With the few number of offseason dates on the NHL calendar that create excitement already in the rearview mirror, we are officially in the dog days of NHL summer. The draft in late June and free agency kicks off July with a bang, but once those two events are in the past, hockey news comes to a screeching halt for the rest of the month.
Many people in the northern hemisphere look forward to July and August, where they are either lounging on the beach, enjoying their days at the cabin, having fun on the lake or in the ocean, or just relaxing on their summer vacation.
However, hockey fans who indulge in summer activities are just trying to pass the time as they count down the days to October, when the puck will finally drop once again. It is down to 86 days until the season begins with the Habs taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs, but who is counting? Well, lots of us.
In my early July non-hockey stupor, withdrawal quickly settling in, and evening-boredom taking a stranglehold, I began looking at the Habs roster, and wondering, who is going to still be on this team a few years from now, when we are counting down the days to puck drop on the 2016-17 season?
Then, I started making opening night roster depth charts for each of the next few seasons. Upon doing this, I started to wonder, why don’t the Montreal Canadiens put a focus on being a powerhouse in three years time, and build towards that starting right now?
Allow me to explain. And hey, it’s July so none of you should be on sparknotes, or Coles Notes, or whatever kids use these days to avoid doing homework for English class right now, so I am going to give you the long version.
Oh, and before anyone points out I forgot all about Jiri Sekac, the Czech sensation who came out of nowhere, I expect him to return to the nowhere he came from in fairly short order. Why? Remember Jiri Dopita? The best player outside the NHL for years, who was going to take the NHL by storm and put the Philadelphia Flyers over the top in the early 2000’s? Or Ric Wallin who was going to be a big help for the Leafs a few years ago? Wasn’t there a Frogren guy that came with him?
At least Ville Leino and Damien Brunner were decent for a short time before disappearing. Anton Belov was a flop, “The Monster” Jonas Gustavsson fell far short of his Henrik Lundqvist comparisons and the list goes on.
I am not saying Sekac has no chance of being a good NHL player, but let’s just say I am not overly optimistic. There are successful players who were veteran signings from Europe, and Sekac is not old at 22, but I am not counting on much, so I more or less left him out of the future picture.
For opening night in 86 days, I see the Habs lineup as follows. Also, I assumed anyone taking the time to read this already knows the first names of the Habs players don’t need me to specify who Weaver or Desharnais are.
Pacioretty – Desharnais – Parenteau
Galchenyuk – Plekanec – Gallagher
Bourque – Eller – Sekac
Prust – Malhotra – Weise
Extras: Moen – Bournival
Markov – Subban
Emelin – Gilbert
Beaulieu – Weaver
Extras: Tinordi – Pateryn
Contracts up in 2015: Galchenyuk, Gallagher, Bournival, Beaulieu and Tinordi are all restricted free agents, and Malhotra and Weaver are unrestricted.
Each of the RFA’s will be retained and get significant raises, while both Malhotra and Weaver are replaceable, and likely move on as the youth movement continues.
Any significant additions may be difficult to make as the five RFA’s could take up plenty of salary cap space. Let’s assume the Habs don’t make significant alterations and continue to build from within.
Pacioretty – Desharnais – Gallagher
Galchenyuk – Eller – Parenteau
Bournival – Plekanec – Andrighetto
De la Rose – Prust – Weise
Extras: Bourque, Moen, Scherbak
Beaulieu – Subban
Markov – Tinordi
Emelin – Gilbert
Contracts up in 2016: Plekanec, Parenteau, Bourque, Prust, Moen, Weise, Gilbert are all UFA’s while Sekac, Andrighetto and Pateryn could be significant RFA’s if they continue to improve. This is where big changes are coming for the Montreal Canadiens. Two summers from now the Canadiens will have more than 20 million dollars worth of cap hitting the UFA market.
The Habs could very well see Plekanec leave by this time, and I doubt he is a part of this team in the fall of 2016. Parenteau will be a couple of years older and may not still be up to the challenge of being a top six winger in Montreal, and the depth guys like Moen, Weise and Prust could return on short term and small cap hits.
Pacioretty- Galchenyuk – Gallagher
De la Rose – Eller – Scherbak
Bournival – Desharnais – Andrighetto
McCarron – Prust – Weise
Beaulieu – Subban
Emelin – Tinordi
Markov – Pateryn
Now, I am not one to get overly excited about prospects before they show anything in the NHL, so this roster in two years time could be phenomenal, or could be downright alarming. We are basically expecting a pair of young players to develop into top six wingers on short notice, and have three more make names for themselves in the bottom six.
I used to always be excited about the next wave of Habs players, but so many of them are hyped to be great players, and fail horribly to meet expectations. Not long ago, the Habs were a supposed dynasty in the making with Chris Higgins, Mike Komisarek and the Kostitsyn brothers ready to take charge of the organization. They were all gone within three years.
Of course, other moves could be made in the process and signings, trades and surprising prospects could alter the future lineup drastically. The only roster spot that is definite is Carey Price will be the starting goaltender for the foreseeable future, and that is a huge bonus for the Habs.
The top line of Galchenyuk between Pacioretty and Gallagher would be incredible. I am a big Eller fan and think he will be able to handle the role of second line center in the very near future, but would be concerned about Desharnais taking third line minutes. It is just not a great fit, much like Briere was an odd fit as a fourth line center. At times it looked pretty good, but at other times a defensive specialist and faceoff ace would have been a much better option.
Both wings are fairly weak in prospect depth and if the Habs have a need to fill in the near future, it is not down the middle, or the blue line or in net. If Nikita Scherbak can’t handle top six minutes in two years time, the Habs will be desperate for second line scoring help. De la Rose is one of my favorite prospects in the system, but he is a defensive minded player who may be best suited in the bottom six, and not someone you count on to bring consistent offense.
Then there is Bournival, McCarron, Andrighetto and a few other such as Hudon, Crisp, Gregoire, Holland and Thomas. None of them appear to be first line wingers in the making, but if just one of them exceeds expectations, the Canadiens will be in much better shape going forward.
This led to me a few conclusions. First, should the Habs just throw the Galchenyuk, Gallagher and Pacioretty line together now, and try to let me develop into one of the top lines in the league? Secondly, if the Habs ever do decide to move Plekanec, or anyone else in the near future, they should be looking to add a skilled young winger who can score.
Things look very promising in net with Price eventually handing the reins to Zach Fucale, but not anytime soon, as Price remains one of the top tenders in the league. The group of defenders could be excellent as well, as young first round picks Beaulieu and Tinordi take over for the aging and failing veterans who left this summer, and will be joined by Subban and Pateryn. Center ice can also be a strength with Galchenyuk and Eller playing in the top six and De la Rose, Bournival and Desharnais in the bottom six.
The wings look a little weak right now but are led by Pacioretty and Gallagher. They are just a second line winger away from having a solid top six. Versatile youngsters like Bournival and De la Rose could find themselves anywhere from first line wingers to fourth line centres, but will surely be helping this team in some role.
The youth movement has begun already with Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray all leaving town this summer. Expect that trend to continue for at least the next two summers in Montreal, as Marc Bergevin attempts to turn this team into a juggernaut.