Eastern Edge – Breaking the Hab-it

by Russ on August 1, 2017
USA TODAY Sports Images - Brendan Gallagher


The Summer of 2017 was a tumultuous one for the Montreal Canadiens. Gone are the numbers three (Andrei Markov), four (Alexei Emelin) and five (Nathan Beaulieu) in average ice time per game, all defensemen. To make matters worse, they traded their top defense prospect in Mikhail Sergachev, although they did receive a very dynamic, talented and young forward in return in Jonathan Drouin. They also lost their second leading scorer from last season, Alexander Radulov, who was signed by Dallas as an unrestricted free agent.

On the plus side, Montreal added the aforementioned Drouin, Karl Alzner, David Schlemko, Mark Streit and the oft-injured Ales Hemsky. They also have a decent amount of cap space remaining. I have yet to find a Habs fan who is happy with these trade-offs, though.

It’s not all bad for the Canadiens, however, they still have one of the top goaltenders in the game today in Carey Price and a stud defenseman, Shea Weber, whose shot is legally considered a lethal weapon in nine states and five provinces. Combine that with Max Pacioretty and Drouin and you have the makings of a team that can still compete for the Atlantic Division title.

The problem is that while it looks as though Montreal is not as strong of a team as they were last year, Tampa, Toronto and Florida should all be better this season. In the Atlantic, only Montreal and Detroit are worse off, with the rest either status quo or trending up. Not a good sign for the faithful. That said, never underestimate a team with a solid system and a world class goaltender.



Jonathan Drouin

No pressure kid, but you essentially got what you asked for in a trade out of Tampa, plus the added burden of playing in hockey-mad Montreal, making big money on a long-term deal as a 22-year-old Quebec native. The deal could end up as a win-win for both teams, but until Sergachev becomes more than a prospect, this deal clearly favours the Habs.

Drouin’s offensive talent has never been in question. In his final two years of junior, he destroyed the league with a combined 213 points in 95 games. Does he step it up when the games matter? In successive junior playoff seasons, he scored 26, 35 and 41 points in 17, 17 and 16 games, respectively.

In his rookie NHL campaign, he scored 32 points. In his sophomore season, he had 10 points in 21 games, but then recorded 14 points in 17 playoff games. Last season, he broke out in a big way with 53 points. With the departure of Markov, Drouin should slot nicely into the top power-play unit, as the Canadiens are likely to go with a four-forward configuration.

What should we expect from Drouin in his first campaign in Montreal; will he wilt under the spotlight or bask in its glory? He will be eager to prove that he is worth that six-year contract, and the Habs will give him every opportunity to rise to new heights.



Brendan Gallagher

The starboard side in Montreal is a little light in the talent department. With Radulov leaving for greener pastures, Gallagher is the de facto No. 1 right wing on the team. Last season’s 29 points in 64 games was a big disappointment after notching 40 points in only 53 games the year before.

In the season before Radulov arrived, Gallagher averaged the third most power-play time on the team. With Rads (we’re close like that) out of the picture, look for Gallagher to reclaim top-unit billing with the man advantage.

Even though his season was cut short last year, Gallagher still set a career high in hits with 69 in his 64 contests. If he can stay healthy, the table appears to be set for Gally to achieve career highs across the board.



Ales Hemsky

An unpalatable replacement for Radulov, the Habs bring in an affordable winger who is only one year removed from a 39-point season. Hemsky is of course talented, but is no doubt already on a first name basis with the team’s medical staff.

Hemsky will be 34 years old when the season commences and it would not be ideal if he were to find himself playing in the top six. Ideally, he makes for a decent third-line winger to play with Tomas Plekanec, but with his injury history, the younger talent will get their opportunities. Hemsky has logged 70 games or more in only half of his 14 NHL campaigns. A risky pick for your fantasy squad, but if he can stay out of the infirmary, he has the ability to be productive.



Phillip Danault

I don’t know anyone who actually drafted Danault in one-year leagues last fall. His 40 points were a pleasant surprise to those in deep settings who were quick to scoop him off the wire. 60 percent of his even-strength shifts were beside Max Pacioretty, although he received very little in the way of power-play minutes.

In 2014-15, he recorded 38 points in 70 AHL contests. The following season, he recorded five points in 30 NHL matches with the Blackhawks and five points in 21 games with the Canadiens. If you predicted that he would score 40 NHL points last season without ever hitting that mark in the AHL, I’d like to borrow your crystal ball.

With the state of the team’s roster, it’s not a stretch to think that Danault could record back-to-back 40-point seasons. I don’t see much upside past the 40-point mark and even that is tenuous if the team decides to go out and get someone with a little more offensive legitimacy.