With not much of anything happening with the Canadiens at the NHL level these days, Pierre Gauthier made a change to the Bulldog’s defense corps in trading Mathieu Carle to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for defensman Mark Mitera. For Gauthier it was a case of trading one “type” of defender for another, as both Carle and Mitera are long-shots to make an NHL roster at the age of 23. A simple glance at the Canadiens depth chart tells you that Carle wasn’t going to make the NHL given that Montreal has a stable of young, puck-moving, offensive minded defenders in the system. Mitera is a 6’4″ 215 stay-at-home defender who will be penciled into a shut down role for the Bulldogs this season. The trade is a classic case of shaping the team’s needs with players who have little chance of making the NHL roster. I wouldn’t expect Mitera to crack the Habs’ lineup any time soon, but he will provide some muscle for the other prospects we have that will be moving into the system in the near future.
With nothing else to report on I wanted to make a depth chart comprised of Montreal’s roster and speculate on what the Habs lineup could look like when the games begin. I’ll start with the forwards:
Moen/???/White – Darche
So far Pierre Gauthier has added only one new piece (Eric Cole) to the Habs squad via free agency. If he is indeed finished adding pieces (which is unlikely) then we should be prepared to add Andreas Enqvist to the 4th line centre role. Enqvist is a good defender and penalty killer, and has a big enough body to play a role in the bottom 6. In my opinion however, he lacks the grit and tenacity you ideally want in your 4th line. I’d be more comfortable with a free agent centre who can win faceoffs on the 4th line. In a perfect world Enqvist would play the year in Hamilton ready for a call-up should one of Montreal’s centres go down to injury.
Mathieu Darche will line up with Davis Desharnais and Andrei Kostitsyn on the 3rd line until Lars (Larry) Eller returns to the lineup following his summer shoulder surgery. Once Eller returns, don’t be surprised if Darche is used as a 13th forward/injury replacement type player. That is a role in which he can be very effective, providing Martin with the luxury of a grinder with experience to plug into the lineup once he needs to replace a forward – whether in the top or bottom 6.
Last season many people were surprised when Gauthier added Jeff Halpern in the late days of the summer. I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see a similar type free agent added to centre the 4th line. There are a few intriguing possibilities out there, however, given Montreal’s recent defensive stockpiling, I would suggest that Gauthier could pull the trigger on a trade to fill his team’s need.
If he goes the UFA route here is a list of potential candidates to be signed late-summer:
There is one other point that I wanted to make about our offense heading into 2011-12:
The addition of Eric Cole has accomplished more than most people think for the Habs offense. Yes he is a power forward for the top line, but his addition also moves Pacioretti and Kostitsyn down the depth chart – which I think will be fantastic – especially for Kostitsyn.
AK46 led the Habs in hits last season from the forward position. Unfortunately for Kostitsyn, lining up with Tomas Plekanec for most of the year also put him up against other team’s best defenders. I personally love the idea of AK46 lining up next to Lars Eller and David Desharnais on the 3rd line – against bottom paring players. The offensive capacity of that line would be incredible given that Eller is such a creative play-maker, Desharnais is such a well rounded offensive player, and Kostitsyn is a sniper with size. He won’t be pushed around and will certainly provide Eller and Desharnais better options than Moen or Darche ever could. The addition of Eric Cole has suddenly opened up the possibility that Montreal could be a three line offensive team – featuring a fourth line constructed of players who fit the job description (Moen & White).
On defense our roster for 2011-2012 should look like:
Markov – Gorges
Subban – Gill
While numerically the defense is set for 2011-12, it may be prudent for Pierre Gauthier to bolster his squad with a bigger body. As it stands the Habs defense is long on puck-moving smaller guys and short on big stay-at-home guys who can clear the net. Unless we want to witness another year where opposition forwards stand in the crease un-molested, it would be a good idea to look at building team toughness through trading one of our defenders to meet that need. If a body of this is acquired through free agency, we might see Diaz start the year in Hamilton where he can play a bigger role offensively than he would in Montreal. I would suggest that if Yannik Weber can put together a good first-half, he might be traded near the deadline to a team that needs a power play defenseman in the grain of James Wisniewski, Mark Streit or MAB.
While the addition of Eric Cole was the big news of the summer, I believe that the play of Montreal’s young defensemen will ultimately be THE story of the season. For good or bad, the play of Subban, Yemelin, Weber and Diaz will be a critical role in the success of this team going forward. We know essentially what we are going to get in Subban. While he could suffer a “sophmore slump” we do know that he has the skills to be a top pair defender. What do we have in Yemelin, Weber and Diaz?
If Yemelin can make a smooth transition to the North American game we will have a top 4 defender capable of making a good first pass, clearing the front of the net, and chipping in when needed on the powerplay. He’d be an ideal partner with Andrei Markov – knowing that Markov makes every partner he plays with better. In the best case scenario he’d move Hal Gill down the depth chart to a bottom pairing/ PK specialist role which would limit Gill’s largest weakness – his lack of speed in 5 on 5 play. If Yemelin can be counted on you can all but say goodbye to Jaroslav Spacek’s chances of playing anything but highly limited bottom pairing minutes. That is a lot of “ifs” though. If Yemelin struggles, Montreal could be exposed physically. Gorges and Gill are reliable defensively – but are not very physical. Markov and Subban are both willing to play the body, but the team should not be looking to them to lead the physical charge – they are far too valuable offensively.The Habs are counting on the physical play of Alexei Yemelin – whether or not that is a prudent move remains to be seen.
Yanik Weber’s season will be among the most interesting to follow among Montreal blue-liners this year. If Markov can keep healthy, what will his role on the team be? Will he absorb the powerplay minutes normally reserved for Roman Hamrlik? Will his shot make him a weapon in the grain of Wisniewski or MAB? The question is can he be good enough defensively to give Jacques Martin quality minutes so that he isn’t forced into riding Subban, Markov, Gill and Gorges into oblivion?
Raphael Diaz has had great successes in the Swiss league. With the luck that the Canadiens have had over the year with Streit and Weber, have they found the next good Swiss defender? His numbers in the Swiss league suggest he is worth a good look. His numbers:
Keep in mind however that there is a monumental gap between the caliber of play in the Swiss league and the NHL. Diaz’ teammate, Glen Metropolit had 53 points in 47 games last season with Zug of the Swiss league. Raphael Diaz may be able to contribute in some way to the Habs 2011-12 season, but it is just as likely that he spends the year in Hamilton – at which point Montreal is going to be in big need of a reliable NHL defensemen – or a renaissance for the career of Jaro Spacek – something most of us cannot envision currently. This much is certain – it doesn’t make sense for the Habs to carry Markov, Subban, Weber, Diaz and Spacek – all fighting to play the same minutes as offensive defensemen.