limited it to the top four, in my humble opinion.

Kaiden Guhle

We knew that he was going to be good but let’s be honest here. Most of us thought that he would be part of that rotation of young Canadiens’ defensemen taking the Metro from Montreal to Laval for most of the season. But he has, by far, been the team’s best defenseman and it now seems unlikely that he would see any time in Laval this season… or for the rest of his career! We had previously shown the comparisons with Shea Weber in junior, and he is pursuing a similar path as the Habs’ former captain and perennial All-Star defenseman in the NHL as well.

Sean Monahan

Most people around hockey thought that the key to the Monahan trade with Calgary was the Flames’ first round pick acquired. There were huge question marks on his health and if his hips would recover from surgeries, he who hadn’t been himself the past two seasons. But he is skating extremely well, and having seen him play a lot here out west, he truly seems to be back to his old self. If he keeps it up, “Future Considerations” sent the other way better perform well, otherwise it will be a steal by Kent Hughes! Who knows, but the Canadiens might even consider extending him

Kirby Dach

One word: Wow! Whether the coaching staff uses him at center or on the wing, he is driving his line. After some serious injuries, including wrist surgery, the 21-year old Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta native is on a mission. Fast, shifty, good hands, great vision, responsible defensively, he is one of the Canadiens’ best players since the start of the season!

Brendan Gallagher

It seems like in the surprises, aside perhaps for Guhle, those making the list had huge question marks on them, mostly due to past injuries. And Gallagher is no exception. Most Habs’ fans had given up on him even though he kept repeating to anyone who would listen that having a full, regular off-season to rebuild his body was what he needed. And boy has he made the most of it! While still his old fiesty self, he seems faster than ever. He seems shiftier too with the puck and he has been a very positive force out there this early on.

Jake Allen

Yes, he’s a veteran goaltender. Yes, he has been a starter in the past, although never the undisputed starter, more like in a 1A-1B type of role. With his wife having just given birth to a beautiful baby daughter, Jake is having a spectacular start to this season. As if a 2.03 goals against average wasn’t enough, he has stopped 66 of the 70 shots that he’s faced, for an amazing .943 saves percentage. It is unlikely that he’ll be able to sustain that kind of performances but he fully deserves the accolades right now.

The others

Those who didn’t make the list in the previous article or in this one, either haven’t had enough of an opportunity to show what they could do, or are playing okay… no more, no less. That includes rookies Juraj Slafkovsky and Jordan Harris. I hesitated putting newcomer Johnathan Kovacevic on the list above as he has been getting better every game that he’s played, but decided to see where he goes from here.

With the two Joel’s skating (Edmundson and Armia), it will be interesting to see who will be out of the line-up and who will be sent to Laval when they return. And in another seven weeks or so, more decisions will have to be made (pending injuries) when Mike Matheson makes his season debut.

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