The latest attempt by the Canadiens to fill their void at the center position saw Jacob de la Rose between Alex Galchenyuk and Jonathan Drouin. It was only one game, against a quality opponent, but it’s no surprise that this didn’t work. De la Rose was once a promising prospect, but in over 80 games of NHL action he has proven himself to be a replacement level option. He has scored less than 1.0 points per 60 minutes of action at 5-on-5 in over 900 minutes of play. It’s fair to assume he’s not an NHL calibre player after that.
This is what they have been forced to experiment with since they refuse to use Galchenyuk there and Drouin has been a flop. But they don’t deserve any excuses. The Ducks managed to tread water with Chris Wagner and Antoine Vermette as their top two centermen for much of the season.
It’s hard to envision a team boasting the depth at center to help Montreal out in a trade, but the Canadiens have scoring potential on the wing to shed. Max Pacioretty, while struggling, is a perennial 30-goal threat. Galchenyuk has hit that mark as well. Drouin, Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw and Paul Byron have all scored 20+ goals in a season. Artturi Lehkonen scored 18 as a 21-year-old rookie and has perhaps the most lethal shot on the team. Nikita Scherbak is a 22-year-old who has 25 points in 20 AHL games this year. That’s four lines worth of wingers who could potentially boast enough offense to be fantasy relevant. That entire list has underachieved, perhaps in part because of their lack of talent up the middle, but it also speaks to an overabundance of talent on the wings that could be leveraged if the right trade came up.
The right trades almost never come up. It took Colorado an entire year, and a three-way trade to finally get their home run package for Matt Duchene. You are far more likely to take an L trading off underachieving talent to fill a need. Plus, in a cap system, strengths can become weaknesses in an awful hurry to the point that roster building looks a lot like a game of whack-a-mole.
The point is that while this seems like a lost season for just about everyone on the Canadiens’ roster, there is untapped potential here. Maybe a trade shakes things loose for Galchenyuk or Pacioretty. Both have been more productive of late. Maybe if one of those two (or other veterans) get moved we see Lehkonen flourish in a larger role. Perhaps they finally give Gallagher the minutes that reflect his talent as one of the top offensive producers on the team.
For what it’s worth, Pacioretty’s recent four-game goal-scoring streak came to an end last night, but I maintain he’s got the potential to get hot enough to hit the 30-goal plateau once again.
Torey Krug ended a five-game scoreless drought with a power-play assist. He had been cold with just two points in eight games since Christmas, but this perhaps sparks him again. Krug hasn’t been as prolific as you may have hoped, but he is still on pace for 12 goals and 45 points despite having missed five games and having failed to get much out of his many power play minutes. I’d look for Krug to crank it up a bit in the second half if his PP production kicks up. He’s on pace for 12 PP points, but has hit at least 14 in each of the past four seasons.
It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out between Krug and Charlie McAvoy going forward. The situation is reminiscent of Gostisbehere/Provorov in Philadelphia. It’s clear that McAvoy is the better defenseman overall, but Krug is entrenched as their PP QB. He also has the fat contract that will earn him a longer leash. If Krug isn’t skating on the top PP unit, his minutes would likely dip below 20 per game. $5M annually is a lot to pay for a defenseman skating less than 20 minutes a night. McAvoy might have to wait until 2020-21 when Krug’s contract has run out before he gets those top unit PP minutes. Without those, McAvoy’s potential is capped around 40 points (his current pace has him hitting 45).
The Bruins’ third line was going to have to slow down eventually. Danton Heinen, David Backes and Riley Nash have only one point apiece in three games since their bye week. That doesn’t mean they have cooled off entirely, but I am comfortable suggesting that their respective paces will slow in the second half. Backes probably isn’t hitting 40 points after missing 18 games. Heinen probably isn’t scoring 60 points as a third-line guy. Nash probably isn’t even making it to 30 points. There’s still room for each guy to have relevance, but that two-week wave they rode post-Christmas is likely over.
This does mean Tristan Jarry remains an appealing option for the coming weeks, and likely beyond. Jarry has flat out been better than Murray. In a tight battle for a playoff spot in the Metro, the Penguins may be forced to ride the hot hand. It’s something they have done before. And of course, Murray has also dealt with many injuries, which only ramps up the utility of Jarry that much more.
That said, Jarry got smacked around by the Ducks last night. That might even be enough to summon an appearance from Casey DeSmith!
Daniel Sprong was either hurt or benched for the second half of last night’s game. Whatever the case, Sprong has been ineffective outside of one magical game. He and Dominik Simon have not lived up to the Conor Sheary/Jake Guentzel potential we hoped they might have.
Speaking of Guentzel, he got a top PP unit shift thanks to an Evgeni Malkin penalty and scored a goal ending a seven-game scoring drought. It’s going to take some kind of move or injury to get him back onto the Crosby line and perhaps the top PP unit regularly to get him going consistently. We absolutely cannot rule out a hot run at some point, but it’s looking bleak.
The Ducks are finally healthy and looking like a dangerous team. Check out their lines from last night:
#1 25% GETZLAF,RYAN - PERRY,COREY - RAKELL,RICKARD
#2 22.6% BROWN,J.T. - KESLER,RYAN - SILFVERBERG,JAKOB
#3 19% HENRIQUE,ADAM - KASE,ONDREJ - RITCHIE,NICK
#4 10.7% BOLL,JARED - VERMETTE,ANTOINE - WAGNER,CHRIS
That third line with Adam Henrique, Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie has some serious scoring punch. Kase has six goals and nine points in the last nine games. He won’t do it every night, but will threaten to score 20 goals and 45 points this season.
Check out his hands on this beauty:
Tough break for a young player who has done well in a limited role. Milano has only been skating 10:52 per game, but has been effective in those minutes. He has scored 1.93 Points/60 at 5-on-5, the bulk of that production coming from goals. Some of that is because of a goosed shooting percentage up at 22%, but these are still flashes of brilliance that portend to later success.
It will be interesting to see where Milano fits in when he returns. While he has been firmly buried in the bottom six, John Tortorella has been adamant about finding offensive minutes for Milano including consistent use on the second power play unit. Milano might need some AHL time upon returning, and perhaps the Blue Jackets will have found other sources of secondary offense. That could just mean Milano continues to fly under the radar heading into next season.
Columbus also claimed Jussi Jokinen off waivers yesterday. He won’t do much to help with their scoring woes, but he has been a positive possession player at both of his previous stops this season. He’ll offer some reasonable defensive depth while the Blue Jackets deal with injuries to Milano, Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson.
With Jokinen out of LA the Kings have recalled forward prospect Michael Amadio who is extremely intriguing given his point-per-game pace as a 21-year-old in the AHL this season. Amadio scored just one point in his cup of coffee with the Kings earlier and may not be any more successful if once again used in a bottom-six role. His most common linemates last time around were Andy Andreoff, Nic Dowd and Brooks Laich. Fingers crossed we see him get some time with Tyler Toffoli.
Some goodies to discuss in Elliotte Friedman’s latest 31 Thoughts:
16. The Blue Jackets have watched Alex Galchenyuk pretty closely at times. I’m not sure if they are still interested, but they are looking for scoring.
As I noted earlier this week, Galchenyuk has been rolling with 18 points in his last 22 games. As much as the fit has always been awkward in Montreal, I’m not sure going from the league’s 29th scoring team to the 28th would help him all that much.
17. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville reiterated to local reporters this week that Corey Crawford will be back this season. That’s good news for the Blackhawks because last week there was some real worry about whether or not Crawford would be able to return.
I don’t think we can yet guarantee a return for Crawford. We constantly see players make returns earlier than their set timelines, but in Crawford’s case we have no timeline. There’s also the matter of Chicago’s dwindling playoff hopes. Perhaps they should consider shutting him down and packing it in for one year, only to come back stronger than ever. I doubt that this is in their DNA, but Crawford may also force this upon them. If the playoffs started today the Blackhawks would have the 13th highest draft lottery odds, but with a little selective tanking, they could get into the top eight. A top-eight pick is one who could likely make the jump right away and inject some more life into a decaying roster.
That’s all just a thought experiment, however. We should operate under the expectation that Crawford may return. I would use this opportunity to try and buy low. Crawford sits sixth in save percentage among goalies with at least 10 starts on the year at .929 and has consistently been one of the best. Among goalies with 50 starts over the past five years he is tied for second at .922. I am loath to invest in goalies with injury concerns, but there’s enough upside here that this could be worth it.
What would I move for Crawford? Not a healthy solution in goal, but could you offer a solution at another position as a gambit to add another starter? That’s the approach I would try to take.
If Crawford does miss the season, they probably need to hit the trade market. Jeff Glass has had some success filling in for Crawford, but he probably isn’t good enough to run as the starter for the final 35+ games. Anton Forsberg has been a train wreck. Might we see the return of JF Berube? Seems like another non-solution. It’s entirely possible that the Blackhawks simply aren’t a good enough team to support a sub-standard goalie option.
Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.
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